Future CMO challenges

By Thomas Barta
Last updated: January 22, 2012

What are the challenges facing CMOs? What are their worries? What ideas are available to help with these? IBM has news.


Once again, ‘Big Blue’ has lived up to its nickname: in the company’s first study of this kind, IBM consultants asked over 1,700 CMOs in 64 countries about their view of the challenges facing marketing. ‘From Stretched to Strengthened, Insights from the IBM Global Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Study, 2011’ is one of the biggest CMO studies in recent years. The results reveal what many had suspected. According to IBM’s Senior Vice President of Marketing & Communications, Jon Iwata, the biggest challenges faced by today’s CMOs are an explosion of data, social media, the proliferation of channels and devices, and shifting consumer demographics. Exciting revelations can also be found by reading between the lines of the study.

The IBM consultants have drawn the following overall conclusions:

The most proactive CMOs are trying to understand individuals as well as markets. Customer intimacy is crucial — and CEOs know it. In IBM’s last CEO study, they learned CEOs regard getting closer to customers as one of three prerequisites for success in the twenty-first century. This sits squarely in the CMO’s domain. But the advent of social media is challenging older, mass-marketing assumptions, skill sets and approaches. CMOs everywhere are acutely aware of the distance they have to cover. In addition to using traditional information sources, such as market research and competitive bench-marking, the most proactive CMOs are mining new digital data sources to discover what individual customers and citizens want.

CMOs in the most successful enterprises are focusing on relationships, not just transactions. They are using data to stimulate interest in their organizations’ offerings and form bonds with customers to a much greater extent than their peers in less successful enterprises. The outperformers are committed to developing a clear “corporate character.” CMOs in such organizations recognize that what a business believes, and how it subsequently behaves, are as important as what it sells. And they make it their job to help management and employees exemplify the company’s values and purpose.

Most CMOs are struggling in one vital respect – return on investment (ROI). The study shows the measures used to evaluate marketing are changing. Nearly two-thirds of CMOs think return on marketing investment will be the primary measure of their effectiveness by 2015. But proving that value is difficult. Even among the most successful enterprises, half of all CMOs feel insufficiently prepared to provide hard numbers.

Leadership abilities are also valued by CMOs. Some 65% of CMOs listed leadership abilities as the most important for personal success in the next 3 to 5 years. In second and third place came voice of the customer insights (63%) and creative thinking (60%) respectively. So successful CMOs need to master new media while continuing to invest in their leadership abilities.

The CMO role remains an exciting one. IBM asks if the role is “Swimming, treading water or drowning?” We are sure that CMOs are good swimmers.