Latest great guest post by Aidan McCullen   Senior Partner: Imagination and Strategy with  Digital, Media & Business Imagination Strategist, admire ,, host @TheInnoShow.

Imagine for a moment that the role of Chief Marketing Officer did not exist…

What would happen?

Few roles have been disrupted by the internet as much as the role of marketing. The internet and digital marketing has wreaked havoc with the roles of traditional marketers. They are being replaced by younger executives with greater knowledge, more hands-on experience and smaller pay expectations. Globalisation has meant not only is there greater competition for audience attention, but also for roles.

Now, marketers traditional and digital are facing disruption with the imminent arrival of artifical intelligence. What will this mean for the marketing executive and what can they do to future-proof their role?

Before we explore the future of the CMO, let’s take a trip down memory lane to see how it has evolved.

Memory Lane

Let us revisit the days of VHS, of the floppy disc, the days when one-to-many push media was king. The days when a Marketing Manager “managed” a handful of media, by managed of course I mean manage the agencies who actually managed it. The marketing mix a mix of one-to-many media: TV, Radio, Print and Outdoor. The very brave, who had budget dabbled with email and maybe guerilla also. However, as no-one got fired for buying the four, not many took the risk.

These were the days when you planned a year ahead, planned your budget, left a little aside for contingency and then spent the year monitoring the execution of that plan. The following year it was a case of a meeting with the agencies to see what “worked”.

Of course, these were the days of no real measurement, because these were the days pre-digital. These were the days when the telephone survey was king. These were the days when you were planning next year’s marketing activities, you met your agencies and simply tweaked last year’s plan by 5-10%, rinsed and repeated.

In the good old days you had a top seat in the boardroom and it looked something like this.

Then along came websites, for some this was obviously a job for I.T. and the marketing team simply made sure the logo was correct and the right brand tones were used. The website was just a brochure and not that important.

Image by http://www.web-sense.co.uk

Next, along comes social media, which opened a serious can of worms. Many-to-many media like social media meant the public now had an unfiltered voice beyond the few dial-in radio shows and the letters to the editor section of the newspaper. This allowed consumers to express their true brand experiences publically. Social media not only meant that brands had to actually live their brand promises, it meant they had to engage the public on these evolving platforms.

The marketing managers who had budget (bearing in mind this was slap bang in the middle of the economic downturn) engaged a new form of agency. Thus the social media agency managed all things social.

Those, who didn’t have budget might have used a series of interns or marketing executives to do this job as it wasn’t seen as important anyway.

In doing so, they outsourced their very opportunity to build peripheral skillsets and learn for the future. Harvard professor Clayton Christensen calls this the great tragedy of outsourcing.

More Plates

So now you have social, digital, digital advertising, seo added to the pie that you originally managed. You have so many plates spinning on sticks that it is hard to keep up. What’s worse is your CEO’s 15-year-old daughter tells her you should be on Bebo (R.I.P.) and Vimeo and a plethora of new platforms and this only adds to the stress.

Your CEO doesn’t know how to deal with any of this and has the economic downturn to deal with and so they start to wonder if you really know what you are doing or if you out of your depth. Truth be told, you are, but so is everyone, the worst thing you could do is to continue to outsource everything, but in so many cases that is exactly what happened.

Vanity metrics such as how many fans you have on Facebook and how many followers you have on twitter become a metric for the board, so now you are tempted to grow numbers artificially rather than organically. Artificial growth was powered by like gating or fan gating (giving away prizes to Facebook fans only so they will “like” your page), which works for the numbers, but not for the loyalty and authenticity of followers (some may have even bought fans to boost numbers).

A new cat in town

While all this outsourcing is going on a new cat comes to town. This is amidst an economic downturn where your spend is obliterated and the iPhone was born. The head of digital was usually borne out of a high potential energetic employee, who was happy to do any role for the company. Her digital role was initially seen as a lesser one, one that was not too important. This was exactly the opportunity the digital resource needed; they could operate somewhat independently and experiment.

The digital employee worked hard to achieve seemingly much smaller, but very measurable results. The lack of importance assigned to digital (in the early days) gave the digital person a chance to learn on the job (like everyone else). One thing a digital resource understood early was the need for authenticity and purpose in the digital realm.

If the head of digital was not frustrated by traditional practices so much to leave the company (a lot did leave for startups, digital pure players and digital platforms) then their stock rose greatly within their company. Ideally their ego did not follow this rise in stock, unfortunately in many cases it did.

Often what happened next is that marketing and digital became silos. This was not necessarily a bad thing as the digital department could learn how to operate in a rapidly evolving world. The key is that it could do this away from the way the business was run and focus on a new operating system, one for tomorrow’s (and today’s) world. In a way the digital department was a precursor to the corporate innovation incubator.

The absolute worst thing that could happen for the marketer is that he didn’t embrace digital. For some, embracing digital meant embracing a new agency, while the optimal outcome would have been to embrace the digital resource within the company (or create one) and develop digital marketing as an in-house function. This would have had many benefits, not least for the marketer who would go from managing agencies to being part of campaigns, tweaking them, enhancing them and most importantly constantly learning.

As for your boardroom, you had to get a new chair because the head of digital (or chief digital officer CDO) needed one.

