Marketing Leaders’ Roles Are Changing — Here’s How Based on Newest DELVE’s CMO Global Survey 2022

August 18, 2022

We all know that marketing leaders’ roles are changing. We see it with our peers, and we feel it in our own roles. I offered up some of my own thoughts on the imperative for marketing leaders to take charge of the entire digital customer experience. But we wanted to go deeper. 

First, we talked to 300 CMOs in the U.S. and Europe about their struggles and successes in driving marketing transformation, resulting in the DELVE CMO Global Survey.

Next, I sat down with a panel of seasoned marketing leaders to talk through what the survey showed — and get their first-hand perspectives on one key question: What are forward-thinking marketing leaders doing differently?

The panel included Rick Medeiros, EVP of Digital Business Development at The LYCRA Company, and Michael Chapman, Chief Client Officer at The Martin Agency and former CMO of CarLotz, and Jennifer LaFrance, former Senior Director of Global Digital Strategy at McCormick & Company.

Here’s are the key highlights of the survey and our discussion:

Marketing leaders agree: Their roles are changing

A decade ago, marketing leaders were relatively limited in their roles, and marketing was seen as a cost center. But the panel agreed that a shift has happened over the past 10 years. The group talked about how one of marketing leaders’ most critical responsibilities is helping the C-suite and the rest of the organization see the value in investing in new data sources and channels. “Marketing leaders are silo busters,” as Michael put it.

Our survey results backed that up, with most indicating they see the need to evolve and expand their role and responsibilities — particularly around the use of data technology in marketing. A quarter of CMOs said they need to start thinking of themselves as Chief Strategy Officers and focus more on owning the entire customer experience (CX).

Michael jumped in to note that it’s not really about the title next to your name, but rather how you think about your responsibilities and objectives. “The experience becomes the competitive advantage in a more modern economy,” he said, “So being able to marry marketing and experience together is truly the most powerful.”

What pressures are driving this evolving role?

Our survey asked CMOs to rank the biggest disruptors that are driving them to redefine their job descriptions. The most notable finding was that no single disruptor rose above them all — indeed, it’s the multiple competing pressures that are accelerating this evolution in responsibilities. 

Consumers’ expectations for personalization and best-in-class service keep rising. Digital disruptors are completely redefining digitally native experiences. Marketers need to keep up with these disruptors, as well as competitors investing in a customer-obsessed approach. Third-party data deprecation is demanding a move toward first-party data. Rising media costs and recession worries are putting renewed focus on efficiency, return on investment (ROI) and return on advertising spend (RoAS). And sitting on top of all of this, marketing is elevating its profile within the organization, moving from cost center to revenue center — and with that comes added scrutiny and pressure.

Jennifer made a great point on the universality of these challenges: “Big brands, small brands, regardless of industry, I think many of us as marketing or digital leaders are facing these same challenges — and facing some of these same opportunities — together.”

The panel offered up some great perspectives on these common challenges. Michael pointed out that best-in-class service and personalization are becoming “table stakes.” What brands really need to do is, “Create experiences throughout the customer journey that they’ll actually talk about,” he said. “We know that two-thirds of all purchases are influenced by personal recommendations, and we know that brands that get talked about grow at two-and-a-half times that category average. So if we can learn something specific about a person and then use that in a way that elevates the experience so that they share or talk about it, that is marketing gold.”

Recession anxiety is real, but marketers need to stay the course

The last several years have acted as a digital accelerator. The pandemic made it unavoidable for brands to make investments in data and technology and move toward greater personalization. I see a recession as a major reset button on that rapid development: If markets decline and budgets tighten, marketers will need to justify the value of all these investments that they’ve made over the past years.

But the panel resoundingly urged their peers not to “take our eye off the ball” with regard to collecting and activating customer data.“ Even during hard times, that data is going to help protect your strategy,” Rick said, and ultimately allow marketers to come out of a recession stronger than their competition.

“You saw it in the dot-com bust, you saw it in 2008 and you’ll probably see it again here: It’s easier and quicker to just be like, ‘Cut it all, we got to go into hibernation….we’ll figure it out when things turn around,’” Michael explained, “The problem with that is, if you wait, it’s too late.”

