John Zealley of Accenture: how new-style CMOs can drive business results

Marketing, and the role of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), is changing profoundly and permanently. Just like any other business function, marketing has been buffeted by widespread technology-led disruption and the effect of elevated consumer expectations bleeding across traditional industry boundaries. Marketers have found their long-established orthodoxies made virtually obsolete, sometimes almost overnight.

CEOs recognize the changing headwinds. Accenture’s new research shows that 90 per cent of today’s leaders believe the marketing function will be fundamentally different within three years. And three in four say their old marketing blueprints are no match for a world in which delivering relentlessly excellent, hyper-relevant customer experiences is the baseline every business aspires to.

Time for new thinking

It’s a challenging environment that has implications way beyond marketing. It calls for a willingness from the whole C-suite to rethink roles, remits and responsibilities, looking beyond internal corporate boundaries to drive real change and spur the business to new growth.

Accenture’s research has identified a new breed of high-performing marketing leaders who are taking it upon themselves to do just that. These “pioneer CMOs” are setting themselves apart by expanding their influence within the business, working with CEOs to embed a customer-centric culture and create the most relevant and engaging experiences possible across the whole CX journey.

The impact isn’t just being felt by customers – it’s driving business performance too. The data shows these pioneer CMOs have helped their companies generate, on average, 11 per cent higher shareholder returns than their peers over the last year.

Omnipresent marketing

The reality is there’s no part of the business that isn’t now affected by marketing in some way. The digital world provides so many varied touchpoints across a customer’s end-to-end interaction with a company that the idea of marketing talent limiting itself to traditional “advertising” functions is increasingly outdated and ultimately bound to fail.

As a result, the role and influence of leading CMOs is growing. The pioneers recognize that breaking down barriers is critical to unlocking growth. So, having removed the silos hindering their own marketing departments, they move on to make new connections with the wider business and out into the ecosystem of partner organizations – all in support of improved experiences for customers.

A key quality of this new breed of CMOs is their restlessness and drive to do better. Unwilling to accept the status quo, they look to drive up levels of collaboration, especially across the C-suite, recognizing that’s the most effective way to ensure the whole organization has the necessary systems, processes and mindsets to deliver hyper-relevant CX in every interaction.

Customer-centricity: top of the C-suite agenda

Those hyper-relevant customer experiences don’t just emerge overnight. To make them a reality, the whole organizational culture needs to be oriented around the customer, focused obsessively on delivering experiences that are entirely relevant to each individual when it really matters. It means developing, what we call, a Living Business capability that can sense, shape, respond, and even predict behavior to create a selling opportunity around a holiday trip or fashion buy based on Instagram usage.

Doing this at scale takes an incredible amount of organizational agility. And this is where leading CMOs can really differentiate themselves. Marketing leaders are pivotal in helping CEOs put in place the capabilities and talent to ensure the business can adapt to shifting consumer attitudes in areas like multichannel experience, trust, transparency and personalization.

This is much more than a question of money. In fact, the research suggests that high-performing CMOs don’t spend a significantly larger share of their budgets than their peers on either customer experience enhancements or innovation initiatives. Rather, it’s how they spend their money, not how much, that makes the best CMOs special.

Let’s talk about growth

Deeply immersed in customer data and insights, leading CMOs are ideally placed to work with their CEOs to identify new sources of growth through new products, new services, and new customer experiences. In fact, Accenture’s research shows nearly a third of CEOs already expect this elevated role of their CMOs.

High-performing marketing leaders are picking up the baton. The data shows pioneer CMOs are significantly more likely to spend most of their time driving disruptive growth. They’re also much more likely to describe themselves as ‘innovators’ who use emerging technologies to predict customer behavior and identify untapped revenue streams.

Not every marketing lead has the leadership skills or business acumen to take on this expanded role, it’s true. But, equally, not every company has the organizational agility needed to match the benchmarks being set by pioneering CMOs. So the whole C-suite needs to recognize that marketing talent can too often be an untapped resource and needs to be unshackled from legacy mindsets and siloed organizational structures.

Forward-thinking CMOs have lots to say about growth and company performance in the new. But is rest of the business ready to hear what they’re saying?

John Zealley is senior managing director, global lead Customer Insight & Growth Practice at Accenture.


  1. My Oh My… What an over long, over tautological, over effete, load of old bollocks. Whatever happened to plain old English as a means of communication rather than MBA speak?

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