Just when you thought…

Fast forward a few years and you have just got to grips with digital. You have managed to convince the board to invest in digital marketing. You have worked with the digital team and have hired an in-house community manager and you manage and tweak and measure all digital activity daily. You are dealing with things like attribution, which is ok; you are getting the hang of it. The plates on the sticks were just about manageable.

The next thing that lands in your world is the need for data. Data, big or small is a la mode and it is indeed essential to create a data driven company. So now your fragmented pie fragments even more.

In many companies this fell to you to manage also, at least for now.

In others, a head of data, a chief data officer or a CXO, chief experience officer is hired. This takes measurement and analytics to a whole new level and in so many cases dilutes the stock marketing officer even further.

Data is another plate spinning on a stick, but you are not out of the woods yet.

Your boardroom is getting a little cramped now, the CXO or Chief Digital Officer has a seat too.

CFO whispers to the CEO, “Do we need a CMO at all?”

The M“AI”rketing Department

If not already, then very shortly you will have artificial intelligence (henceforth AI) predicting your arrival time at your office and it/he/she/they will have a live dashboard not only historical data of your campaigns, but predictive analytics. This may even be connected to your car, phone or watch as these days you work from home.

AI will inform you not to advertise at certain times because of socio-economic factors or because those times do not suit your target audience. AI will optimise and manage your campaigns better and more efficiently than any human ever could, AI does not need a break.

Why is this? As media buying is becoming more and more automated and has shifted to a digital realm machines are simultaneously becoming more connected.

We are moving to an API economy, where information can easily link to other information to optimise decision-making. In this world the computer is king and will only get stronger. Yes, we need analysts to translate the data to actionable insights, but in time the AI will improve to disrupt the analyst also. See below for a list of jobs being replaced by AI. To check if your job will be replaced, see this neat link from npr: http://bit.ly/Katawave

Meanwhile, back in the boardroom it feels rather cramped. The senior executives have been thinking it for a while, but no one has dared to say it. Finally, when AI becomes mainstream, the CFO whispers to the CEO, Do we need a CMO at all?”

The Outlook

This has been a perfect storm for the marketing officer. It has been very similar to the disruption in so many industries. It was comfortable for a long time, it was easy, the good days were great, but then a series of conditions conspired against you and you fnd yourself where you are today. You are being disrupted by a plethora of new players who you didn’t even see coming. You certainly didn’t see them ever disrupting your very role. However, there is a solution, in fact, there are several, but we need to look beyond the glass being half full.

Chief Meaning Officer, you need a North Star

As we have covered in previous Thursday Thoughts the idea of a North Star can be thought of as a Disneyland castle. Walt Disney designed Disney Land so that the castle would act as a guiding magnetic beacon to guide the guests in Disney Land. Guests are subconsciously drawn to the castle. For more on the origin of this, see here.

Just as the castle does this, so too must your company’s purpose. The North Star can represent your company’s purpose, your projects goal, or a representation of the future.

When this is done correctly, not only do the public know what you stand for, but so do the people who work for the company.

When a company has a clear purpose it gives them a bigger reason to come to work everyday, it gives them purpose it gives them direction, it gives them MEANING.

This is your number one goal as CMO, congratulations, you have just become “Chief Meaning Officer”. This is a role that cannot be replaced by AI.

Other things to consider

Once your North Star is clearly articulated to all stakeholders internally and externally your job gets a whole lot easier, but equally more purposeful.

“We live in an age of holistic Marketing”

We live in an age of holistic marketing and by this I mean we need to think of our brand holistically, end to end. Think about Apple andhow they control everything from design of boxes to presentations, to marketing messages to the store in which they are sold. This attention to detail is essential to ensure that your brand delivers its brand promise every day, every minute, it simply cannot fail to delight,

Your brand needs to give back and be authentic about it. Think about Tom’s Shoes, an ecommerce shoe company who gives a pair of shoes to charity for every pair they sell.

Your brand needs to go the extra mile, think of the luxury hotels in Italy who have removed a front desk and instead opted for an ambassador service. Each guest gets a designated ambassador for their stay and can call by mobile phone 24/7 during their stay.

As the Chief Meaning Officer your stock will rise again. You are doing the job CEOs should be doing, but are too busy to do. You will embrace AI and use it to free up your brain to ensure that the North Star is clear, that you are delivering on your promise and finally you will ask the important questions that people are too busy to even contemplate.

CEO of x.ai Dennis Mortensen told us on a recent innovation show that work is no longer just about software assisting you, it is about handing over the task to the software.

The “outlier”, the successful person will be the one who asks different questions. Coming up with the answer is the easy part and can be done by AI (tactics). Tomorrow, you will be rewarded for coming up with the question (pre-strategy).

“Coming up with the answer is the easy part. Tomorrow, you will be rewarded for coming up with the question.?—?Dennis Mortensen, CEO of x.ai”

As CMO you will be rewarded for coming up with the questions for your brand, Who are you? What do you stand for? Are you authentic? Are you holistic?

Good luck.

On this week’s show, funding, animation, startups, pitch decks, deal flows, community enterprise funding, startup islands and leadership. Our guests are John Phelan, National Director HBAN, Andrew Parish, Director Startup Ireland, Fiona Descoteaux, CEO Innovate Dublin.


If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with us at [email protected] or on Twitter: @SimonCocking

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