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Management

The experts’ view: Why today’s marketers are the business leaders of the future

How realistic is it to expect the CMO to become the next CEO? What does the CMO have to offer the organisation, and what obstacles do they face? These were some of the questions posed by Chris Daly, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, at a recent Business Reporter breakfast briefing at London's Savoy Hotel.

Opening a discussion with senior marketing leaders from a wide range of sectors, Daly asked what challenges marketers were facing in 2017. Top of the agenda was Brexit, which will cast a shadow of uncertainty over UK businesses for the next couple of years.

For businesses, Brexit is likely to mean a shift in tone concerning some of their marketing campaigns. Attendees suggested that we will see more realistic, social narratives – perhaps balanced by some escapism. Others said that brands are likely to be more cautious about the possibility of their campaigns appearing too nationalistic. The UK's attitude towards Brexit remains very much split and marketers need to be aware of that.

Aimee Peters, head of marketing at HSBC Global Banking, revealed that the bank was now considering whether to focus their attention away from Europe onto faster-growing regions of the world, such as Asia Pacific.

Whatever happens, said Andrew McClure, CMO of Europe at AIG, the world will not wait for the UK to decide how to implement Brexit, therefore businesses must stay focused.

Another challenge for marketers in 2017 discussed at the breakfast briefing was the ongoing trend for businesses to become increasingly customer-led. Today, customers are more demanding than ever – expecting better, simpler experiences in their interactions with brands. Businesses understand this, but they tend to underestimate how difficult it is to produce a truly ‘simple’ experience, said Maggie Buggie, global sales and digital officer at Capgemini.

Alongside these challenges is the ongoing process of digital transformation, which is touching every area of the business. The right question is no longer whether companies have started their digital transformation, said McClure, but whether it will ever stop. Constant change is the new normal.

Matt Hicks, head of marketing and innovation at Tarmac, said that the digital aspect of the transformation is, in some respects, the easier part of the task. The hardest part is to bring about the cultural change that must come with it.

This is one area where marketers can really help to drive the business, said Buggie, since they possess the ideal skillset for cultural change. Many CMOs don’t appreciate the effect that a good marketing campaign can have on a company’s culture, said James Massey, head of marketing at Jelf Mercer Marsh. Done properly, a good campaign can make the marketing department the Hollywood of the business – raising morale and causing staff to feel a part of something exciting.

Considering that prospective employees are becoming more inquisitive about how they fit in with a company’s culture and challenging employers on their commitments to CSR, diversity and corporate ethics, having a good company culture is crucial in being able to attract the right talent.

However, to make all of this happen it is important to get the C-Suite on board. This was one area where attendees felt that being taken seriously at board-level requires a specific set of skills, with several expressing their concerns about whether marketers are giving their teams the knowledge they’ll require in order to progress into leadership roles. Many stated that their less experienced staff members have exciting, stimulating tasks to work on over the next 18 to 24 months but no clear career path afterwards.

CMOs also need to show a deep understanding of product. This is one of the famous ‘Four Ps’ of marketing, yet marketers often forget it – trusting that they can apply the same techniques without detailed product knowledge. Pricing structure – another of the Four Ps – is also often overlooked, said several attendees.

There was a qualified agreement amongst attendees at the breakfast briefing that the CMO was a realistic candidate for the CEO role. However, most felt that this was more likely to work in sectors such as retail, where marketing was already a core part of the value of the business.

Of course, being CEO might not be the end game most marketers have in mind. McClure said that, for many, a more realistic aspiration might be to become integrators within the business – bringing together key functions. However, for those who do seek the top job, it’s usually essential to have spent time in another area of the business, to have been responsible for P&L at some stage in your career, and to have worked abroad. The latter is particularly important for international firms, but is beneficial anywhere.