What does marketing transformation actually look like?

Savvy marketing leaders don’t need to be convinced that marketing transformation is necessary — they want to know how. So, our survey looked at top priorities within marketing transformation. The key message here is that there is no one silver bullet — strategies are equally divided between using data to enhance CX, upskilling internal teams, driving cross-team integration, collaborating with external partners, and making enhancements to the marketing tech stack.

Rick offered his perspective on the order of operations for marketing transformation. Understanding your customers at a deeper level is the first step: “When you start defining where your customers are, that helps you to define what marketing transformation means,” he explained, “It’s more of — how do you actually identify the channels that are most effective to reach your customers? And that’s where the first party data can come into play.”

Jennifer jumped on the first-party data bandwagon, sharing how McCormick is using their direct customer intelligence “to be better storytellers” — leveraging better segmentation to drive more relevant, personalized storytelling, and then get better visibility and tracking into all their KPIs.

First-party data playing central role in marketing transformation

Jennifer’s and Rick’s points perfectly segued into the topic I’m most passionate about: why first-party data is the fuel that will drive effective marketing transformation.

Our survey asked a question about what responsibilities marketing leaders needed to take on in order to become truly “customer obsessed.” And what I found compelling is that all the answers really boil down to collecting, analyzing and activating first-party data.

And when we asked CMOs about their top perceived benefits from first-party data, their responses echoed something I’ve been passionately believing for years now: First-party data isn’t just a reaction to third-party cookie deprecation. It’s helping marketing leaders drive efficiencies and reallocate toward what works to get higher ROI. But more than anything, first-party data is helping them make faster decisions — and make those decisions based on data-driven, measurable outcomes: Doing what they know will work.

Jennifer highlighted the importance of correlating your use of first-party data back to sales, and Michael went deeper on how marketers should be using first-party data to drive outcomes: “You can make significant changes to personalized experiences that actually influence a sale, not just traffic,” he said.

But Michael pointed out a new challenge emerging as organizations get better about enabling hyper-personalization across the customer journey. Marketing leaders are realizing, “Oh my god, I’ve got to create content that works specifically for each individual,” he explained. The new challenge, he said, is, “How do you actually prove long-term value in the creation of content expertise?”

CMO role elevating, but getting buy-in still isn’t easy

The group of veteran marketing leaders reflected on how digital marketing has elevated its profile within the typical organization. “I’ve been working in digital long enough to remember when we sat at the kids table, as I like to call it,” Jennifer recalled. “I think our ability to have those conversations at the right level and get the momentum moving the right direction are definitely very different than they were even just a few years ago,” she said.

But Rick noted that many C-suite leaders still don’t see marketing as a revenue-generating engine worthy of sizeable long-term investment strategies. 

Our survey mirrored that insight, with CMOs saying the biggest barrier is high-level reluctance to invest in “non-working capital” like data and technology.

But marketing leaders can’t afford to use others’ reluctance as an excuse. We have agency. It’s on us to change the narrative and to explain to the CEO, CFO, to the board why a sustained, long-term investment in data and tech may ultimately deliver better return on investment than traditional activation.

Evolutionary revolution: Starting small to build momentum

I loved how broad and deep this panel discussion got. I also loved that we ended up at a point I’ve found myself preaching to anyone who will listen: Marketing transformation doesn’t happen all at once. You need to start small, find the quick wins, and build momentum toward more significant change. At DELVE, we call it “evolutionary revolution.” 

Jennifer said the first step is “to find some advocates and champions — some like-minded people both inside the marketing organization and in other parts of the business.” “Then, really develop some of those pilot cases — those test-and-learn examples where you can start to see some of that impact without spending a lot of money,” she said. She also noted that these pilot cases typically don’t require machine learning or AI, but rather “using the data that you have sitting right in front of you.”

I’ll end with one of the best insights from our discussion, from Michael: “First-party data is simply just understanding your customer,” he said, “It doesn’t have to be overwhelming.” He framed marketing transformation in a simpler way: “Just get a little bit better and do some small things that will make a big difference.”

There’s plenty I didn’t cover here, so I encourage you to find the time to watch the full CMO Roundtable Webinar below: 

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Greg Sobiech

CEO & Founder