The New Chief Marketing Officer

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The average age of a CMO is 52 for the consumer industry segment — and the CMO position has the shortest tenure of all C-suite executives at 3.5 years. One could argue that struggling to master the dramatic shift in the digital marketplace and evolving consumer trends has made today\’s CMO position a revolving door. Over the next few years, I predict the average age of a CMO will drop at least 10 years based on the need for highly proficient digital skills, keen understanding of analytics, drastic change in key marketing performance metrics and a major shift in responding to value-based consumerism.

[callout]The key is to effective marketing is understanding what specific messages and product offerings resonate with the target audience. As a growing number of digital natives become higher earners, the need to connect with this burgeoning generation becomes increasingly important for a company’s financial success.[/callout]

Next-Gen Marketing

A retail digital-first strategy or transformation has been in the works for several years. However, like many things in 2020, the pandemic accelerated the need for retailers and brands to establish a digital presence and pivot to a different marketing approach. Legacy retail has a real and present danger:

  1. Many CMO\’s in today\’s legacy companies and even those that have 20+ years of experience may not truly understand digital marketing.
  2. Many brands and retailers are still stuck in a siloed organizational structure that does not look at operations holistically.
  3. Retailers and brands that have adopted digital marketing strategies are still using antiquated KPI\’s that are out of synch with today\’s requisite marketing programs.
  4. In addition to digital marketing, the next-gen is clearly a values-based and purpose-driven customer cohort, insisting that brands be transparent in their sourcing and production, and authentic in their messaging. This is table stakes for the future.

Thankfully, there is a younger generation of marketers that does understand the digital world and how to connect to both customers and employees. They have ascended into senior levels of marketing in legacy brands and are blazing new trails.

Social Commerce

As the growing influence of the digital world continues to impact physical retail, data suggest that almost 60 percent of all in-store sales will be influenced by digital efforts. Social commerce will also grow significantly in 2021 as many of the popular social platforms such as Instagram and TikTok learn how to monetize interactions with their audiences. TikTok, which currently accounts for a very small percentage of social commerce sales, will grow tremendously given the current backing and deep pockets of the world\’s largest retailer, Walmart. Although the ByteDance preliminary deal with Oracle and Walmart still needs to be finalized, Walmart\’s live-streamed TikTok event in December allowed viewers to shop for fashion items through the TikTok platform. Take note: U.S. TikTok users will grow from 35 to 74 million by the end of 2021 making it one of the fastest growing social media platforms.

While social commerce sales are expected to grow from $23 billion in 2020 to $31 billion in 2021, the share of s-commerce sales as a percent of e-commerce total sales so far is only four percent. However, social media will continue to dominate mind share with brand awareness, creating higher demand for products. How and when to use Instagram vs. TikTok vs. Facebook vs. YouTube to deliver brand messages will become important decisions for profitability and engagement.

Fully Integrated Systems

Creating an organizational structure that serves each customer holistically with digital marketing strategies is based on an integration of all key operations. That may be easier said than done. A systems thinking, holistic organizational approach better supports today\’s complex shopping journey. This requires a fully integrated experience across commerce platforms (online and physical stores) including social media platforms (Instagram and TikTok) and partnerships with brands (last mile delivery companies or collaborative warehouses). Digital marketing efforts connect the shopper in every step of the journey from awareness through post-purchase stages. Successful digital marketers engineer brand connections with customers considering both internal and external environmental factors, creating a meaningful brand voice and story.

Nike as Pioneer

Nike has been a pioneer in connecting social and cultural narratives to their brand stories. Nike uses sports as a metaphor to remind everyone what we are capable of achieving, creating timely messages that struck a chord during a difficult and socially restrictive pandemic year. In the \”You Can\’t Stop Us\” campaign, Nike touches its core target market with empathy in powerful presentations of resilience and triumph over the odds. In the \”Never Too Far Down\” ad, LeBron James narrates iconic moments in sports, and the ad has over 7 billion brand impressions and over 400 million social engagement interactions to date. The final chapter in the campaign was recently released with another inspiring message to reach personal goals. Nike\’s ability to speak to the current global socio-cultural environment builds its deep emotional connection to its core customer base. The CMO of Nike, Dirk-Jan Van Hameren has been able to deliver countless marketing campaigns that systematically connect to the core Nike customer – and beyond. He has spent the past 28 years at the brand and was a former athlete competing as a track cyclist for the Netherlands at the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games. Takes one to know one!

Media Is the Message

The key is to effective marketing is understanding what specific social messages and product offerings resonate with the target audience. As a growing number of digital natives become higher earners, the need to connect with this burgeoning generation becomes increasingly important for a company\’s financial success. Successful chief merchants need a combination of cultural sensitivity and digital prowess across a variety of platforms. KPI\’s need to reflect a range of measures including metrics that measure the performance of email marketing and social media initiatives, brand mentions, shopper sentiment, awareness and interest, and share of voice in the marketplace.


In summary, an effective CMO stays ahead of the future, not catches up to it. The skillsets for successful marketing today include a wide range of quantitative and qualitative expertise. And marketing campaigns work best when executed within an integrated operational system. For many legacy leaders it may seem marketing officers are speaking a different language based on analytics and digital KPIs. But welcome to the future. And the pandemic has only accelerated the need for forward-thinking, young-minded CMOs who can dive into the business seamlessly.



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