A team effort

Executive Education
| The European | 9 June 2021

A CMO’s starring role requires a supporting cast of thousands, explains Sharon Harris, CMO at Jellyfish

Telling brand stories that resonate, championing the digital customer experience, building digital-first new marketing capabilities and spearheading the next wave of digital comms innovation. The role of the CMO in today’s digital-first marketplace has expanded almost immeasurably beyond standard dimensions.

In their most recent marketer-focused report, Leadership Vision for 2021: Chief Marketing Officer, Gartner research quantifies what those of us in the industry see every day: that today’s demands have entirely overrun the traditional roles of brand representative, head of marketing function and executive leadership team member. The marketplace now calls for a level of agility that enables a CMO to not only ensure business success but to protect the very survival of the brand.

With the stakes higher than ever, the expectation that a single executive can physically and mentally manage all necessary channels, while still keeping a broad enough viewpoint to keenly strategise the next set of initiatives, is no longer realistic. In addition to the logistical challenges of sole leadership, a CMO who leads in a vacuum also risks missing opportunities and may, in the process, unwittingly forge a path to irrelevance. In a digital-first world, that decline can happen at lightning speed.

How, then, can today’s CMO build a team quickly that can be a nimble supporting cast? One that can bring the expertise and forward viewpoint to the table in real-time as an ever-changing market morphs around them?

In some cases, we’re seeing businesses resort quickly to a learned response, putting faith in an outdated partnership model. These companies pull the traditional agency lever, turning to the full-service experts they’ve valued in the past to fill that critical gap. Yet, the reality is that conventional agency marketing models still treat digital as one piece of the puzzle rather than a core factor of success. With that mindset, it’s impossible for a traditional agency to act as the shape-shifting innovators required by a digital-first landscape.

Add to this the fact that many traditional agencies are still battling digital challenges of their own, scrambling to do so in a global environment. With such an important role to command for today’s CMO, agencies in “catch-up” mode will struggle to execute and run the risk of becoming a liability.

In a perfect world, agencies would reboot and rebuild, starting with digital expertise and expanding outward. In a more realistic scenario, a CMO must look beyond the traditional method of delegating sections of their strategy by instead using the opportunity as a chance to form a dream team of innovators and supporters. We see endless possibilities for brands ready to view their options through this new lens, especially amidst the unpredictability that has become the current era’s hallmark.

If there’s one common belief among those of us operating within the digital marketing ecosystem, it’s that the only certainty in moving on from 2020 is uncertainty. We also know that the digital revolution is no longer on our doorstep; it is embedded in every aspect of our industry. Transcending a single disruption and preparing proactively for the next one are now the keys to sensing and responding to market changes in real-time. To pivot in this rapidly-changing digital landscape, expertise backed by a record of successes is vital. Agility is the new imperative for impactful marketing and the survival of a brand; to stay competitive, a CMO must be intentional when building or refining a skilled, agile digital marketing team. Suppose the choice is to align with an outside agency. In that case, potential partners must be scrutinised to ensure they have the digital mastery, creativity, talent and platforms to meet marketing goals set forth by the CMO.

Partners who not only focus on digital transformation but who constantly seek business opportunities that expand that focus show their value on day one with the technical expertise to quickly launch digital initiatives and the infrastructure already in place to fuel success. Most importantly, agility is second nature to digital-first partners; we are experts trained in reading the tea leaves to see a shift coming and engaging a pivot plan the moment it’s needed.

No longer just part of the mix, digital is unequivocally a business’s core marketing success factor. It’s abundantly clear that in seeking out the right kind of support, a CMO needs more than a team of traditional marketers; they need a cast of thousands, all of whom possess multi-level digital expertise.

With a truly seasoned, skilled army in place guiding the way and lifting them up, today’s CMO can focus on what should be their true starring role, the strategist behind their brand’s ability to connect with consumers in this digital world.

About the author

Sharon Harris is the Chief Marketing Officer at Jellyfish, a digital partner to some of the world’s leading brands including Uber, eBay, Disney, Spotify, Nestlé, Ford, Aviva and ASOS.

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