Are CMOs for the scrap heap? Why 21st century marketing has moved on

Why are so many top international brands doing away with their CMO roles? Just last week, Starbucks followed in the steps of global giants such as Etsy, Uber, Johnson & Johnson and AB InBev in doing away with the once-crucial c-suite position.

But what does this mean for the wider industry at large?

Marketing has had a tough time of it post-pandemic, that much is certain – with teams and budgets stretched to their very limits across the globe, expected to do more with less.

The general trend seems to indicate a growing irrelevance to the role at the international level, as an increasingly complex economic landscape demands specific, localised knowledge to capitalise on regional market trends.

It also hints at a growing acknowledgment that marketing alone isn’t responsible for success, which is rather down to the smooth operation of myriad moving parts. Smaller, more market-specific teams are much more mobile than a top dog CMO who has little-to-no knowledge of how a campaign is unfolding at ground level.

Is the global CMO obsolete?

The global operational map of any global behemoth such as Starbucks or Uber, resembles a patchwork quilt of smaller, intricately linked pieces – or markets.

In that light, Starbucks’s decision not to replace outgoing global CMO Brady Brewer following his promotion, opting instead to bring in more regionalised marketing teams seems very logical. Such a decision allows for much more on-the-ground flexibility – with local marketing leads taking a more hands-on approach to tailored, market-specific campaigns.

Does this mean that the CMO role is becoming obsolete? Not necessarily – at a global or international level, it was most likely never that useful anyway – but a local CMO with in-depth knowledge of their market is still pivotal for success.

Amplify head of client services, Hannah Partridge, says global brands are facing “ever-turbulent and challenging” times.

“Macro and microeconomic factors, changing legislation and the continued rise of consumer power mean these global businesses need to adapt and evolve rapidly,” she explains.

“Flipping from a global CMO to a regional, tuned-in, and connected CEO seems pretty smart.”

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It is these macro and microeconomic issues that have led to the ‘global’ role becoming increasingly outdated. The wide variety in governmental pandemic responses across the globe has led to vastly diverse economic performances, even within the G7 and G20 nations.

In turbulent times such as these, a one-size-fits-all approach is simply no longer appropriate.

“With today’s business reality being an urgent need to regionalise or even localise supply chains to reduce business shocks, it’s not a surprise that a lot of companies have marketing following suit,” says Rankin Creative CEO, Richard Pinder.

“The era of globalisation is morphing into something altogether more nuanced. Marketing must follow.”

Think global, act local

Global business demand has become supercharged in the 21st century. What were once stable, predictable patterns of trade have become entirely disrupted with the advent of online business, social media and more recently, the Covid pandemic.

Customers’ needs and wants are increasingly varied and complex – and brands are constantly struggling to meet them. How can a business, let alone a single CMO, effectively navigate and deal with such complexity?

Simply put – it can’t. Modern marketing moves at too fast a pace, with too many moving parts for it be effectively managed on any kind of large scale by one person.

What is needed now – and what brands are increasingly moving towards – are smaller, more mobile teams that can take a laser-sharp focus on different aspects of marketing. Specialising, not generalising is the way forward, with micro-marketing and hyper-personalisation leading the way.

Expanding on the issue, Partridge adds: “Thinking globally and acting locally will only become more critical as consumer expectations and demands grow. Brand success is no longer simply the job of marketing teams.

“How the product is sourced and produced, routes to market, and wider organisational policies and associations are now as important to consumers as the strength of any marketing campaign or media plan.”

An impossible ask

You might then be tempted to say that the good old-fashioned CMO has become irrelevant – but that’s probably not the case, as BMB head of strategy, Flora Jolly explains: “The position of CMO seems to be more impossible than outdated.

“There may well be ways of defining the role in the most contemporary of fashions, but the number of responsibilities that can now fall within that remit makes the position sound unwieldy, with no time to think about things like brand after battling with the other demands of the job.”

So, should the CMO be consigned to the scrap heap as a relic of a bygone era of marketing?

Definitely not – but there certainly isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.

What we are more likely to see across the board is the introduction of fractional, or part-time CMOs, who can continue to fight for investment from the board and operate at a strategic level. For more localised work, it’s likely that Starbucks’ model of appointing regional marketers with a much narrower, and therefore more efficient areas of focus will become increasingly popular.

Ultimately, businesses which are prepared to make changes and embrace the ‘think global and act local’ approach will be best placed to take on marketing in the era of globalisation. Whether or not that will include a traditional CMO role is yet to be seen…

FeaturesMarketing StrategyThis Week in Marketing

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