CMO today, CEO tomorrow?

How the next generation of full-stack marketers are leading business transformations with content marketing

Coca-Cola’s recent decision not to replace its departing global chief marketing officer highlights a growing trend: Today’s CMO is no longer just the CMO.

By splitting the CMO role into two functions - chief innovation officer and chief growth officer - Coke is another example of how companies are shaking up org charts in search of competitive advantage.

The CMO’s responsibilities are explicitly expanding to include leading digital and non-digital transformation projects, all to deliver new growth and innovation initiatives. 

With global competition intensifying, the financial sector is following the consumer sector’s lead in using digitization to build a better client experience. These client-centric approaches require new and unfamiliar changes to business and mental models - something that’s never come naturally to finance.

But a fundamental question remains: who exactly owns organizational transformation efforts to realign technology, processes, and resources on the path to competitive differentiation?

Leading banks and investment managers are learning it’s the CMO who is best positioned to usher in smart combinations of digital and non-digital resources.


The changing nature of the CMO role requires today's marketing leaders to understand better how their business runs and where success comes from. Progressive marketing executives are responding to new pressures by thinking more like a CEO.

By broadening and deepening their competencies, marketing leaders are managing the challenges of digital transformation by adding the ability to work across a variety of disciplines.   

Where do new ideas come from? The answer is simple: differences. Creativity comes from unlikely juxtapositions
— Nicholas Negroponte, Professor and Co-Founder, MIT Media Laboratory

Skilled in many areas: data science, technology, design thinking, branding, and even finance. The emergence of the full-stack marketer is helping many companies take advantage of big data, personalized products and services, and all things digital.

Compared to other senior leadership teams tasked with managing digital disruption; non-linear thinking CMOs are proving more comfortable forming strategic alliances throughout all levels of the organizations.

As more companies evolve to take advantage of transformation opportunities, hybrid CMOs are quickly developing into effective organizational change agents.


Business strategist Dion Hinchcliffe points out, when it comes to delivering digital transformation, change agents matter the most. Neither strategy, budget, nor an elegant roadmap is the single most important determinant of successful business transformation. Rather, it’s those with the ability to execute while rallying others in affecting change.

While technically, anyone can be a change agent. It’s those capable of managing internal frictions while illuminating the way forward – such as big picture thinking marketing executives – who are surprisingly gaining the necessary organizational social capital needed to spread bold ideas.

According to Gartner’s most recent “CMO Spend Survey,” the average CMO now spends nearly as much on technology as the CIO. Marketing budgets are beginning to swell as well, with many averaging as much as 12% of company revenues. As budgets have grown - so too have expectations – with many CMOs now owning or sharing in P&L responsibilities.

Only 37% of executives believe that their own business model and operations are aligned with their company’s purpose
— Harvard Business Review

When it comes to leading business transformation efforts tied to digital, customer experience, and innovation, the multidisciplinary capabilities of today’s CMOs puts them in a prime position to drive transformational change - not just incremental.

Disparate efforts throughout the company: whether IT, marketing, or innovation, require additional steps to organize work, align managerial direction, and reframe business models. Projects sponsored by lateral thinking CMOs are accelerated by their ability to create, share, and execute integrated change campaigns – including developing engagement around corporate purpose, ethos, and mission.


Today’s marketing departments are much different than the department of arts and crafts of ten years ago. More than ever, marketing departments are challenged with spreading the corporate story across numerous digital and traditional channels.

Within 10 years – it’s not unthinkable the CMO will carry as much organizational weight as the CFO
— Small Batch Labs

This story is way beyond just catchy descriptions of what the company sells or the problems it solves; it’s about who the company is. Excellent corporate communications require branding that demonstrates a value proposition, corporate culture, purpose, and mission.

Business transformation is as much about reimagining internal cultures as it is about reimagining external client and customer experiences. To increase engagement with employees, shareholders, and stakeholders of every variety, CMOs are becoming studio heads. By rolling out timely and personalized content, they’re cultivating relationships, shifting away from ‘product-push’ models, and putting client journeys at the heart of communications. 

As savvy customers increasingly see through marketing – no longer believing what you say – many of the most successful financial brands are realizing they’re not just in their primary business, but also in the content business.

Similar to how a studio head recognizes success depends on the quality of the stories they create; leading CMOs understand the value of brand storytelling is far more than a tactical exercise.

Financial services entities are getting closer to clients by using content marketing to build trust, familiarity, and relatability – all of which fuels their primary business activities.

By sharing how their core business is part of the product, not just another part of advertising; the best marketers are enriching client experience by getting people to move towards their products.


We are in the midst of a massive migration in business models; from managing assets and optimizing services to creating memorable experiences. Tomorrow’s great marketing departments and their leaders fully appreciate the winners in the digital economy will come from putting people first – and technology second - this includes the messy but necessary steps to add cross-functional capabilities, redefine cultures, and improve brand storytelling.