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The New Marketing Leader

There is no doubt that the digital age has ushered in a new approach to how companies interact with clients and customers, and with it comes the need for never-before-seen skill sets.

As companies attempt to keep pace with and surpass the competition, new C-suite positions are quickly emerging. Chief omnichannel officer (COCO), chief customer officer (CCO), chief customer experience officer (CCEO) and chief digital officer (CDO) are all marketing-related roles that are becoming more prevalent as CMOs scramble to adapt to today’s fluid business landscape. In fact, a study by Gartner predicted that 25% of businesses will have created and filled the CDO role by 2015.

Large companies such as Macy’s and Lowe’s have recently appointed COCOs, and the number of CCOs around the world has grown by 25% over the past 10 years, according to the Chief Customer Officer Council. Further, PetSmart recently hired an executive vice president of customer experience, and Gap Inc. recently appointed heads of customer experience for its Gap and Banana Republic brands, and has integrated e-commerce into marketing.

However, instead of looking to fill skills gaps with more roles or simply changing the name of the marketing role, business leaders should be asking themselves, “Do I have the right kind of leadership in place for the business challenges that I’m facing?”

Digital Transformation: A Key Challenge

One of the biggest challenges that almost every marketing executive is grappling with, regardless of industry, is digital transformation. As the marketing function shifts and expands to keep pace with the constant disruption that digital transformation creates, organizations are questioning whether they have the right structure and talent, and if their existing marketing talent is well-aligned to meet the challenges from a skills, leadership and learning agility standpoint.

Understanding the implications and the enterprise-wide change in leadership needed to move the organization forward often falls, in large part, on the shoulders of the CMO and marketing leadership.

From Specialist to Generalist 

Regardless of their titles, marketing leaders, as a whole, need to expand their skill sets to go beyond being marketing specialists and fully embrace becoming marketing generalists who are more broadly connected to the business. As competitive and financial pressures intensify, CMOs must be able to advise on a wider range of issues—including omnichannel marketing, Big Data and business analytics, among others. Learning agility, or the ability to deeply absorb lessons from experience and apply this knowledge when navigating uncharted waters, can help CMOs and other senior marketing executives hone their skill sets to be true business partners.

By becoming more agile, marketing leaders will be able to take back holistic ownership of the function, managing not only the traditional brand and integrated communication responsibilities, but also the omnichannel customer experience, customer relationship strategy, digital strategy and much more. Marketing leaders should be focused on helping their organizations reach their overall business goals, and therefore should be directly connected to the top and bottom line. By being flexible and adaptive, and, most importantly, curious and willing to seek out and learn from new experiences, CMOs will be able to master the disruption, complexity and growing challenges inherent in marketing today.

The Transformative CMO 

As digital transformation creates new challenges—including the growing complexity of the business environment, the communication landscape, customers’ expectations and the innovation cycle—CMOs must push the boundaries of marketing with breakthrough thinking to create value across the business. CMOs must move beyond their traditional roles as “the voice of the customer” and the brand ambassador, and provide strategic leadership, lead change management and achieve quantifiable business results.

By being unafraid to challenge the status quo, innovate and purposefully take on challenging situations, CMOs can serve as business-oriented catalysts for change within their organizations. Results-oriented and ROI-driven, they lead initiatives that create measurable business value. They must have the leadership to inspire others to see the vision and to bring them along as they implement the vision of change. Ultimately, it is the transformative CMO—who is focused on creating something new and different, inspires others to take the change journey and creates tangible results—who will be here to stay.


Caren Fleit is a senior client partner at in the New York office of Los Angeles-based executive recruitment firm Korn Ferry and the leader of Korn Ferry’s Global Marketing Center of Expertise.