David Blecken
Feb 20, 2019

CMOs need to muscle in on digital transformation, Forrester says

By taking full responsibility for the customer experience, marketers can play a more serious role in effecting change.


‘Digital transformation’ remains a favourite buzzword in marketing circles, but few marketers really have much say in it, a new global study suggests.

Forrester’s research, which canvassed more than 1700 respondents across China, the US, UK, Australia, Canada, France and Germany, found that transformation is most often the preserve of IT managers, with 42% leading execution. Otherwise, the task falls on the CIO, CTO or other technology leader (40%).

Just 16% of CMOs or equivalent senior marketers have a lead role in executing their company’s transformation efforts. Just under a quarter are responsible for strategy, compared with 45% of technologists and 37% of CEOs.

Does it matter? Yes, says Thomas Husson, Forrester’s principal analyst. Husson says the people typically leading transformation fail to “represent the voice of the customer or bring the vitality that the brand needs”. He says it is on the CMO to ensure transformation results in a better experience for the end user.

A reason they struggle to do that is their notoriously short tenure. Forrester cites research by the Korn Ferry Institute that says a CMO typically stays in a role for just over four years, compared to a CEO’s eight. Forrester adds that CMOs tend to have a “traditional remit” that means they do not have a say in all the promises that a brand makes; and that they struggle to keep pace with change in the fields of data and technology.

Forrester asked 885 global B2C marketing decision makers to name their company’s biggest challenges with marketing programmes. Nearly a third said technology skills, followed by insight-based decision making, expertise in new channels, managing data quality, and ensuring a positive customer experience.

What can be done? Forrester advises CMOs to start by breaking down the silos they have probably created in order to achieve a more holistic view. They should also aim to create “hybrid teams” that include people such as data scientists. To attract new skillsets, they probably also need to retrain their existing employees, Forrester says.

Just as importantly, CMOs should think of themselves as true advocates for customers. That means thinking of the customer as a person rather than a digital proxy or KPI; and they should ensure employees are on board with brand values and use them as a call to action. Forrester adds that too few CMOs consider take responsibility for their company brand as an employer, and advises working closer with HR and IT “to understand how the experience of employee-facing technology works in concert with customer-facing technology to improve customer outcomes”.

One hurdle CMOs face in leading transformation that Forrester’s study does not highlight is trust. Speaking to Campaign last year, Ryan Menezes, head of digital and commerce at Starcom in Sydney, who has worked on numerous transformation initiatives for clients, noted that a high percentage of CEOs simply “don’t trust the CMO”.

He said there is also a lack of understanding around what “transformation” really means. “I’ve had sessions where people talk about social media and Facebook ads,” he said. “That’s not transformation, that’s tactical. We’ve got to move away from channels. Transformation is about customer experience and business outcomes. As long as you start there, you can bring it down to a truly transformative approach that isn’t all about channels.”

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