The importance of a CMO and Digital in today’s world

Our panellists, two great thought leaders in the industry: Ritchie Mehta, the CEO of the School of Marketing and Mark Evans, Managing Director, Marketing & Digital at Direct Line Group, explored the crucial role marketing will play in the growth agenda which we all face in a post-pandemic world. The webinar was hosted by Shalina Poulter, Associate Partner at Eton Bridge Partners.

Mark kicked off the discussion by explaining that marketing as a function is sometimes misunderstood and is often the least trusted role on the board. Traditionally the CFO is the most trusted. Mark mused that often the marketing department hasn’t always been the best at doing it’s own marketing. It was a great introduction to the first question:

You can listen to the full webinar recording here.

Is the CMO role important and if so why?

Ritchie: Over the last year the role of the CMO has been elevated within the board. So with increasing clout, it is worth taking a step back to fully understand what the purpose of marketing is. Marketing is the growth engine of an organisation and because it deals with growth, it becomes an extremely powerful force within the organisation. The best CMOs can pivot the department into a growth engine and not a cost centre. There are four tactics that help them to do this:

  • Focus heavily on measurement and tracking. Measure both the short-term revenue performance of their campaigns as well as the long term brand building impact on the bottom line. This proves legitimacy, ROI and a licence to operate.
  • CMOs need to work on the demystification of marketing. Great CMOs turn marketing metrics into commercial metrics and get everyone on the board on the same page.
  • Marketing as a function has a branding problem. It can actually be seen as a philosophy more than it is as a function in today’s teams. Great CMOs come up with some great creatives and work with other functions to execute those ideas.
  • Great CMOs harness their inner mischievous self. CMOs need to be able to take risks and not take themselves too seriously. There’s a great report by McKinsey which says that 83% of CEOs turn to their CMOs in times of trouble as CMOs are out of the box thinkers who get them out of sticky situations.

Mark: Chief Growth Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, Marketing Director are all synonymous and a marketing function has to be focused on growing the business. The role of marketing is to bring the outside in, the future forward and providing the organisation with a North Star. The role of CMO is often a tricky role as you need to have the ability to dream but also need to be financially astute and credible. Without a good CMO, companies tend to drift away from being customer orientated, towards short term-ism and doing the obvious things rather than the things that will offer differentiation in the long term. The CMO is pretty damn important! The CEO and CFO need to think that the CMO is an individual who is worth listening to. Only two in 10 CEOs trust their CMOs to do the right thing and be credible so CMOs have a lot to overcome. CMOs have to talk the language of the board (KPIs, performance and commerciality) and understand the market, customers, market segmentation, strategy, targeting, positioning and risk assessment.

Another aspect of the success of a CMOs is their ability to build a good team. At Direct Line, after lots of investigation and research, we rediscovered the purpose of the brand, and built a campaign around being a “fixer”. The campaign was a turnaround in financial performance, profitability, belief in the organisation and employee engagement. The thing about marketing is that when you get it right, you can really hit the jackpot, you can transform a brand, business and even a sector from a simple idea. Marketing done well can change the world.

Ritchie: Over the last year, there have been some major shifts in the industry towards digital. Thoughts?

Mark: Post pandemic, some things will change forever, for example, the way we work. From a marketing point of view, the process doesn’t change at all. It’s still all about: understanding what customers need, challenging an organisation to deliver it and telling customers that they can have it. The fundamentals of marketing haven’t changed but the execution of it has changed radically.

Ritchie: Marketers have a terrible habit of running to the new and shiny thing and over-exaggerating new trends. TV is still the most dominant media although there is a slow gradual shift to digitalisation. The key objectives remain: fostering communities, building advocacy and focusing on trust.

What is the future role of the CMO?

Mark: Today’s CMO needs to be more of a choreographer than an owner of the capabilities. In companies, the boundaries are blurring which is great as boundaries are often silos and can reduce the pace of change.

In this volatile world, what are the skills and expertise needed as a marketer?

Ritchie: The first skill set needed from a CMO is empathy, we need to understand our customers’ needs and then create solutions for them. Also a flexible mindset is absolutely critical. A great example is Brewdog who in the pandemic started making hand sanitisers and then opened their bars and pubs as vaccine centres. A flexible mindset instead of a fixed one can lead to more commercial success.

Mark: A good CMO needs to know their own mind and be prepared to learn, make tough decisions and be resilient. One fundamental skill is curiosity. Around the corner there is an insight that could transform a brand, business or sector, you just need to be curious enough to find it.

How important is resilience for CMOs?

Mark: Smart people figure out how to achieve success and significance at the same time. The purpose is the crossover between success and significance. When people are tuned into their purpose, they achieve amazing things.

Ritchie: If you balance your life with things that you really love, you’ll always be able to provide balance for your life. Fill your life with happiness!

What will impact a CMO over time?

Richie: There are three things: commerciality, complexity and challenges. CMOs have to get much more astute about justifying their existence and highlighting where they are adding value. You need to balance creativity and commerciality. The roles of managing internal stakeholders can also be very complex. The barriers to entry have fallen for most markets. Innovation is key and you need to be able to harness it.

What attributes of the CMO are important?

Mark: Character of the leader is so important: giving 100%, being a water carrier, great communicator, knowing when to bend the rules and respect others. Always look forward, never cling onto the past and never think you’ve ever sussed it.

What is digital? Is it a skill set, or a mindset?

Ritchie: It’s both. It’s having an understanding and having the skills to execute it. It’s the constant iteration to make improvements.

Shalina Poulter

Associate Partner
Sales & Marketing Senior Leadership


Specialising in Executive Search within senior leadership and Board level positions, Shalina’s extensive leadership, commercial and people management experience enable her to guide and support both senior clients and candidates to ensure the best possible outcomes.