The modern CMO faces many complex challenges today. And few in the marketing industry understand this better than long-time CMO advisor and strategist Elizabeth Shaw.
Elizabeth has first-hand experience leading marketing orgs for large-scale brands. What’s more, she’s worked with fellow CMOs as an analyst during her time at Forrester and Gartner.
During a recent joint webinar on operational efficiency (and why it’s marketing’s most important metric today) hosted alongside BlueConic COO Cory Munchbach, Elizabeth indicated there are four specific challenges CMOs across industries are looking to solve:
- 1) Contributing to (or driving) digital transformation for their brands
- 2) Developing more agile marketing teams that can ‘shift’ as needed
- 3) Getting more time back to their teams to focus on important tasks
- 4) Making the most of the core marketing technologies in their stacks
Not too long ago, the average enterprise marketing leader would’ve had to go through senior leadership (and a lot of red tape) just to execute on any of these ambitions.
But, as Elizabeth explained to us, the times have changed.
“If we think about the role of the CMO, say, only seven years ago, it’s completely different than we see it today” Elizabeth stated. “Frankly, CMOs were at the bottom of the totem pole. They were fighting for a seat at the table — whether it’s a C-suite table or in the boardroom. They were always looked at as a cost center.”
According to Elizabeth, that’s simply no longer the case.
Now, CMOs are leading the charge and tackling these challenges head on — and improving operational efficiency for their marketing organization and business at large while doing so.
Going “all in” on digital business transformation a must for modern CMOs
A top priority on most CMOs’ plates today is to drive digital transformation for their brands.
More specifically, it’s to ensure the right people, processes, and tech are in place to accelerate business growth, unlock revenue, reduce costs, and increase efficiencies.
And not just for their teams, but also for other departments across their companies.
“We see that CMOs are getting much larger teams and responsibilities today,” Elizabeth relayed. “They have sales. They have IT. They have product rolling into them. And, on top of all of this, they’re being asked to drive change and digital transformation.”
And at the heart of these business leaders’ digital transformation strategies, according to Elizabeth, is first-party customer data: the modern CMO’s most valuable marketing resource.
“Data is a currency,” Elizabeth added. “It’s highly valuable, and the people putting it to work across their teams and organizations are the ones who are winning, the ones who were able to pivot, and the ones who are coming out on top.”
But, Elizabeth elaborated, too many CEOs and stakeholders often don’t see the big picture when it comes to digital business transformation initiatives. This, in turn, hinders CMOs’ (and, therefore, their teams’) success in both the short and long run.
“I’ve had many conversations over the years with companies that do not want to make these significant investments,” Elizabeth explained. “They’re very happy with steady, 2% year-over-year growth and de-prioritize transformation efforts because they are obsessed with short-term growth and share prices.
It’s this myopic mentality, though, that deters sustainable and scalable growth for brands — and prevents them from enhancing operational efficiency company-wide, per Elizabeth.
One brand that’s stood out to Elizabeth in terms of their digital transformation efforts? Adidas, which went “all in” to modernize their business operations from the top down.
“They created a vision for the organization and said, ‘This is where we are today, and this is where we want to be in three to five years,” Elizabeth said. “This is what everybody’s going to start marching to — this north star, this vision. And that vision was sold across the organization. Everybody was very clear as to what their role was in this massive project.”
Building agile marketing teams “doesn’t happen overnight” for today’s CMO
Similar to digital business transformation, Elizabeth highlighted how numerous brands have recently begun exploring how they can make their organizations more agile and streamline operations for all teams — including and especially marketing.
“In addition to the need to digitally transform, organizations know they need to move much faster,” said Elizabeth. “I’ve talked to a lot of clients that are looking at their marketing org design and how they can be more agile.”
And just like digitally transforming, Elizabeth stated becoming more agile “is another thing that does not happen overnight.”
It takes some time to adjust one’s marketing processes and approaches as well as to learn how to work more cross-functionally with other teams to realize greater agility.
The top thing CMOs looking to build agile marketing programs “get twisted up on,” per Elizabeth, is the realization agile teams must be led by leaders with wide-ranging skill sets.
“Soft skills around collaboration and creativity must be balanced with hard skills in order to run a more agile organization,” Elizabeth clarified. “We’re seeing a lot of leaders that are getting up-skilled and trained to understand how to manage these types of teams, but it is quite different than the legacy org design.”
Aside from learning new skills to elevate marketing performance, the most successful CMOs today are onboarding a very specific role to their teams, Elizabeth indicated.
“CMOs are stretched really thin,” Elizabeth said. “So we’re seeing a surge of needs for marketing operations. You can almost say it’s one of the hottest roles in marketing today.”
In fact, a 2020 Gartner report found “49% of organizations say they have a dedicated marketing operations leader.” What’s more, the research shows 81% of brands that don’t have one say they’re unable to realize the desired marketing ROI from their programs.
The biggest benefit of having a marketing operations leader, per Elizabeth? These professionals own data governance and technology selection — and giving CMOs and their teams more time and resources to focus on their day-to-day marketing activities.
“It’s taking a load off CMOs, helping them tighten the reins and be able to have cost savings by making their marketing department more effective and more efficient,” Elizabeth noted.
Top CMOs “doubling down on martech,” not reducing technology budgets
Whether CMOs delegate technology evaluation and investment to a marketing ops person or they handle all tech-related tasks themselves, one thing is clear, Elizabeth relayed:
The top CMOs ensure their leadership teams give them the right technology to succeed.
“Today’s CMOs are doubling down on martech,” Elizabeth pointed out. “While everybody was doing cost optimization and cutting budget amid COVID, we’re seeing these CMOs protect their martech budgets.”
Of course, it’s not as simple as onboarding just any business solution.
Elizabeth added it’s about finding the best systems that help CMOs and their teams be nimble, agile, and able to pivot better, like a customer data platform (CDP) that unifies all first-party data in persistent profiles that marketing can activate whenever and wherever.
Similarly, Elizabeth added, it’s about making the most of existing tech.
“We’re starting to see CMOs that complain about not using the full breadth of a martech stack and really getting them to hone and use more of it,” Elizabeth stated. “Those that are making the most of their stack are seeing a better marketing ROI.”
Elizabeth also explained how a data-savvy professional (e.g., a data scientist, customer analytics expert) can help marketers best understand, segment, model, and liberate their first-party data in their single source of truth database of choice.
“The biggest issue is brands need people with the right skill sets,” Elizabeth noted. “They need people who can number-crunch and make sense of all this data. So CMOs are assessing the capabilities of their teams, and they’re up-skilling and hiring accordingly.”
Having said that, while an analytics or data science professional can help marketing organizations in terms of helping them unlock their first-party customer data’s potential, the tools used by everyday marketers matter a great deal too.
“Tech is a huge piece of all this,” said Elizabeth. “It is an essential enabler.”
Watch the operational efficiency webinar hosted by Elizabeth and Cory for more insights on how CMOs can transform their marketing programs and improve long-term ROI.