What Do Changes in the C-Suite Mean for Marketers’ Future?


A shakeup is taking place in the C-suite. It happens every time a game-changing disruption occurs in the marketplace.

Companies are introducing several new C-level positions: the chief customer officer, chief experience officer, chief design officer, chief innovation officer, chief insight officer, chief analytics officer, and chief digital officer.

The threads running through all those new positions are a piercing focus on customers, the imperative for companies to distinguish themselves on basis of their customer experience, and a desire to better understand current, emerging, and future demands to fuel innovation.

Those new C-level positions also reflect senior managers’ conviction that those tasks require organizational capabilities beyond that of today’s marketing departments.

Chief Customer Officer (CCO)

For example, the CCO (or the chief experience officer or chief customer experience officer) is charged with understanding and enhancing the customer experience across the entire customer journey. That begins with a potential customer’s awareness of a need or desire; continues with his or her discovery of various companies’ solutions; includes lead generation, nurturing, and potential purchase; incorporates customer service, ongoing engagement, and loyalty programs; and often includes collaboration efforts—co-creation, co-servicing, and advocacy—with customers.

Senior managers with extensive experience that span operations, quality control, marketing, and information systems are filling those roles. Their rich and varied backgrounds provide them with the credibility and networks to lead the effort across functions, business units, and broader partner ecosystem. The majority report directly to CEOs.

Chief Design Officer (CDO)

The CDO is charged with infusing design principles and methodology throughout the organization. In this instance, design is not about making products more beautiful or enhancing the cleverness of marketing. Rather, it is about expanding how strategy is developed with creative thinking and putting the customer, rather than the company, at the center of innovation.

A new role, the CDO position tends to be awarded to designers with years of product and process development experience, often gained in consultative roles with innovation firms like IDEO. Catalysts for change, CDOs are creative thinkers and strong leaders, skilled in running effective innovation processes, and able to inspire and equip everyone within the company to think like a designer. Most CDOs report directly to the CEO; some designers are CEOs.

Chief Innovation Officer (CION)

With responsibility for future generation of revenue and profits, today’s CION is closely related to the CDO.

In the past, winning innovation strategies included incremental, share-taking enhancements or cost-saving reductions.

In today’s environment, with competition coming from four corners of the globe, and the half-life of business models declining, companies must transform themselves into vibrant platforms upon which they can continually develop and test new products and services that may build or transform industries. The cultivation of purposeful networks of partners who share the costs, risks, and development of those offerings is central to this platform-based innovation strategy.

CIONs often report to the head of R&D or the CEO; in some instances, both the CMO and the CIO are accountable to the CION.

The roles of the chief insight officer, chief analytics officer, and chief digital officer reflect the growing importance of data and advanced analytics in companies’ ability to offer a remarkable customer experience. The insight generated from data and analytics allows companies to prioritize consumers, predict what they may want or need next, and design and deliver individualized customer interactions across the customer journey.

Marketers are also able to test hypotheses about trends in their markets, categories, and adjacent spaces, and to evaluate their marketing efforts. Solid executive leadership is required to fill this role, as it demands the ability to build a broader analytics foundation than is available in most companies. That includes…

  • Putting new technology infrastructure and tools in place to gather disparate data
  • Coordinating data analytic efforts
  • Building consensus around the focus of business analytics throughout the organization
  • Being a champion and enabler of a more data-driven mind-set across departments

This person also has to be obsessed with customers and committed to driving business results with data in real time.

With all these new C-level titles, is there room for a chief marketing officer in the C-suite?


Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)

The CMO role could morph into any of those roles if marketers develop the requisite skills.

For starters, we need to understand our customers thoroughly. Drawing upon big and small data, qualitative and quantitative information, and advanced analytics, we must be able to build a dynamic, real-time context for our interactions. That is critical, as relevance is rapidly becoming essential to engagement as well as sales, advocacy, or collaboration.

We also need to be able to understand how our customers experience our brands at all stages of their journey with us. That is a dynamic proposition as preferences and brand impressions change continually.

So, marketers must become experience architects, who can design and develop relevant experiences that will intrigue, engage, and even delight prospects and customers regularly. To do so, we can become adept at experience design. Knowing the basics of behavior science, we can better understand how to elicit a target behavior and to create habits around our brands.

Knowing the ins and outs of marketing automation makes it possible for us to scale individualized communications across channels and to incorporate predictive analytics to choose the next best action. State-of-the-art content marketing strategies, social media engagement, and effective loyalty program design fuel ongoing engagement.

Building Customer Relationships Is Essential

Being familiar with those new tools is not enough. Using them to build customer relationships is essential. Ultimate job security and satisfaction comes from our ability to transform key market segments into relationships with real people who feel a connection with us—and to be able to do so at scale. That requires us to re-envision our role as marketers to be one of trusted advisors rather than pushers of sales and to value our customers as partners, rather than transactions.

Building relationships is a collaborative venture. It involves managing and integrating multiple moving parts within our own organizations, such as customer service, sales, web design, fulfillment, IT, e-commerce, and more. Those parts have to work together consistently to realize the customer experience differential.

Always Be Curious

Finally—and this may well be the most complicated part—we must remain curious experts, not experts blinded by their knowledge. As well as we may know our prospects and customers, we must do what marketing expert Scott Bedbury, once said, “Show up stupid. Be forever curious.”

To be successful, we must always look with fresh eyes and continually ask potentially naive sounding questions of our colleagues who may know our prospects and customers differently.

Marketers need to get in the game now and take ownership of what is to be rather than stand back and allow others to assume Marketing’s responsibilities.

Understanding the new marketing toolkit and how these tools work together to create remarkable customer experience will allow us to meet the challenge, take advantage of the opportunities in front of us, and survive C-suite shakeups.

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Larry Weber and Lisa Leslie Henderson are co-authors of The Digital Marketer: 10 New Skills You Must Learn to Stay Relevant and Customer-Centric, available in April 2014. Be a part of the conversation at #thedigitalmarketer and here.

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