The CMO Identity Crisis

By Chris Hummel, CMO-in-Residence at Eastwick

The Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) is definitely living through some interesting times. On the one hand, the core mandates of Marketing — defining and telling the company story, articulating the offer, and orchestrating the brand experience — all appear on the rise in terms of perceived value. On the other hand, the profession of marketing — and especially the role of the CMO — is going through an identity crisis.

At their best, the CMO is a senior commercial officer of the company who delivers significant, tangible impact on the business performance of a company (revenue and valuation). Regardless of how you look at it, the role can be exhilarating, frustrating, intellectual, administrative, strategic, creative, scientific, powerless and game-changing — usually all of the above and often all at the same time.

As a CMO, I always tell my marketing teams that “ambiguity has to be our best friend” — a constant companion for any CMO serving during the biggest transformation of the marketing profession in decades. Many fronts are moving.

  • Technology has already become a center of gravity in the administration and execution of marketing, which in turn adds complexity and depth to the CIO-CMO relationship.
  • The explosion of data available to marketers — and to everyone else — has deluged those who cannot absorb its volume, velocity and structure.
  • The increase in volume of messages and channels generate a cluttering “noise factor” that makes getting your story differentiated and heard more difficult.
  • With so many new channels and players, can anyone truly manage an omnichannel customer experience and build consistency into every touchpoint?
  • And of course there are the old standbys of budget, ROI, decisions rights, organizational structure, etc. that seem harder and harder to justify every year.
All this and of course, the scrutiny on marketing is going up, too.

As the new CMO-in-Residence at Eastwick, it’s my mission to engage with senior executives and influencers in a strategic dialogue around Marketing that helps everyone better understand the profession and specifically the role of the CMO — and to drive more value from them. The first step in this conversation requires us to look in the mirror and recognize the same core ambiguities that are weighing on senior marketers everywhere.

The skill sets for marketing are in flux

  • The need to not just accept but embrace technology is here for good. Data scientists are as important to the creative process as gifted artists. Many executives still love the shiny toys, but more and more, marketing is conducted as a programmatic discipline. Honestly, the most important capabilities lie in the soft skills that thrive in a world of situational and often virtual collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders.

The marketing toolset is democratizing

  • CMOs would historically go to agencies to get what they needed. Now more and more pieces are being brought back in house and programs run internally via online, social, web, etc. For example, outsourcing the brand has never been a good idea to me — I looked for agencies to help me with process, counsel, insight and experience, but I couldn’t find one “agency of record” to deliver all the services and skills I needed. Instead, I looked to a small coalition of strategic agency partners that supplemented and complemented the marketing programs that we had the scale or need to keep in house. Perhaps even more interesting is that this democratization of marketing tools makes it far easier for other departments and functions to actually execute their own marketing, thus blurring organizational boundaries even further. Is Marketing headed for disintermediation?

A growing inability to control the buyer’s journey

  • Buyers have access to more data than ever before. In fact, prospects often know more about a specific subject or an individual product that interests them than the average company marketer or even sales rep. It’s time to recognize that no one can completely control the buyer’s journey. The idea of a linear demand funnel is archaic. As marketers, we can shift and influence the buyer’s journey, but generally our job is to be where the customer wants to go, with the appropriate engagement model for each stage.

Expanding organizational “flashpoints”

  • For decades, engineering and marketing teams have tussled over the direction of product marketing — with engineering usually the winner. Now we see this ambiguity emerging more often. Ecommerce is a natural extension of online marketing, but it challenges the core of existing sales channels. Inside sales and telesales may fall into the same conflict. As marketers focus on the overall customer experience, we march right into the space of the Services team. Is managing the IP, naming and branding portfolio a legal or marketing responsibility? In my last company, the HR team started its own employer branding project without even consulting marketing. These organizational flashpoints are increasing in breadth and depth.

The unique structure of every company’s marketing organization

  • From my 20-plus years of experience, the size, scope, activities and mandate of every marketing organization are as unique as a fingerprint. Sure, there are lots of common elements, but no two companies do it the same way. While you might see departments like “Corporate Marketing” and roles like “Campaign Manager” in almost every organization, what they actually do from place to place could be very different. Marketing has essentially degenerated into a tribal state based on the history, lore and expectations of the individual company. [Not to get sidetracked, but this also accounts for the difficulty in finding the right skill sets in hiring marketing personnel and for the frustrating fragmentation of marketing automation solutions today.]

Marketing is at its best as a facilitator, engaging with all other parts of the company, providing holistic views of the customer perspective, and amplifying the best of the organization to create a whole that is greater than the sum of the individual parts. CMOs should acknowledge the ambiguity that has created this identity crisis in the profession and focus on creating value. These are all topics we’ll continue to explore over the next few months.


Chris Hummel is our first CMO-in-Residence. A world-class sales and marketing leader with more than 20 years of experience of impactful contributions to Fortune 300 multi-national corporations, Chris’s enterprise skills are second to none, having worked on senior leadership teams with Oracle, SAP, Unify and Schneider Electric.

Interested in our CMO-in-Residence program? Contact Heather Kernahan, heather@eastwick.com. Office hours are open.

Find out more about our CMO-in-Residence program here: https://medium.com/eastwick-digital-marketing/eastwick-announces-cmo-in-residence-program-ad250bbd5247

Like what you read? Give Eastwick a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.