Source IAS The Marketing Society - Digital Day Singapore 2024

Leading as a Da Vinci CMO

A Digital Day Singapore review

I had an amazing opportunity to be part of a fireside chat with The Marketing Society at their first Digital Day in Singapore. The topic of the fireside chat was titled – “The DIGI- CMO- the ever-evolving role of a CMO”.  I had to share my views on the challenges and opportunities faced by the ever-evolving role of a CMO. The importance of the usage of digital and data for CMO, how the latest trends are impacting the life of a CMO. But most importantly, what is my view on what it takes to be a “multi-disciplinary” CMO in this age of turbulence that we live in now.

It set me reflecting on this topic a fair bit, having lived my last 8 years as a CMO at a regional and global level.

We are currently living in an age of a pretty turbulent time, where macro societal and economic trends are extremely uncertain, coupled with technological transformation that makes a CMO role almost ‘unthinkable’.

Let me start with some alarming facts...

Two years ago, Spencer Stuart conducted a survey that the average life span of a global CMO is about 43 months. In 2024, the same survey is conducted, and the life span has decreased to 37 months, but the good news is many are going towards better jobs with advancement of careers.  The CMO role in the C-suite is the most complex and not well- understood.

So, are the CMOs facing their ‘Last Supper’ (painting by Leonardo Da Vinci), or there is no better time to be in marketing or be a CMO?

I belong to the world of optimists!

I think there is no better time to be in marketing and to be a CMO. I think what we need to do is to continuously keep up our marketing craft and leadership ethos and share our learnings generously and help more aspiring marketeers become CMOs.

People and organizations need to be even more anchored in purpose.

In this age of uncertainty, People and organizations need to be even more anchored in purpose. Global marketing leaders need to know their purpose and to clearly define their brand’s purpose. Purpose is the way in to be the moral compass and NorthStar for the brands but also to know where and what to ‘sacrifice’, especially in this age of transparency. The purpose also guides the global brand team (both local and global) to know how to operate and figure out the vision and the plan. 

Business and Brands are not just about profit, brands play a role in enhancing people’s lives. 

Business and brands are no longer just about profit. It is about enhancing people’s lives and across the multiple communities that the business serves. The focus should expand beyond shareholders to include other stakeholders. This expanded circle of influence needs to be addressed through integrated approaches that drive both the brand and business financial wellbeing over time. To achieve this, CMOs and their needs need to have a holistic world of the macro, societal, economic, political, consumer and technological trends. They need to develop brands that serve a universal human truth with a differentiated brand promise brought alive in a consistent, yet relevant way across multicultural and geographies.

Think Enterprise-wide strategy and end to end and orientate towards customer first to position marketing as a lever of growth. Unify their peers and create circle of influence.

I think this is even more critical in this turbulent time when growth is challenged.  CMOs need to operate and think enterprise-wide strategy and orientate towards customer first to position marketing as a lever of growth. They need to influence their C-suite peers particularly with their CFOs, CHROs, and CTOs to ensure that marketing is seen as being a lever of growth. Utilising customer knowledge as a power of orientation to drive growth and helping organization drive sustainable pricing power will be smart moves to position marketing’s value.

Brand teams need to live in both ‘global and local’ lives. 

Gone are the days that global brand teams operate on their own, whilst local brand teams operate on their own and continuously fight over their differences. Technological advancement has created a world where with a click on the phone, local teams can know what happens to a brand in a global context within the next hour. Netizens navigate from local to global within a click of a communication device. Instead of spending time talking about roles and responsibilities, brand teams need to speed all their time understanding the consumers' needs and solve problems in their daily lives and ensure that their brands and products play a critical role in part of his problem-solving situation. They need to embrace technology e.g. AI, partnering with their creativity and curious mind to dedicate time to this craft. With the ‘unthinkable’ world that we live in now, there has not been an ever more important ‘heightened time’ to dedicate time to solving this problem for the brands they lead.

Build a community of collaborators with speed of communication! 

Great global marketing stewardship requires what I call servant leadership. One needs to play different roles at different times. Imagine the leader of an All-Blacks Rugby Team – you serve as a leader, a coach, a cheerleader, a goalkeeper and even right down to the executor. You need to know when to play what role especially whereby you are leading a team of multi- cultural and diverse brand managers. Being authentic with your own purpose and leading from the front to align the brand purpose to the team's purpose is a model that I often used to harness teamwork.

Embrace best practices, practice ‘lift and shift’ and leverage scale. This is what I often meant by the power of community. Most importantly, speed of communication and transparent communication becomes even more critical given the age that we are serving. All for the sake of building a brand with soul to serve the lives of the people and their communities that we serve.

Lead with confidence, yet with empathy. Help build resilience teams.

Resilience is the name of the game. Not only at a personal level, but also at helping to build resilient team. CMOs need to lead with confidence to communicate and inspire his or her vision with passion, but also knowing when to slow down to reflect and adapt or cross- correct the course when the approach is not right. Personal self-leadership becomes extremely important to help build resilience internally, but also to model a leadership approach that cares about purpose and building resilience in team.

I wrote about how mini-retreats is important to drive and build ‘inner-sanctuary’ in one of my fortnightly newsletter and many of the global leadership trainings for CEOs – talks about the ‘art of retreat’. I think ensuring that yourself and your teams’ resilience are elevated becomes an important capability built.

So, does it sound ‘daunting’?

Well, Leonardo Da Vinci did not start his first day of his apprentice ship, knowing how to paint a masterpiece. It is through sessions and sessions of consistent learning, training, perseverance, and resilience that he masters his craft.

I certainly don’t think I am at a ‘mastery’ level yet and had my fair share of challenges. There are also lots of CMOs out there who are facing the same challenges. But, at least, I am willing to learn, try and fail as each failure comes with learnings. I am also extremely willing to share my knowledge and learnings as the more you share, the more you learnt too.

I remain hopeful and optimistic that leading as a Da Vinci CMO is both fulfilling and satisfying!



Siew Ting Foo is a future — focused, human- centric growth leader. She has delivered growth across diverse industries, through helping organizations re-imagining brands, businesses, and organizations. Siew Ting is highly energetic, purpose-driven collaborator, who believes in harnessing people’s potential to build brands, business, and people. She combines “art” and “science” in marketing and harness community to build powerful brands.

Punlished 29 May 2024


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