For the Chief Marketing Officer, the brand response to COVID-19 has been a case study in authenticity, focused on remaining true to the personality, spirit, character of their brand while keeping an eye on the real-world needs, fears, questions and concerns of their customers. Brands that have maintained open, bidirectional lines of communication and connection with customers are being repaid in loyalty and the promise of future profits, albeit delayed by the realities of a pandemic.
We have seen the best of us rise to the occasion: Chiobani deploying food and resources to address food insecurity in a time of total insecurity, LVMH shifting from luxury parfum purveyors to churning out much needed hand sanitizer, and B2B brands like Zoho, Microsoft and SAP opening up resources to help aggregate data, empower the newly remote workforce and ensure that the voice of the customer (both internal and external) is still flowing into the heart of every organization.
Sadly, we have also seen the worst: price gauging on cleansers, opportunistic advertising pushing fear, conspiracy and false hope cures, phishing scams preying on fear and hope, lazy automation inviting savings for in-store visits.
Despite all the ups and downs, CMOs remain focused on mastering the 3R’s of modern marketing, namely driving revenue, relationships and reputation. While the old Ps (product, place, promotion and price) will always remain near and dear to our Marketing101 hearts, CMOs have graduated – moved on from the fundamentals and into an age of unapologetically driving the business forward. This has never been truer than the leaders facing down the chaos and uncertainty of a global pandemic to lay the groundwork for the explosive growth that will kickstart recovery.
A few key trends will be the hallmark of how successful CMOs pave this profitable path…they also happen to be the trends that got us to a point of Authentic Marketing to begin with.
Expect CMOs to…
Refocus on Humanizing Relationships
In our quest for optimized automation, human relationship building became the lost art of marketing. CMOs will go back to conversations and connections that speak to an audience of one. These efforts will demand a deep understanding and knowledge of the customer and a willingness to realize that segment and persona are not the same. The engagement cycle will shift from hear/react to listen/recall/act/remember, empowered by the power of AI to tackle the data crunching while marketers take care of the hyper-creativity that can create moments of delight.
In the near term, expect to see a renewed focus on data cleanliness, relevance and purpose. Dirty and dark data get dragged into the light while permissions and consent, take on new importance in a post-GDPR/CCPA privacy world. Long term, CMOs will refine marketing’s what (content), where (channel) and why (human relationships) in a more intentional manner.
Get More Involved in the Security Discussion
The trust dynamic is especially critical in the exchange of customer data for value. Modern, connected customers are now hyperaware that their data is the cost of engagement, setting the expectation for personalization, relevance and security. Customers turn over their data with the absolute expectation that the company they entrust will secure that data and honor their privacy. Break that promise and the relationship is not just shaken, it is broken, perhaps forever.
CMOs will start asking more questions about traditionally IT-centered security questions. IT won’t like it one bit. IT will in turn expect that the new systems being onboarded through the marketing stack are vetted for security standards. This is going to strain and test the CMO-CIO bond as marketing questions security posture and readiness and IT questions marketing’s sanity and strategy. The first such test will likely come in the form of marketing’s desire to put more control over data directly into the hands of the consumer. This will be part need (meeting regulatory hurdles for privacy and data transparency) and part value-add (leveraging customer identity and access as a value and promise with each individual customer).
Up-Skill Their Own Leadership Capabilities to Drive Change
To drive the growth agenda, CMOs can’t limit their leadership to the functional boundaries of marketing. In fact, the CMO of 2030 must be a cultural change agent to get the organization’s voice to reflect the customer’s voice regardless of function or department. The CMO will lead by example, intentionally inspire, reward and recognize. While the CEO will establish the vision, the CMO will establish the purpose and path. This will require a keen understanding of back- and front-office dynamics, systems and responsibilities, especially what part each function plays in the delivery of customer experiences.
Expect to see more partnership with purpose between CMOs and their counterparts in HR, compliance and risk to create a measured cadence for change. This will ruffle feathers for organizations not focused on the customer as leaders in these roles will question why the CMO is stepping into their lane. Interestingly, CMOs are often thought to already have the “soft skills” of management—continuous learning, advanced communication, negotiation and empathy, to name a few. Those will remain critical heading into the new decade, but CMOs are adding to their bag of tricks to include business analytics, cognitive agility, rapid decision-making and a firm grasp on finance.
Start Training AI to Grow Up Into a Super-Talented Intern
Organizations not leveraging AI will admit their folly and will start to leverage machine learning and cognitive tools to improve operational efficiencies and optimize rapid-fire decision-making. But there will also be a realization that AI is still an intern that needs guidance, coaching and leadership. As discussions around ethics, bias and the unintended outcomes of artificial intelligence continue, marketing will refocus talent and teams to apply AI in more intentional and meaningful ways.
The marketing function will never be a fully autonomous car—it will always require a driver fully in control of the wheel. AI in marketing becomes the smartest GPS ever developed, extrapolating an unheard-of influx of data to deliver new shortcuts, alerts for opportunity and reminders for engagement. For the CMO, AI will empower teams, not replace, talent. Expect to see CMOs question the “AI-ization of everything,” selectively applying AI-powered tools where optimization and efficiencies around data are most needed and trying to avoid the familiar traps of half-baked cool-tech implementations on top of old, ineffective processes.
All in all, the greatest trend that will make authentic marketing a priority and not just an aspiration is the newly affirmed confidence of the CMO who now sees a path to the office of CEO. Growth through engagement has paved this new road. It will have bumps, but it has been successfully navigated. Regardless of new monikers or brands, the role of the chief marketing officer will endure, sitting squarely at the intersection of business, brand and buyer.