CMOs: Look Beyond the Basics to Create Relevance at Scale

The big consumer brands that have long defined the industry are no longer untouchable. Rapidly changing consumer needs and expectations is creating a highly uncertain, disruptive environment – one full of challenges, but ripe with new possibility too.

The chief marketing officers (CMOs) of these big consumer goods companies have achieved phenomenal success in recent years. They achieved the marketing holy grail of embedding their brands at the center of their consumers’ everyday lives and built titan reputations as they did so. But could this legacy of success ultimately be their downfall?

Accenture’s new research shows CMOs of consumer brands are still exceling in their traditional marketing functions. But that’s now happening at the expense of generating new growth for the business – many CMOs are spending less time driving disruptive growth than they were two years ago.

To some extent, it is understandable that CMOs are falling back on tried and tested methods, when the rapidly accelerating pace of change means that exceptional ingenuity, innovation, and insight is needed. In fact, three in every four CMOs say the top way they look to achieve strategic marketing objectives is by reapplying solutions that worked in the past.

Looking beyond the marketing basics

But being brilliant at the basics won’t be enough in the long run. A different approach from the CMO is now required to support a “living business”- one that can sense and respond to fluctuating consumer and market demands. And corporate leaders increasingly expect more from the marketing function. Accenture’s research shows 52% of consumer goods CEOs now hold their CMOs responsible for driving disruptive growth.

So CMOs must find a way to free themselves from their organizational shackles and devote more of their time to creating new relevance at scale to drive value and growth for the business. They have vital skillsets which will help ensure their organizations can continuously adapt to evolving customer needs, providing “hyper-relevant” experiences that deliver just what the consumer needs, just when they need it.

Meeting consumers on their terms

The need to deliver personalized experiences and tailored marketing is becoming ever more pressing as a means of building consumer relationships for the long haul. Look at how the craft brewing sector is cleverly infusing “relevance” into its products. Intelligent Brewing Company is a great example. This innovative brand invites consumers to weigh in on beer flavors and carbonation levels via its website. This crowdsourced insight is then fed back into the brand’s algorithm to produce continuously refined and personalized beer recipes at scale, with the resulting brews shipped monthly to subscribers. That’s consumer relevance on a whole new scale.

We have also seen a wave of direct-to-consumer brands shake up the market by offering customers new experiences, as well as individually tailored products and services. Consider how Mink’s technology lets customers “3D-print” self-designed makeup at home. Or, how hair care brand, Function of Beauty, created  54 trillion possible formulations so that consumers can select a product to meet their individual “hair goals”.

Updating the marketing “toolbelt”

To achieve this kind of responsiveness, CMOs will need to bring new and enhanced strategies into play – platform thinking, silo busting, cutting-edge AI and analytics. These are the tools that leaders will use to build the titan reputations of tomorrow.

But many CMOs today are still being held back by legacy systems and processes – significantly more so than in other industries. Six out of 10 told Accenture they weren’t able to develop the more agile, dynamic organizations and operating models required in today’s fast-changing environment. And two-thirds of CMOs cited a lack of critical technology and tools as a top barrier to improving performance.

Focus on getting to growth

Transforming an entire marketing organization is no easy task. But by focusing on three key areas, CMOs can prepare their teams – and their companies – to thrive. They are:

Centering the entire business around growth, ensuring the organization can adapt and respond, not to where its customers are today, but to where they’ll be tomorrow. It means working across the organization to upgrade operating models and shape a far more consumer-centric culture.

Preparing to let go of traditional and familiar technologies. Modern, adaptable backend systems will deliver the agility that smaller, newer competitors are already enjoying. And technologies like AI, analytics, and the IoT will open up new operating models and create different and much more personalized product and service innovation to serve consumers across a variety of channels.

Being ready to reimagine roles and ways of working. Taking inspiration from leaders who are moving away from vertical static structures to more flexible groups of multidisciplinary “pods” – small teams brought together to solve specific problems. And planning for entirely different kinds of skillsets: “immersive experience designers”, “storytellers”, “growth hackers”, and “futurologists” – just some of the new types of talent CMOs said they expect to need in the years to come.

Finding the freedom to reinvent

The reality is, there’s no longer any part of the business that isn’t impacted by marketing in some way. And the expectations on CMOs are growing significantly as a result.

They must therefore ensure they give themselves the freedom to take on this expanded role, balancing the need to deliver the marketing basics brilliantly and cost-effectively with the need to help the whole business drive real growth.

Laura Gurski is senior managing director, global lead, Consumer Goods and Services at Accenture

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