Marketing Briefing: Why the halcyon days of the rock star CMO may be over as the role evolves in a difficult economy

This Marketing Briefing covers the latest in marketing for Digiday+ members and is distributed over email every Tuesday at 10 a.m. ET. More from the series →

The days of the CMO rock star may be over — at least as we’ve known them. 

Throughout the 2010s, there was a growing appreciation for a certain kind of CMO who seemed not only able to help grow his or her brand with cool creative work that got people talking, but also got people talking about them. Whether or not those CMOs were actively seeking that attention varies, but often these CMOs would be lauded with awards, ever-present on various conference stages and made to be a shining example of what the advertising industry should aspire to be. 

There’s been a noticeable vibe shift in recent years, particularly over the last year, as marketers are getting back to fundamentals and keeping their heads down to focus on the work amid the more difficult economy. At the same time, marketers are also dealing with the pressure of being asked to do more with less, prove that it’s working and take on more responsibilities than ever, according to agency execs and industry analysts, making it more difficult to build their own brands at the same time.

“In almost every industry, [marketers are dealing with] consolidation, resource constraint and far greater scrutiny over all aspects of the business including the efficacy of your marketing,” said Ross Martin, co-founder and president of marketing shop Known, who noted that the shift is from Bieber to Beethoven with marketers less as rock stars and more as conductors and composers tasked with more to do. “Most CMOs I know are working with 20-50% fewer resources that might be labor or working media dollars, but in almost every case the metrics for success haven’t changed. They’re being asked to do far more with far less.” 

The changing and increasingly more challenging role of the CMO also makes it more difficult to recognize what a CMO has done for a brand as it isn’t as clear cut as a cool new creative campaign or brilliant strategy. 

“The breadth of the CMO role has changed so much,” said Vic Drabicky, founder and CEO of January Digital. “They’re not only responsible for everything from ad campaigns to marketing and advertising plus brand sentiment and positioning, plus where you are in the culture zeitgeist, plus technology, plus, plus, plus, plus. If nothing else, maybe we’ve worked CMOs into a hole where they don’t have time to brag about themselves.” 

The push to do more with less as well as the expanding job roles comes as marketers continue to be under more scrutiny, noted Justine Allan, executive director, strategic business development at creative design and branding agency Pearlfisher. 

Of course, said marketers are also against an ever-shrinking clock as the average CMO tenure continues to decline. “Consider that the average tenure of a CMO is 18 months so how much of a celebrity can be made in that time frame?” asked David Camp, partner at brand consultancy Metaforce. 

That short timeline makes it more difficult to show effectiveness in an organization, explained Jean Freeman, principal and CEO of Zambezi, adding that there’s also been a shift to retool the CMO title from that of CMO to chief growth officer or chief customer officer adding to the “fluidity of what a CMO does today and what’s their purview.” 

That’s not to say whatever the CMO and the lauding of said CMO is gone for good. But the evolution of the role and responsibilities as well as the current climate makes it all the more difficult to suss out the stars.

3 Questions with Gloria Loree, Destination Canada’s CMO

How does economic change effect the way Destination Canada markets? 

It means understanding the difference in travelers, first and foremost. We talk to our industry partners at the airlines and hotels. [We] hear, in the case of hotels, how their weekends now could be their busiest times because of slow down, less of a recovery to business travel. We’re seeing time of week change, which can effect some of the tactics that we would employ. We’re assessing those material changes, hearing from our hotels and airlines [that] the frequency of travel has changed, the type of travel has changed.

What does that mean for paid media strategy?

I wouldn’t say at that level, there’s drastic changes. Certainly, there are tactically as it relates to time of year, time of week, to material changes in where people are going and the type of spend.

What does it change?

We’re working with a media partner who has content that really speaks to that dual personality of a business traveler as well as a leisure traveler. It’s looking more for that blend as it relates back to the material change that we’re seeing in this blended travel. — Kimeko McCoy

By the numbers

Since the advent of ChatGPT, artificial intelligence has been the industry’s buzzword that has dazzled marketers and advertisers. Agencies are already embracing the technology to jump start briefs and copywriting. According to a new study from customer relationship management HubSpot, AI is expected to have a big impact on the industry this year. Find details from the report below:

  • 68% of marketing leaders at the director level and above say that if AI and automation were fully implemented in their company, the business would see unprecedented growth.
  • 70% of marketing leaders are seeing positive ROI and more employee productivity after implementing AI tools.
  • 62% of business leaders say their company has already invested in AI and automation tools for their employees to leverage. — Kimeko McCoy

Quote of the week

“At the moment all these text-based apps are screaming for space. There will definitely be some brands that succeed on some but it all comes down to resources… We have to put what little we have where we know it’ll work.”

— said Meg Coffey, managing director at Coffey and Tea social media marketing agency, when asked about the flood of text-based apps like Threads, Bluesky, Spill and more aiming to replace Twitter.

What we’ve covered

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