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In-depth: Does a CMO role hold relevance today in Indian market?

Several companies in the western world have recently done away with the CMO position altogether. It may be only a matter of time before Indian companies follow. But can India afford to abolish or omit the CMO's role? If that happens, what will be the repercussions? finds out

A couple of days ago, Uber announced its plans to axe one-third of its global marketing team in an attempt to reduce costs. The ride-sharing and transport company confirmed that almost 400 out of its 1,200 marketing staff will lose their jobs. Last month, Uber’s Chief Marketing Officer Rebecca Messina quit the company after spending just nine months in the role.

It is not just Uber’s story. Many companies in the western world have recently done away with the CMO position altogether — including Johnson & Johnson, Taco Bell, Lyft and Hyatt Hotels — accelerating a trend that began a few years ago. In fact, companies/brands are consolidating marketing duties with executives who have broader mandates, which include sales and commercial as well.

Since a lot of the companies in India are multi-nationals (MNCs), they are most likely to imitate what their parent company is doing. It may be only a matter of time before Indian companies follow suit.

So, asked experts if India too can afford to abolish/omit the CMO's post, and if that happens, what would be the repercussions.

Mayank Shah

“No, not really. One may call it by some other name but most KRAs will remain the same. A CMO’s role is not restricted to ‘taking care of the brand’ or ‘managing the brand’ but also having a vision, which decides the future plans for a brand, category or company,” says Mayank Shah, Senior Category Head, Parle Products Ltd.

“CMOs have a great role to play. They are the ones who will foresee opportunities and threats coming across brand/company in the market and make it future-ready,” he adds.

With customer preferences getting more ‘local’ and communication more ‘personal’, the need for understanding the customer is getting more and more complex, and a CMO might be able to bring in a unique set of skills to help businesses and brands stay relevant and profitable.

Prabhakar Mundkur

Brand Strategy Adviser Prabhakar Mundkur holds a completely different view. According to him, top Indian companies in our country are wannabe MNCs. They try to imbibe all their practices. “I see repercussions as minimal. Most large companies have different departments for various roles — research, communications, media, activation, etc. It is most likely that all these departments would report to the commercial head after the departure of the CMO,” he says.  

In case the primary role of the marketing function is seen as managing external communication with customers only, then one has to agree that such a function perhaps would not deserve a CXO position.

Ankur Kansal

“However, it must be understood that ‘marketing’ is much more than just management of communication; it’s about product definition and strategy, price positioning and profitability, promotions, research and insights, identifying potential areas and catalysts of growth, etc. A CMO’s role must be seen from leading such a broad spectrum of activities,” says Ankur Kansal, Brand Director, Jaguar Land Rover India.

Time to re-define roles?

The role of a marketer is to earn, not only to spend. A marketing budget includes revenue, expenditure and profit. Thus, if a role is only to spend, then it becomes questionable.

But the key weakness of the job seems to be that CMOs don’t seem to have any financial accountability. 
“I see CMO resumes and the highpoint of their resumes seem to be, for example, famous advertising campaigns they claim were their ideas. It can’t be, because obviously, their advertising agencies put it together. So also for other disciplines, they seem to take credit for a lot of things they don’t do themselves,” Mundkur points out.

Marketing needs to be done in an integrated manner. It requires brand building, sales revenue, commercial, distribution, pricing, segmentation, positioning, advertising, promotion, costing, product development, innovation, execution, product and service portfolio, sales team management, channel relationships, market research, and customer service. It has to be integrated to present and grow a brand, satisfy consumer needs and make a profit.

Jagdeep Kapoor

Therefore, Jagdeep Kapoor, Chairman and MD, Samsika Marketing Consultants, a Mumbai-based brand marketing consultancy, thinks that today’s need is to have an Integrated Marketing Officer (IMO) and not just a CMO with a limited role.

He says, “Just like international trends, India too needs to move away from the CMO role to introduce IMO with added functions like sales and commercial, so that earning as well as spending is the responsibility of the IMO. The repercussions will be positive since the input and output ratio will be the accountability of the IMO.”

Unfortunately, CMOs have got into the trap of being orchestrators who do nothing on their own. They are a bit like the conductor of an orchestra. If the conductor leaves, the orchestra can still play. It remains to be seen, however, how well they function without a conductor. Unless we are saying the CMO’s role is going to be taken over by a commercial head. In which case, the conductor’s role is still there.

One may also argue that CMOs can be replaced by product managers or brand managers who are well-versed with the DNA of the product and can build a strong narrative with the consumers. However, being a product manager/brand manager is a pre-requisite of being a CMO. The skillset required as a product/brand manager is sub-set of one required for CMO.

“The path to being CMO goes through the positions of product/brand manager. Hence, one may feel that the product/brand manager can manage the job of CMO. But in reality, there are skills beyond brand management required to be a CMO. If those skills are acquired by a brand manager, he/she may become an ideal candidate to be a CMO,” argues Shah.

Effects on client-agency relationship

Relationships have been changing over the years. For example, in the old days, agency remuneration was decided by the CMO. These days they are decided by the procurement head. Film production costs, for example, in the earlier model were signed off by the CMO.  Now they are signed off by the procurement heads. Ironically, the agency view is that these people don’t understand the business.

Mythili Chandrasekar

However, customer centricity is what a CMO brings to the table, and no organisation can do without it. “You can call the job whatever you like, but someone's got to do it. As for client-agency relationship, if really a non-marketing person leads the brand, all the more the agency need to offer partnership, take greater onus, expand their own perspectives and be the brand custodian more than ever before,” suggests Mythili Chandrasekar, Consumer Behaviour and Brand Strategy Enthusiast.

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