Modern CMOs must find the right 'changemaker' partners

says David Muldoon at MediaLink

There is one quote that, in my opinion, reflects the current environment more than any other. It is from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who when speaking about the global economy at the 2018 World Economic Forum said, “The pace of change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again.” If that was said in 2021, it could just as easily be attributed to many more aspects of change that we are all facing, such as technological change, COVID-19, diversity & inclusion, the climate crisis and consumer expectations.

This makes for an incredibly complex landscape that modern CMOs need to navigate to survive and thrive in the industry today. However, to truly stand out and out-perform competitors, CMOs can’t solely be reactive embracers of this change - they must be proactive makers of change. These ‘changemakers’ need to be drivers of not just consumer expectation within their marketing department, but also be the driving force across the organisation. This often puts the CMO in an uncomfortable position within their business, as they must think beyond just marketing. Creating these partnerships internally, especially with their CPO and CTO, will give them the best opportunity to drive improved performance for their brand and stay ahead of the competition. 

Through our insight of growth strategy, marketing transformation and executive search we have seen first-hand that as well as having the right internal partnerships, the role of our external partnerships is also being questioned. We’re often told ‘never marry the one you can live with, marry the one you can’t live without’, which very much epitomises the sentiment in MediaLink’s 2021 Revelation Report when discussing the topic of brand and agency relationships. This is where we introduced the notion of “Diagnostic Dating.” Firstly, we identified that during the disruptive 18 months endured by us all, being grateful for the familiarity and rhythm of established client and agency relationships was seen as a positive thing for most. However, more recently, there was an emerging and somewhat urgent sense of clients reassessing their needs and looking for agency partners described as “technically progressive.” 

It seems that the emergence from the pandemic has been a catalyst for a new era of client and agency relationships. Brands are now often looking for support for the full spectrum of skills needed to deliver their customer strategy, in areas such as creative, performance media, E-commerce, AI, data, etc. These diverse skills may not exist solely within their existing agency of record. For those brands looking to deliver this mix of skills within a single agency, despite being difficult to achieve, it ensures that CMOs have one partner agency to help drive connections for their customers and share this responsibility. On the agency side this has meant that agencies have needed to start thinking differently about how to approach pitches, the diversity of talent that they recruit and the agencies that they partner with.  

The risk of brands not adapting to this change has pretty brutal consequences. There are many examples of brands that have fallen by the wayside by not embracing consumer change and aligning their strategy to respond to consumer expectations at pace, such as Woolworths and more recently Debenhams. However, there are also many examples of brands that have embraced a ‘changemaker’ attitude and have seen huge success. Brands such as Starbucks, Nike and Sephora have evolved from mass marketing to data-driven marketing when consumers’ expectations and the technology to support this evolved. Unfortunately, these approaches are no longer enough in isolation to deliver both short-term and long-term performance effectively. The breadth of our relationships has helped us recognise an important third approach, called ‘Brandformance’. This is a brand’s simultaneous need to drive the brand message and do this in a personalised way, through a cohesive full consumer journey, with personalised messages at every touch point that are in line with your brand strategy. 

Charles Darwin wrote in 1869, “It’s not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.” MediaLink have seen this trend play out first-hand, and those brands that adapt to move at the pace of the rapidly changing world around them will be the ones that prevail. From what I have seen, as someone who was on the client side for 23 years and through the insights seen in the Revelation Report, my recommendation to all CMOs is to ensure you have proactive partners that are proven ‘change-makers' across an array of disciplines. And get ready to create the culture internally to ensure your organisation is ready to adapt.