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In-depth: Disclaimer – a marketer’s role is no cakewalk

Today’s Chief Marketing Officer’s role is all the more challenging because of an increase in mediums to reach out to consumers, shift in technology, and a more intelligent and aware consumer. Marketers who stay abreast with the changing times can thrive and survive

Once responsible only for creativity and brand image, today’s Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) has vast and complex set of responsibilities reaching far beyond traditional marketing and spanning over technology, analytics and measurable impact.

Earlier, CMOs used to focus largely on big-picture marketing campaigns but now they equally share the burden of driving bottom-line growth. The role of the CMO is evolving and has transformed as fast as the technology in the last decade or so.

Within advertising also, the role of the CMO has altered. When the mediums to advertise were few and focussed, a marketer had a fixed plan to put out his advertisement. Not just one but all the mediums of advertising have evolved, be it print, radio, television and digital.

Thomas O' Toole

“There has been the shift from mass media communication to data-driven targeted marketing. Marketing shifted to a data-driven function, starting in the 1980s. However, the segmentation started a few years ago," said Thomas O’Toole, Clinical Professor of Marketing and Senior Fellow at the Kellogg School of Management.

Recently, Eruditus Executive Education in collaboration with Kellogg, one of the leading management Institutes in the world, launched the Global Marketing Leadership Program launched the Global Marketing Leadership Program to meet the professional development needs of the seasoned marketing leader. The Kellogg marketing programme is ranked #1 in the world, #3 in Executive MBA, and #4 in Management by US News and World Report.

If one has to talk about the evolution of a marketing role, earlier, it shifted from selling to focussing on persuading someone to buy the product. Now is the era, which is focused on developing products and services that meet consumer needs and targeting them to specific segments of customers.

"Increasing segmentation of customers, the fragmentation of media channels and the growing demand for accountability of business results are the main challenges CMOs have to face these days," O’Toole said.

How challenging is it really now?

As the mediums remained very restrictive, so did the communication till the late ’80s. The segmentation and reaching to target groups wasn't as easy because the mediums were homogeneous.

Reaching out to desired consumers was difficult. Radio had its own set of challenges. Earlier, not everybody had televisions at home. There was a lot of group viewing. From that, the market has evolved a lot.

We live in the time when marketers have to reach millennials who watch Netflix on their smart TV.

When Doordarshan started, a marketer’s job was relatively easier. One had to advertise only on Doordarshan and the job was done. Earlier, it was guaranteed that you would get visibility.

Now, it's a thousand plus TV channels, various content streaming apps and of course YouTube. The kind of investment required has gone up significantly. In Doordarshan days, one could look at doing a campaign at as low as Rs 20-30 lakh. Today, the amount has gone up to 10-20 times because the viewership has become fragmented.

Uppalapati Tilothama, Head Marketing Communications, Commercial Vehicles Business Unit, Tata Motors, added, “Earlier, life was simple and everyone had similar aspirations. Now, everyone wants to be successful in a different way.”

BK Rao

BK Rao, Deputy Marketing Manager, Parle Products, believes that the job of a marketer has definitely become more challenging, but an increase in the number of mediums to advertise has also helped CMOs to reach out to the targeted audience.

He said, “If there is a product targeting only the lifestyle user and people are interested in lifestyle, then there is a genre available to advertise. We are giving a far better chance to the advertiser to reach the required consumer. There's no more spillover."

Experience versus digital data analytics

In today’s time, brands’ dependence on big data, technology, analytics and machines has increased. But can analytics ever replace decisions taken by senior marketers based on their experience?

Now we see a lot of young CMOs who quick decisions based on data available through research and technology. But there are still people who believe that nothing can replace the experience a senior marketer can bring on board.

A senior media planner said, “So many youngsters from IIT and IIMs join start-ups as CMOs. They rely heavily on data and want quick decisions to be made. They are the risk-takers and dealing with them and explaining that decisions for a heterogeneous market like India where there are still media dark areas cannot be taken in haste become difficult for us. They want everything to be done quickly.”

