What Are The Biggest Challenges Facing CMOs Today?

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Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting



CMO challenge

The marketing landscape is being ripped up, revised, and revised again. Brands can no longer define one consumer "behavior," and they can't rely on one channel. 

CMOs are tasked with not only keeping up with technology, platforms, and choices, but also staying ahead of the trends. In addition, they must develop new ways to keep their lead funnels full, manage campaigns, and maintain a strong brand. And many are doing it all with fewer resources.  

We asked a few agency executives -- those who are at the front lines with CMOs in various different industries -- what challenges CMOs currently face. Here are nine things worth worrying about:


I believe that the biggest challenge faced by CMOs today is convincing top management to invest in untried solutions. We all know that the old 'proven' methods to reach target groups are increasingly ineffective, so CMOs need to try new ways to make relevant connections between a brand and its consumers. Most CMOs are aware of this, but getting senior management to believe and invest in something that does not have a record is tricky because top management usually wants reassurance and historical figures to base their decisions on. I believe the most successful brands and CMOs will be the ones that dare to believe in the opportunities that evolve from new media and have the guts to walk where no one has tread before.

- Ann Ystén | Perfect Fools


Plenty has been written in recent months about how we are on the precipice of a 'golden age for marketing' or 'the ultimate creative revolution'. Meanwhile, the day-to-day truth for CMOs is much less romantic. The biggest challenge that remains is growth.

Short-term growth is daunting as CMOs are battling rapidly changing consumer expectations, increasing complexity in the marketing channels, and the very real challenges of limited resources with which to compete. Additionally, the need for innovation that will unlock untapped brand and business value in the longer term is constantly looming on every CMO’s horizon.

- Brian Martin | Project: WorldWide


I believe the biggest challenge CMOs are facing is fragmentation. With so much emerging technology and technology-related decisions falling on their plates, it is incredibly easy for them to fall into a "fear of missing out" behavior. Having to learn new technologies and make smart technology bets for their marketing is a key challenge CMOs face.

- Pete Sena | Digital Surgeons 


The biggest challenge for CMOs is one we all face: hiring and retaining the right mix of talent. All of the traditional skill sets like brand positioning and marketing strategy remain important, but the shifts in technology and how consumers choose and interact with brands has changed. This creates a need for specialists and additional skill sets that can help brands navigate this new environment, including data scientists, audience strategists, and experts in multi-screen storytelling. Since some of these are relatively new skill sets, they are often very hard to find, and there is an on-going war for talent.

- Catherine Davis | Vizeum


The CMOs greatest challenge is permission. As holder of the brand reins and keeper of the brand identity, it can be daunting to authorize major brand changes and challenge long held customer beliefs about a brand. To foster brand innovation, CMOs need the blessing of their superiors and the faith of their shareholders in the form of permission.

One way for CMOs to gain permission is to propose an innovation practice within their organizations. This results in a mandate to effect change and provides the freedom to test new products and ideas, such as product optimization, product extensions, or even brand extensions, within a safe environment. Innovation lacks a permanent home in many large corporate settings, but in my experience, it has found a nurturing bedfellow in the marketing department. The marketer -- the lead brand ambassador -- is a natural fit to oversee an innovation practice.

- David Gaspar | DDG


With the explosive proliferation of media channels and related ‘data fumes’ to power intelligent marketing comes the challenge to create unified and synchronized messaging. That's easier said than done. Most CMOs have multiple agency partners focused on discreet parts of the overall strategic plan. Additionally, companies often have a matrix structure with multiple stakeholders owning or consulting on areas requiring expertise at a granular level. The modern CMO has to put it all together, blending the right balance of investment, time, and man-hour focus to execute in the market. Combine that with a need for speed and a constantly shifting marketplace, and you’ve got yourself one challenging role.

- Matt Weiss | Havas Worldwide


There’s a huge need to retain creative and innovative talent in our industry. Marketers have the unique opportunity to motivate the whole industry by challenging agency and media partners to build and foster teams that are diverse in their backgrounds, cultures, mindsets, and thought processes. I believe that CMOs can play an integral role in making diversity a business imperative. And statistics show the effect on the bottom line. For example, a 2010 McKinsey & Company study shows that companies in the top quartile for women’s representation among executive committees achieved a 41% higher return on equity. Building teams, retention processes, and professional development programs that reflect the diverse nature of the world we live in and in turn, the audiences we attempt to engage as an industry on a daily basis, is something our industry needs to act on. The time is now.

- Gina Grillo | The ADVERTISING Club of New York

Short-Term Returns

The greatest challenge of this decade is ‘how to manage consistency and diversity at the same time’.

The media landscape is more fragmented than ever before and there is more pressure from the top to ‘deliver’ short-term result. This results, more often, in less solid marketing and communication planning, but in a ‘marketing calendar’ being the addition sum of a gazillion of short-term tactical activities and messages, managed by too many people in too many different speciality roles. The relationship between these boxes too often gets lost.

To direct all this in such a way that all these messages and activities still bear the right brand DNA (creating synergy, consistency, and long-term value) is ‘higher level’ marketing. A shift back from having a specialist for every specialty to a more generalist approach (and agency) is needed.

- Jan Rijkenberg | BSUR Group


Real-time marketing is increasingly becoming an effective way to find timely relevance with consumer’s lives, but it requires real-time flexibility in budgets and resources and the fortitude to live with risk. The need for a high level of agility is rarely in sync with the need for CMOs to orchestrate already tight budgets and forecast ROI that meets goals. Earmarking budget for opportunistic situations in our rapidly changing world is a challenge. Doing so when an opportunity may have something less than a fully-determined scope or require testing to verify efficacy makes it even harder. Cutting-edge is where everyone wants to be, but you have to move quickly, and it never comes with a guarantee.

- Will Foust | New Honor Society


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