The Future of Marketing and the Vanishing CMO

March 29, 2014

To conclude the day’s worth of reflections by global CMOs at the Big Rethink conference, The Economist Group asked me to lay out my broad view of the future of marketing.

I see six transformative mega-trends that will radically reshape marketing in the very near future:

CMOChallenges-262x300The addressable customer:
Breakthroughs in big data are about to give marketers a revolutionary ability to address each individual on a one-to-one basis across digital platforms. Marketers will be able to follow the same customer from website to app to Twitter to Amazon, and deliver personalized value at every touchpoint. The firms who can pull this off, and measure the true results of their marketing investments, will reap enormous gains.

Technodiversity: Old technologies never die, they just fade into the background (think radio, print books, or email—still a powerful workhorse for customer relationships). While biodiversity is under threat, technodiversity is growing each quarter. While there may be only one Facebook, every day a new Pinterest, Snapchat, or WhatsApp sprouts up in the forest of consumer behavior. Marketers will have to tirelessly learn to engage customers on an ever-diversifying range of media.

Advertising’s hollow middle: Like media markets, and like the labor market, the advertising market is getting squeezed in the middle. On one extreme, real time bidding and other programmatic approaches to ad buying are leading to a huge inventory of cheap ads. On the other extreme, big brands will pay ever-bigger fortunes for unique media opportunities like the Super Bowl or the Oscars. In the middle, I predict the demise of branding by banner ads, particularly on mobile.

Invisible threats: Cyberthreats that used to be the concern of CIOs are going to be front and center for marketers now. Target’s loss of customers after its data breach shows that data security is now a brand reputation issue; Target botched their “Tylenol Moment.” At the same time, botnets are stealing much of the value of marketers’ online media buys through ever-more-sophisticated interception and impersonation.

Two minds of marketing: Marketers realize they need both creatives and scientists to succeed in the data-rich world of marketing today. The model of the future will be “augmented intelligence.” Like the MD’s who have started to work with IBM’s Watson as their virtual assistant in diagnosing cancer patients, marketers will need to effectively join their creative, intuitive, sense-making minds, with the analytical minds of artificial intelligence systems, in order to harness big data in a way that is truly human.

The vanishing CMO: Marketers love to fixate on the average tenure of the CMO at firms (is it going up or is it going down?). My question is: What is the lifespan of the very idea of the Chief Marketing Officer? Today’s CMO’s increasingly find they cannot succeed in their job because they need to also be Chief Information Officers, or Chief Experience Officers, Chief Culture Officers, Chief Strategy Officers, or in some sense Chief Financial Officers (to meet the expectations for demonstrating ROI). Will the role of CMO still exist in 5 or 10 years? Or will it have changed unrecognizably?

This article first appeared on The Economist’s blog.

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