Vicco Turmeric Labs is an apt example of how a marketing decision to rely on cinema as a medium of advertising was taken on the basis of expertise gained after a series of people-based decision rather than data analytics. Earlier marketers used to reach out to consumers through cinema halls but with cable revolution, they moved to TV channels. However, Vicco stuck to the cost-effective and more captive cinema advertising. The results were as good.

Neeraj Chaturvedi

Neeraj Chaturvedi, Group CMO, Housing.com, PropTiger.com and Makaan.com has an interesting analogy to put forward. He said, “Reading lab reports do not make the lab technician a doctor. A doctor needs to understand the data and make inferences after seeing the patient, where he relies on gut and experience. In fact, every lab report does say that clinical correlation is required. One can argue that simpler ailments may not need a doctor's experience if the historical data, probabilities etc., are available. I think that is true, so like the medical profession, specialisation is the way the marketing profession will move towards. The lower level decisions don’t need gut or experience, data is enough.”

The real marketing decisions in today’s day and age is taken with good consumer insights through data analytics and balancing them with experience and guts as well.

Saujanya Shrivastava

Saujanya Shrivastava, CMO, MakeMyTrip, said, “Marketing is an art and a science both. Technology has helped us to collect consumer information and dissect large volumes of data to create valuable insights and understand the real needs of the target audience. Data helps market the relevant insights to appropriate channels. Given the availability and richness of data, the focus of the CMO should be clearly on building capabilities that is directly linked to tangible decisions.”

The mere designation of CMO is being questioned!

The pressure to drive revenue comes on the CMO from every part of the organisation. There are some in the industry who say a marketer’s job has only been to spend money and the ROI they bring cannot be gauged thoroughly. The discussion around new designations and roles like Chief Growth Officer, Chief Meaning Officer and Chief Experience Officer are in round, especially abroad. Many CMOs are being asked to report to the Chief Revenue Officer or even become one. Earlier this year, Coca-Cola did away with the CMO role altogether, hiring its first Chief Growth Officer.

O’Toole said, “C-titles do seem to be proliferating, but the role of the CMO remains central. The CMO is responsible for understanding consumer needs and wants, developing products and services accordingly, segmenting and targeting specific groups of customers, developing and executing marketing activities through multiple channels, and managing customer relationships over time, to produce sustained business growth. These are and will remain very fundamental responsibilities of the CMO role. The role of and marketing practices used by the CMO are evolving, and are increasingly interrelated with other functions, including the C-level, but the position is certainly not going away.”

Neelima Burra

Suggesting the best way out to safeguard the interest of CMOs, Neelima Burra, Chief Marketing Officer and Business Head, Health and Wellness, Cargill Foods India, suggested that the ROIs of marketers should be linked with their KRAs because they are the ones who are investing money. If you invest then you have to ask for return because a brand is not expenditure but an investment.

Why do we see less succession for CMO’s role in a company?

In today’s time, a marketer’s job is the most exciting one. It is continuously evolving. But a recent report shows that when it comes to advancing into the top roles internally, there is a big chance you could be overlooked. During the first half of 2017, 72 per cent of publicly reported CMO appointments were external candidates, up from 64 per cent during the same period in 2016, according to research by Russell Reynolds Associates.

Chaturvedi said, “An average time a person holds a position in a start-up is much lower. One needs time to groom people and bring that succession plan. The start-up environment does not allow you that much time. More opportunities come in people’s way or company is seen downsizing."

But Shrivastava believes that there is no generalised rule. “It depends on the ability of the company to build that strength.”

How can a marketer sustain his role?

The real understanding of what draws profitability of the business combined with the ability of data and the understanding of customers insights and what makes the customers pick, is the combination of what is really needed to impact the business in a tangible way.

O’Toole has the best answer. He said, “The CMO must grow individually and define his/her role in the company accordingly. If the CMO is known as the ‘advertising person’, his/her role will be narrow and shrink going forward. If the CMO is known as the person who uses data, in combination with the full range of marketing methods and channels, to develop effective marketing communication, that grows customer relationships, produces business gains and advances the business, his/her role in the company can expand considerably.”

Rao also has a suggestion to make to the aspiring people willing to enter the marketing world. He said, “The newcomers have a wrong perception that marketing is very glamorous. Marketing is not about glamour but mining insights. There's a lot of ground work that is required.”

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