finchIn the 1800s, Charles Darwin made one of greatest discoveries in human history. Darwin uncovered 14 species of finch, where each of their beaks evolved over time in order to properly consume the food available on its island. Without the finches’ ability to adapt to the changing food supply, they all would have simply died out. This is what led him to the Theory of Evolution.

Darwin's theory has me thinking about the indisputable shifts the marketing industry is experiencing today. Just 10 years ago, social media, search marketing, mobile, Google, and YouTube were in their infancy. And there was no such thing as twerking (not everything changes for the better).

So I wonder, if marketing has seen so much transformation, what about the people leading the charge? Is the Chief Marketing Officer going through a massive evolution of their own?

wsj-cmo-tenure-research-2014According to an article published by The Wallstreet Journal, the average tenure of a CMO is now 45 months, nearly double the average tenure in 2006, when it was just 23.2 months [Tweet This Stat]. A positive trend, no doubt. Spencer Stuart, the research firm that conducted the study, indicates that the improvement is largely due to the rise of a new breed of tech-savvy executives that are able to navigate the fast-changing market.

As Jake Sorofman, research director with Gartner for Marketing Leaders, writes for the Harvard Business Review, the multibillion-dollar online advertising economy is giving rise to a new type of marketing leader. Sorofman describes these individuals as "digital CMOs," the folks who are leading corporate entities from their analog pasts to data-driven, cross-platform futures.

The role of today's CMO expands beyond branding. She now needs to juggle new channels, devices, and platforms -- and figure out how to integrate and measure them all. Despite the challenges this represents, for many companies, investing more in digital marketing isn't much of a choice. If the theory of evolution has taught us anything, it's go digital or die.

Beyond Digital

Enterprises certainly aren't shy about placing all their bets on the web, either. Companies invested $500B in digital marketing just last year, according to Gartner [Tweet This Stat]. Yet many feel like they're on a hamster wheel, struggling to keep up and unsure where their investment is leading them.

For the CMOs that out-last their counterparts, what separates them from the rest? You see, being digitally-literate only paints half the picture. Where many traditional CMOs see digital as a new place of communication, digital CMOs see it as a new way of communication. These leaders have been able to transform how they market, not just where they market. Ultimately, they don't just show up at the party -- they are the party.

"Buyers are evolving their purchase practices faster than vendors are changing their marketing practices. It's not a matter of doing the same things better. The Chief Marketing Officer cannot avoid broader responsibility as the digital customer experience bursts traditional boundaries," says Kathleen Schaub, Vice President of the IDC CMO Advisory Service.

As Ritika Puri, an enterprise content specialist, notes in her post, Why the Digital CMO is Already Obsolete, CMOs need to think beyond digital and adopt a different mindset to how their brand communicates both online and off.

In a time where buyers are already 60% through the buying cycle before they engage with a vendor, CMOs need to attract buyers early in the sales cycle, nurture them until ready to purchase, and help turn them into loyal customers. Investing more in mobile or social isn't what makes a digital CMO truly digital. Modern CMOs inherently understand how buying behavior has changed and how to get through the clutter by creating valuable content and building an inbound marketing foundation.

Additionally, modern CMOs are architects of the digital landscape. They understand not only how to use, but how to integrate channels, technology, and data to create an omnichannel marketing experience and eliminate silos internally and externally. Schaub also predicts that by 2020, the marketing function will be "radically reshaped into three organizational "systems" -- content, channels, and consumption (data)."

From Chief Marketer to Chief Revenue Officer

Despite the fact that CMOs are sticking around longer, there's still a lot of work to do. The average CMO tenure is still only half that to a CEO. This might be why, to this day, marketing is seen as a cost-center and is in desperate need of rebranding as a revenue-generator.

“For CMOs, the pressure is on, says Greg Alexander, CEO, Sales benchmark Index (SBI). "CEOs are paying more attention to marketing’s contributions and are holding CMOs more accountable for revenue generation."

A 2012 study by Accenture found that most CMOs are struggling with return on investment. Nearly two-thirds of CMOs think return on marketing investment will be the primary measure of their effectiveness by 2015. Returning a positive ROI is the easy part -- proving it is what's difficult. Even among the most successful enterprises, half of all CMOs feel insufficiently prepared to provide hard numbers.


Implementing the right marketing technology is a great start for the ROI-challenged. But it doesn't end there. Today's CMO has to become a change-agent within the organization, helping to develop a marketing-driven culture from within. This means greater alignment with sales, IT, and executive management, and building a marketing org structure to support new initiatives and goals. The divide between sales and marketing is becoming less so, and in order for marketing to capitalize in the digital age, that might mean having a revenue number over our head.

Perhaps it might be the one thing we need to evolve, after all.

CMOs: what does this data tell you? What do you think makes a digital CMO effective?

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Originally published Mar 27, 2014 1:30:00 PM, updated July 28 2017


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