The new CMO role in digital commerce

In a shifting retail landscape, businesses are increasingly looking for CMOs with both leadership and digital commerce chops. Columnist Andrew Waber discusses the common skill sets that go hand-in-hand with that kind of position.

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Leadership Concept Conference Ss 1920As a regular Marketing Land reader, you couldn’t miss the constant drumbeat of bad news for traditional brand marketing over the past 12 months. Unilever pulling billions from its advertising budget. Procter & Gamble doing similar cost-cutting. WPP reporting substantial losses. Data showing consumers turn to their phones rather than watch TV commercials.

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There’s a fundamental shift in how marketing leaders in every vertical need to think about restructuring their teams, resources and goals. P&G, Unilever and others see their category leadership at risk, and they are supplementing their long-standing branding chops by aggressively incorporating digital commerce acumen and leadership.

The catalyst to this shift is a changing retail landscape that favors digitally minded, agile companies that can speak to consumers relative to these new buying journeys.

What you need and where to look

So, what does it mean to be a CMO who also leads digital commerce? What are some of the common skill sets that you need to be successful and effective in that kind of position and with that responsibility?

A recent report and accompanying blog post by Jennifer Polk at Gartner goes in-depth on this subject, but in summary, it’s blending brand-building and storytelling skill sets with a “greater accountability for the end-to-end customer journey, from customer data and insight to customer experience strategy to digital commerce.”

The first set of proficiencies are what you would typically call the strengths of a traditional “brand CMO” — someone who is very astute at media and advertising, managing budgets, managing spin and optimizing that to build awareness and brand health.

The goalposts of success have shifted. Just five years ago, building awareness likely meant measuring via ad trackers or similar systems, and “success” could simply be defined as awareness and unaided awareness numbers staying the same or increasing quarter over quarter — or a jump in unaided awareness 90 days after a campaign launch, for example.

There didn’t need to be a correlation between that aided or unaided awareness and the bottom line. There was an implicit funnel — an assumption that awareness led to consideration, and consideration led to purchase.

CMOs and marketing leaders still must have the tremendously important skills to tell rich stories that speak to consumers. But if they are tasked with overseeing digital commerce at some level, the missing pieces are technological and data expertise, along with the business acumen typically associated with a general manager.

In the case of technology and data, this means having an adept working knowledge of digital commerce platforms and the ability to confidently analyze associated data for decision-making on those platforms. CMOs themselves don’t necessarily have to be chief marketing technologists or data scientists, but they do have to know how to hire those people, and how to empower them, potentially through a partnership with the company’s CIO or CTO.

In the same vein, a CMO can also be the person possessing the business practitioner knowledge, but if hiring for that role, it’s worth looking for marketing leaders who have deep experience managing the four Ps at some scale.

A buyer for a retailer, for instance, may only manage a very specific product category, but he or she handles the price, selling channels, promotions and so on across a portfolio of brands, essentially acting as a general manager in that universe. Those skills are vital to bridge that gap between marketing and digital commerce activities.

Going up, over, down or out?

A recent HBR column from Mark Bonchek and Gene Cornfield elegantly outlined the potential paths for CMOs and marketing leaders in this new environment. One overarching theme:

[blockquote] CMOs need to define a broader vision for marketing as the orchestrator of the customer experience and prove that marketing is not a cost center but a revenue generator. [/blockquote]

Getting that upper-level buy-in is the critical step to ensure this shift in the marketing organization is set up for success over the long term.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Andrew Waber
Andrew Waber is the director of insights at retail optimization platform (ROP) provider Teikametrics. In his current role, Andrew manages the analysis, editorial direction and strategy for Teikametrics' reporting on online retail advertising and the larger online retail marketplace. Prior to his time at Teikametrics, Andrew served as the manager of data insights and media relations at Salsify, the manager of market insights and media relations for advertising automation software provider Nanigans, and as the market analyst and lead author of reports for Chitika Insights, the research arm of the Chitika online ad network. Andrew's commentary on online trends has been quoted by the New York Times, Re/Code and The Guardian, among other outlets.

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