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Yet Another Wake-Up call: Marketing, Growth, and Customer Experience

By Augie Ray | March 30, 2017 | 5 Comments

MarketingCustomer Experience

My peer, Jake Sorofman, recently wrote a smart blog post about the latest wake-up call for CMOs. It seems chief marketing officers have needed a lot of these arousing calls in recent decades–digital was said to be wake-up call, and so was the recession, sustainability, and social media. If you’re weary of the constant wake-up calls, I wish to offer a solution: Put your focus where it belongs–on the customer–and you will never again have to fear a rude awakening.

The latest career-threatening forewarning was the announcement by Coke that it would no longer have a global CMO (hot on the heels of Unilever and Vodaphone axing their global CMO roles). In place of the CMO, the leader of Coca-Cola’s marketing department will report alongside customer and commercial leadership strategy into a new position–the chief growth officer.

MarketingWeek notes Coke is not an outlier–brands such as “Colgate-Palmolive, Coty, Mondelēz or Tyson Foods have vocally installed chief growth officers to ‘accelerate growth efforts’ or to ‘bring focus and growth to our platforms.'” Add to this that CMO tenure is again downtrending for the first time in a decade and CMO tenure is the shortest of any in the C-suite, and you have to wonder how anyone in marketing gets any sleep with all these wake-up calls demanding attention.

The question I have to ask is if this is really an issue of labels and titles.  Does changing the letter between the “C” and the “O” from “M” to “G” address the problems brands are facing? Is it news to marketers that they were held responsible for growth? As Jake ends his blog post, “Call it whatever you’d like. To me, it’s just a CMO by another name.”

Aside from the focus on titles and labels, there is a reason to worry about this fixation on growth: Because it is not a lever the company has to pull. No one can push the “growth” button. Growth is a dependent variable.  A brand doesn’t create growth–it creates changes that can lead to growth. As such, this obsession with “growth” in the C-suite could, I fear, lead brands further down the path of obsessing about short-term outcomes rather than long-term brand health.

Moreover, growth is not the job of one part of an organization.  Naming a chief growth officer makes about as much sense as calling someone the chief profit officer. Both growth and profitability are not the accountability of one person or one part of the organization but is the outcome of collaborative efforts across the enterprise; in fact, I’d suggest companies already have a chief growth officer–the CEO. If the CEO isn’t responsible for producing growth of the top and bottom lines, exactly what is he or she doing?

Instead of obsessing about growth–the dependent variable brands cannot directly control–what if business and marketing leaders instead strove to achieve a better customer experience (CX)–the independent variable brands can affect.  That is the lever brands have to pull to create sustainable, defensible growth.

The smartest marketing in the world that manages to deliver customers to a poor CX cannot sustain growth. No amount of promotion, discounting and advertising will convince customers disappointed in their product or service experience to stay loyal, spend more and tell others. No manner of efficiency or effectiveness in sales operations will enable growth for long if customers are left unsatisfied and feeling as if your competitor can better deliver on their needs and expectations.

There is only one long-term driver for successful brands and growth: Customer experience. With a CX that earns customer love, you retain more customers, earn a greater share of wallet, gain the right to offer new product lines and extensions, build your reputation and create inbound traffic.  Without a strong CX, all the growth tactics in the world can, at best, sustain a brand in a challenging and dynamic environment with great competition, rapidly shifting consumer expectations and habits, and a growing list of marketing challenges.

If your brand wishes to grow, it doesn’t need new growth tactics; it needs customers who are loyal, vocal advocates. That is why I predict all this focus on growth will result in yet another wake-up call a few years from now. Because the most effective marketers–the ones that drive real growth–have already learned from all the prior wake-up calls and don’t need another. Today’s strongest brands are led by those who are already “woke” and obsessing about customer experience.

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  • jan zlotnick says:

    “Today’s strongest brands are led by those who are already ‘woke’ and obsessing about customer experience.” .
    Augie, thanks for hitting the “just breathe” button that should be on every (insert title)’s keyboard who leads branding and/or marketing. I’d offer this “woke” reminder:: if your “growth” or (insert title) revenue leaders aren’t true (vs untrue) partners, respecting, trustful, supportive of your branding/marketing/customer experience expertise, from the git-go, then beat them to the git-going-elsewhere button. You have better things to do with your heart, brains and soul, and you can create those opportunities. Because that’s what you do: create.

    • Augie Ray says:

      I agree with your sentiment, but I think the burden CX professionals carry is that they just can’t work at places that already “get it.” Part of our challenge is to help those people who “untrue” or not supportive to understand why they should be. It isn’t about being “nice” to the customer; it’s just about good business.

  • jan zlotnick says:

    “Today’s strongest brands are led by those who are already ‘woke’ and obsessing about customer experience.”
    True that, Augie. If the CEO, COO and CFO demonstrate visible, sustained respect, trust and all-in support for their brand/mktg/cx leader, the growth they seek won’t require another layer of title and unqualified approvals that could more likely create distance, not empathy and ideas, for earning and keeping the trust of the customer — who last time I checked, is the one holding the growth purse.

  • The CEO role is more than growth 😉 It is also “meaning”, long term health and making employees and shareholders happy.

    Having a CMO rebranded as growth only makes sense to me if this role also manages Sales.


    • Augie Ray says:

      While I absolutely agree with you, Dominique, about what the CEO role should do, you and I both know that a CEO that delivers meaning and makes employees happy will not be long for the role if they fail to deliver growth. Moreover, while you included “shareholders happy,” most shares nowadays are traded by institutions, not held by individuals with personal stakes in the company, and they are made happy by–growth. (I recall reading the book “Storming the Magic Kingdom” about Disney’s woes in the decade or two following Walt’s death. The company became the target of a leveraged buyout, and the Board couldn’t imagine shareholders would allow such a thing, ignoring the fact most shareholders really only wanted the payday.)

      In the end, you and I would agree that growth is good, and so is meaning and long-term health. Ultimately, the question in customer experience is how the C-suite chooses to prioritize that makes a difference in the level of satisfaction, loyalty and brand advocacy a company will enjoy.