CMO role evolving, CMO position disappearingThe role of the chief marketing officer (CMO) is disappearing, some industry reports maintain. Or is it?

Leading brands, including Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Uber, Lyft, Beam Suntory, Taco Bell, Hyatt Hotels, Mars Wrigley, Kimberly-Clark and McDonald’s, have eliminated their CMO positions.

As part of an organizational restructuring, Coca-Cola replaced its CMO with a chief growth officer tasked with overseeing a range of marketing and customer relations functions. McDonald’s split the CMO role into two new positions. Other corporations have split the CMO job into more than two roles.

Companies sometimes consolidate marketing tasks and perhaps sales duties with a high-level executive. They may call the new position chief growth officer, chief experience officer, chief commercial officer, chief brand officer and even president of brands, Ad Age notes. Typically, they oversee managers who run specialized departments.

Too Much Work for One Person

While corporations may have their own reasons for revamping their leadership structure and their specific solutions, they face a general trend. Today’s marketing functions are becoming too complex and diverse for a single person. CMO turnover has increased partly because of burgeoning responsibilities, according to leadership consulting firm Spencer Stuart.

But other industry observers say the CMO position is definitely not disappearing. Evidence for the end of the CMO that trade publications cite is anecdotal. Statistics indicate that most companies have kept the job description. In other cases, corporations have only renamed the CMO position.

“Companies are definitely NOT jettisoning executives in charge of marketing,” asserts marketing expert Edward Nevraumont. “Instead, we’re seeing examples of organizational restructuring that better align with the realities of the companies’ operations.”

Expectations for CMOs are unclear, Nevraumont says. In many cases, the position encompasses an unwieldy jumble of responsibilities. Corporations want a data-driven person who understands measurement and can prove ROI. They also want someone who can manage creative tasks and someone who can think strategically and see “the big picture.” It’s not surprising that companies struggle to find one person who excels in all of those areas.

Besides placing greater demands on the CMO position, growing complexity in marketing means those with specialized skills will gain an advantage, especially at the junior level, Nevraumont says.

Time to Delegate Marketing Tasks

Since CMOs have so many tasks to supervise, they need to delegate responsibilities and even leadership of some functions, says Keith Ferrazzi, CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight, a consulting and training company and a former CMO.  Success calls for building a multi-disciplinary team that includes other executives in the organization, including the CEO, in addition to the marketing personnel they oversee. Those who try to improve all areas under their jurisdiction or focus only on their strengths will likely find their jobs in peril.

“If you are a modern CMO, your ‘team’ may include the chief product officer, the head of sales and sales support, the chief strategy officer, those responsible for data and analytics, and the most creative people in the company who have a sense of the brand,” Ferrazzi writes in Harvard Business Review. Some CMOs also oversee PR.

The best CMOs overcome dynamics and conflicts within their team. They understand that individuals need varying degrees of coaching, cajoling, and encouragement.

Data Can Help

Many challenges that CMOs face can be solved or alleviated with the right data, argues Jeff Pruitt, chairman and CEO of Tallwave. While companies increasingly turn to data analytics to reach decisions, many grapple with outdated, inaccurate or inaccessible data, Pruitt writes in Inc. Legacy systems and department silos pose challenges. Integrating systems requires gaining support from all players involved, from upper management to those on the front lines. A data analytics system that is accessible to and tailored for all departmental functions works best.

“Focusing on the benefits — increased retention, company alignment, improved marketing and product decisions — will be essential to gaining buy-in,” Pruitt asserts. “Marketers have to advocate for clean, accurate and current data. It will be the only way to tie customer experience to innovation, drive the alignment you need to execute on your goals, and demonstrate the return on your efforts.”

Truly integrated marketing data presupposes truly integrated marketing. Both require oversight and strategic decision-making by one individual, by whatever title, within a team-oriented environment. CMO is as good as any title for that role and better than most.

Bottom Line: A number of high-profile corporations have eliminated their CMO positions. Instead of eliminating or deprioritizing marketing, the corporations have restructured their leadership hierarchies and applied new titles. The corporate challenge is to create a leadership team that makes coherent marketing decisions and implements them effectively in an increasingly complex and specialized marketing environment – no matter what their titles are.