The pendulum swings back to branding in 2017

Photo credit: Heike Brachlow

Photo credit: Heike Brachlow

Marketers have spent the last five years wading through terabytes of business and customer data, leaning hard on technology partners and agencies to help them make sense of it and figure out how to act on it. This shift has required CMOs and marketing leaders to develop a deep analytical skillset not only for themselves but across their teams. Those who are naturally inclined to left-brain thinking, have thrived while more creative, brand-focused marketers have often times taken a backseat. Rare is the marketer who is blessed with both. But that’s exactly what CEOs are looking for in their marketing leaders.

Forrester predicts that 30 percent of CMOs will be exited in 2017 because they don’t have both the analytical chops and creativity to grow business in this customer-first world. A blended skillset is paramount to the creating Holy Trinity of “right person, right message, right moment” to meet customer expectations.

And no, I’m not suggesting that the Don-Draper-“I’ve-got-an-awesome-campaign-idea”-after-his-fifth-Old-Fashioned days are coming back. Far from it.

This next-gen CMO will be able to lead their teams from the mindset of tweaking levers for incremental improvements to a wholesale transformation in the experiences they create for customers based on the data and insights they collect and analyze. This is true for both B2B and B2C marketing leaders. 

At the same time, product portfolios are expanding and contracting on a regular basis based on M&A activity or a reduction in offerings after a tough product rationalization exercise to control costs. Some are making key decisions without regard to the company’s mission, vision or brand promise.

How can marketers effectively reach the right customer with the right message at the right time when the goal posts are in constant flux?

The complexity of cutting through the market clutter to create amazing customer experiences amidst an ever-changing product portfolio is perhaps one of the greatest CMO challenges.

Industries spanning technology, media, fashion, pharmaceuticals and telecom are all undergoing consolidation in one form or another.

Without a well-defined brand that every single leader has bought into, the goal posts will continue to move as decisions that are misaligned with the brand will be made.

Unfortunately, some leaders – particularly in the B2B world –  take brand-building work less seriously than other marketing functions because they do not understand the equity their brand holds or the downstream impact incongruent decisions can have. I’ve seen it first-hand in my own career.

To be clear, brands can and should evolve – it’s not a static company asset. But marketing leaders without a strong head for branding cannot adequately represent these negative implications at the leadership table. A strong CMO with the aforementioned blended skillset, will be able to translate company strategy into the brand’s functional and emotional benefits to customers. Leaders need to bring marketing in early and often as company strategy is defined to understand where the brand needs to flex.

The CMO of the future will be able to crack open new growth opportunities using every asset at their disposal: data, research and analysis, technology, creativity, a motivated team and a well-defined brand rooted in customer insight.