Future-Proofing the Role of the CMO: Owning the Seat at the Growth Table

By Insights for Curious Marketers Archives
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The role of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) has evolved dramatically from a functional mandate to a business growth mandate. This shift necessitates a future-proofing of the CMO role to ensure continued relevance and impact in driving business growth. The key themes that emerge in this evolution are Centricity, Fluency, Defiance, and Agility. Let’s delve into these themes, supported by insights from industry leaders who presented last night at the 2024 American Marketing Association (AMA) Hall of Fame Awards.

Human Centricity: The Core of Marketing

"Human centricity is the key," asserts Samantha Maltin, CMO at Sesame Workshop, highlighting the essential shift towards putting people at the heart of marketing strategies. The CMO's role today extends beyond external customers to include internal stakeholders. Janet Balis from EY emphasizes, “Definitions don’t work anymore. We need to think beyond traditional silos and embrace a holistic view of our customers and our employees.”

One of the critical aspects of human-centric marketing is understanding the internal brand. Maltin elaborates, “As a CMO, you’re a steward of the entire brand, inside and out. The more we demonstrate fluency across the C-suite and reflect that empathy and expertise, the more we can influence the overall business strategy.”

Fluency: Mastering the Language of Business

CMOs must transcend traditional marketing boundaries and develop a deep understanding of the entire business. As Josh London from Reuters explains, “The best marketers are adept at spotting trends and turning dots into lines. This ability to connect insights and communicate their strategic value is essential.”

Fluency in strategic communications is another vital skill. Soyoung Kang, CMO at EOS Products, notes, “Strategic communications should be part of the CMO’s core capabilities. It’s about communicating with clarity, simplicity, and influence, both internally and externally.”

Defiance: Challenging Conventional Norms

CMOs must defy traditional definitions and challenge the status quo to drive innovation and growth. “We need to own the brand of Chief Marketing Officers,” says Balis. “When the pandemic hit, who innovated through the crisis? It was the CMO who understood the zeitgeist of consumers and turned around a crisis.”

This defiance extends to redefining partnerships and collaborations. At an earlier panel on purpose, Macys’ “For Every One” campaign was cited as a prime example of leveraging partnerships for greater reach and relevance. Maltin highlights the importance of aligning brand stories with cultural zeitgeist, as seen in Sesame Workshop's collaboration with United’s Chief Trash Officer campaign and Hazel Health’s telehealth services for kids.

Agility: Navigating the Future with Flexibility

Agility is crucial in adapting to the fast-paced changes in the marketing landscape. “Agility of talent is about moving from short-term to long-term thinking,” says Kang. “A growth mindset, integrity, and curiosity are fundamental traits for today’s CMO.”

The ability to pivot quickly and embrace new opportunities is vital. Minjae Ormes, Vice President Marketing from LinkedIn, points out LinkedIn’s successful growth from 1 billion to 2 billion engaged users as an example of strategic agility. “Don’t stay in your lane,” she advises. “Expand your remit and embrace transformation.”

Key Skills for Future-Proofing the CMO Role

Future-proofing the CMO role requires a reciprocal understanding of business functions and the ability to expand the remit of marketing. This involves getting to know the plumbing and connective valves of the organization. “CMOs should show up as ‘Market’ experts, not just ‘Marketing’ experts,” says Benji Baer, CMO at CBRE. “It’s about thinking like a business owner and delivering value that aligns with business KPIs.”

A strong business understanding, strategic communication skills, and a growth mindset are essential. Ormes emphasizes the importance of partnerships, citing their collaboration with Unilever on the Crown Act and Headspace to champion mental health at work. “It’s about expanding your audience reach and bringing in new perspectives.”


The role of the CMO is undergoing a significant transformation. To own the seat at the growth table, CMOs must embrace human centricity, develop fluency in business language, defy conventional norms, and navigate the future with agility. As Balis succinctly puts it, “The CMO sits at the heart of all commercial growth functions and tethers everything back together in an increasingly data-driven world.”

Future-proofing the CMO role is not just about adapting to change but leading it. By focusing on Centricity, Fluency, Defiance, and Agility, CMOs can deliver growth one business KPI at a time and ensure their continued relevance and impact in driving business success.

Photo credit: Source: DALL-E 2024 with prompt "Future-Proofed CMO and team"

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