Why it’s time to reboot the C-suite

Why it’s time to reboot the C-suite

The coronavirus pandemic has sparked further discussion about the role of the CMO and its relevance in facing today’s challenges. The need for empathy during turbulent times has never been clearer but, if the CMO role is to be rebooted, the entire C-suite need a refresh too.

These extraordinary times demand a fundamental rethink of organisational structure and purpose. Business models, leadership teams and structures as a whole need to adapt to the new reality. Businesses need to reinvent themselves to avoid living off broken customer experiences and promises, as recent localism has shown the benefit of that personal touch brands often struggle to provide.

Exchange recently asked if the CMO role was dying out, suggesting that marketers have often struggled to define what their role means to an organisation and that this must change immediately. I’d build on this by saying that it’s up to the CTO, CCO, CHRO, COO, CDO, CIO (there are more, but you get the gist) to define what their roles mean as well. Even the CEO and the CFO – the C-suite untouchables – need to get involved in this change. The entire C-suite must start pulling together, break down internal silos, and provide a plan that’s easy to understand and, more importantly, simple to explain.

As we face increasingly demanding customers, markets, employees and competitors, the jargon must be filtered out. CMOs have often been guilty of an awesome arsenal of marketing speak and acronyms to bamboozle colleagues with less marketing experience. Marketing analytics and translating activities into a financial language has begun to change in very recent times, as the wider burden of recovery looms and tactics now must create tangible results.

The role of the CMO

Deloitte, Redefining the CMO, 2018 stated:

“The CMO’s goal is to explain in the clearest possible terms how the marketing goal supports his or her peers with their objectives, which can be a much more compelling proposition.”

Arguably, CMOs are often guilty of jargon over clarity and they need to return to this goal. Still, this “enlightened self-interest” approach with other members of the C-suite now needs to move to the next stage in the face of the challenges post-coronavirus. CMO objectives should by definition and design be shared and in the same language – but this equally must be reciprocated by the CFO, CIO, CDO and others.

To achieve this, each member of the team needs both the insight and humility to realise that digital transformation, customer insight and understanding, and talent management are all business critical and cannot be one person’s job. Each area needs to be choreographed in joint pursuit of a shared goal. All leaders and all areas need to raise their game, demonstrate digital dexterity and be change agents to achieve their shared business objectives and to succeed. If the recent Digital Skills Benchmark is correct in its analysis of business skills, with knowledge failing to spread across marketing teams, let alone wider departments, this should be the first priority.

How can we achieve digital dexterity?

This process must start with customers, investors, and talent. What matters most to them? What are the immediate (i.e. revenue opportunities and cash flow) and strategic (i.e. brand and talent retention) objectives available from that? The leadership team needs to revisit and create a new meaningful business purpose, vision, mission that they genuinely believe will get there.

Here are the key steps to doing this:

  1. Employee – or talent – understanding and insight is key. The new way forward means that language needs organisation-wide acceptance. It will be the basis for decisions and everyday deeds by all, not just the newly formed C-suite.
  1. Customer insight will also reveal the triggers and barriers that drive purchase decisions in the new world. What are the new pain-points and how have the rational and emotional triggers and barriers changed? Quantitative combined with qualitative and psychographic insight will reveal how customers’ feel and how their emotional view of the world has changed. As revealed by Anthony Tasgal in his webinar for CIM last year, humans aren’t naturally logical people, now more than ever businesses need deep customer insight to drive their decision making.
  1. Structured analysis with clear goals is required to re-segment the customer and prospect base. Nobody is under the illusion that businesses won’t need to make vital, and tough, choices internally around office space, head count and budgets but, critically, this post-coronavirus phase needs to include human compassion and empathy. Businesses must approach internal and external stakeholders with the same question – how can we uniquely and genuinely help you? That’s a C-suite priority.
  1. Digital transformation will also inevitably sit at the heart of the solution and the transformed organisation. AI powered technology in human partnership will act as a liberator, augmenting human capabilities, dynamically personalising the customer journey, product or service so it is specifically relevant to individual customers and consumers. If the aforementioned Digital Benchmark Report had any good news, it’s that directors seem more than willing to improve their digital knowledge; that must continue.

What does this mean for the CMO role in future?

A myriad of responsibilities have already been added to their portfolio, from the execution of social media campaigns to market research, digital and direct marketing, advertising, public relations, and the voice of the customer. With brand and marketing plans at the foundation, many of these new responsibilities have been treated only as operational, tactical add-ons.

Marketing has historically been approached as a predominantly creative function. The rise of analytics and the need to speak in financial language has led many CMOs to focus more on numbers and data at the expense of these more traditional skills, even if it remains an underdeveloped skill for many marketers. Now, with the need for empathy heightened, CMOs will need to cultivate a data-driven mind-set, both personally and within their team, but without losing that creative spark.

The rebooted C-suite will need to choregraph many moving parts together to grow their business and ensure success. This will vary from sector to sector, business to business, investors involved, talent employed and by the consumers and customers they serve. They will need to take in to account how their organisation has been affected and how it is performing through the crisis.

All these factors will drive the mix, make up and priorities for the new C-suite. What cannot vary is the need for a new shared language and direction of travel for the team to succeed. The CMO changing in isolation, however well-meaning or customer focussed, won’t cut it; the whole C-suite needs to reboot together.


Our new virtual course, Strategic Marketing Planning for 2021, helps senior marketers to redefine their strategic processes in the coming year. Find out more here.

Matt Thompson CMO & Marketing consultant
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