Matthew Keegan
Jan 24, 2020

Why Asia's future CMOs will deliver much more than marketing

"CMOs will be a control tower between marketing, IT, innovation, finance, supply chain."

Why Asia's future CMOs will deliver much more than marketing

Recently, market research company Forrester predicted that “2020 marks the beginning of a final, desperate fight for CMO relevance. Otherwise, the title may disappear and the role may end up subsumed into something greater.”

This follows several global brands ranging from Unilever, Johnson & Johnson to McDonalds ditching the CMO role in recent years. Already some companies in Asia (and globally) use other names in place of the CMO, including Chief Growth Officer, Chief Customer Officer, and other more unique and creative titles. Should this trend continue, is it possible the CMO title may disappear altogether?

"It’s possible that the CMO title itself may be dissolved, but the CMO role won’t become extinct. Instead, the CMO role will evolve," says Xiaofeng Wang, senior analyst, Forrester. "The name itself doesn’t matter, but the remit and responsibility. Chief marketers need to be free from the exclusivity of marketing and establish a span of control in the name of customer value."

For his book, The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader, CMO expert Thomas Barta says that over two thirds of the CMOs he interviewed told him: "outsiders don’t understand what marketers do. And when growth is slow, CEOs keep creating fancy new titles like Growth Officers or Experience Officers, hoping these leaders deliver growth better. Marketers need to fight for the CMO brand — not weaken it by giving themselves new names."

Thomas Barta


Barta says that successful CMOs deliver profitable growth and make sure the C-suite knows it. "These growth-CMOs won't disappear," says Barta. "But CEOs have become increasingly tired of marketers who only act as brand ambassadors and who shy away from the revenue line. As technology makes marketing success more transparent, low-impact brand CMOs will vanish and rightly so."

Rather than the CMO title becoming extinct, it is instead morphing into new roles chiefly around customer experience.

Patrick de Moustier, ASEAN managing director at Accenture Digital in Singapore, says that CMOs need to heed the words of Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change”. And this is true of CMOs. De Moustier says that to continue to succeed, CMOs must ensure they turn companies into future powerhouses for sustained relevance and growth. 

"CMOs will take control of customer experience – an area that currently sits across multiple silos. The ability to focus on customer experiences as a source of differentiation will set them apart," says de Moustier. He adds that central to customer experience, CMOs will be leveraging big data and other technologies to better understand their customers and kick off personalised interactions.

More responsibility

Many analysts agree that rather than the CMO title becoming extinct, it is instead morphing into new roles chiefly around customer experience. As the role of CMO evolves, de Moustier says that expectations on the value CMOs bring to the organisation will increase tremendously. In addition to being responsible for driving new revenue streams, CMOs will be responsible for constant business innovation and for leading the 'experience economy'.

CMOs will be a control tower between marketing, IT, innovation, finance, supply chain; tightly partnering will all the key functions within their organisation.

"Brands, products and services are quickly being commoditised," says de Moustier. "People (be it consumers, employees, CFOs, businesses, citizens, business partners) need and want experiences. Thanks to the virality of social networks, they can publicly feedback on their experience and impact the brands."

To that end, de Moustier says that the CMO will be responsible for designing, building, measuring and constantly personalising the experience. "Today, this is possible in weeks thanks to agile development and new technologies like digital decoupling, micro services and API," says de Moustier. "The CMOs will be a control tower between marketing, IT, innovation, finance, supply chain; tightly partnering will all the key functions within their organisation."

Increasingly, there's no doubt that marketers need to be master multi-taskers. They need to know a bit of everything. From business strategy to data analysis to creative expression, today’s CMO needs to wear multiple hats. This is something that Simon Kahn, chief marketing officer for Google APAC, knows only too well. "As marketing becomes increasingly digital, 'technologist' is another role CMOs will need to master," says Kahn. "As champions of a holistic customer experience, the CMO’s role is to apply these skills to connect a company’s products and services to a real person across channels."

Simon Kahn


Making those connections while considering the incredible diversity and cultural nuance in a region like APAC is no easy task. "For CMOs, empowering local teams to do what is right for the market will become all the more important," says Kahn. "Therefore, while the title of the role might change, the core function of the role, as custodians of the brand and the customer experience, will only become more important as expectations evolve."

Bidisha Nagraj, vice president, marketing, Schneider Electric India, says that a CMO should look at not just the brand but also its impact in driving sales and revenue, as well as setting the vision for future innovation. "Today the customer has evolved into being a more informed and competitive entity and therefore the marketing function needs to be ahead of the customer," says Nagraj. "This is especially true from a standpoint of understanding the evolving needs, preserving a strong brand reputation, monitoring customer response, guiding internal stakeholders with insights which will accelerate a strong demand, and above all to be a leader in digital transformation."

Bidisha Nagaraj


A CMO's future 'to-do' list

And so to transformation and the future, how will the CMO role in Asia change in the next 20 years?

Sisca Margaretta, CMO, Experian APAC, believes that the future CMO will have to be much more attuned to advancements in technology. "CMOs are increasingly adopting the latest technology as well as new marketing tactics to compete for mindshare and maximise ROI," says Margaretta. "Customer experience over branding will become the main push for CMOs to widen their remit and exert influence over the ways other departments, even external partners, are engaging with the customers."

Sisca Margaretta

Barta says that based on years of research, CMO success really comes down to three simple things: 1) getting the value creation zone (v-zone) right, 2) closing the power gap, and 3) hitting customers’ heads and hearts.

"Successful CMOs serve both company needs and customer needs well. We call this working inside the v-zone," says Barta. "For many CMOs this means getting much closer to the C-suite. But delivering a great customer experience needs many people that don’t report to marketing. Successful CMOs close that power gap by walking the halls to make the customer case every day. And while digital matters (though it’s mainly tactical), ultimate marketing success will always be about hitting customers’ heads and hearts."

Noting that marketing and the relationship between brands and customers has changed significantly over the past decade – comprising many more touchpoints than just billboards and video commercials – Marita Abraham, chief marketing officer, Zilingo, says that "Any moment from a sales meeting to product packaging to a website experience can impact a customer’s perception of and interaction with the brand. This tells me that the CMO of the future will be an executive that is customer-centric and cross-functional and will impact the organisation beyond the traditional remits of a marketing function."

For de Moustier, he says that going forward, CMOs need to be visionaries and innovators. They will constantly need to put the customer at the centre of everything and always be on the look-out for new revenue streams and emerging technologies that can grow the business. Or, as he says in a nutshell: “They know they will either be the disruptor, or they will be disrupted.”

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