Last week, AdAge and other outlets reported, somewhat breathlessly, that Coca-Cola CMO, Marcos de Quinto, was leaving the company after just over three years in the top marketing post. His replacement? Nobody. Coke has decided to fold the marketing function into two other roles: chief innovation officer and chief growth officer.
Also making news last week was Spencer Stuart’s report, which suggested that average CMO tenures have lost ground to the tune of six months over a two-year period.
What, exactly, is going on here?
It does feel like a bit of a dramatic turn in the narrative, from the CMO as the prime instigator and beneficiary of an enviable, extended marketing-led renaissance where budgets flow like water and mandates creep like kudzu; to the CMO as the object of some newfound vulnerability.
The truth, of course, is that this vulnerability has been there all along, the tender underbelly, the unspoken fear known by any leader stepping up to the mantle.
A lot has been laid at the CMO’s feet, from digital marketing to digital commerce to customer experience to the technology and data that underpins it all. CMO budgets now average 12% of company revenue. With these outsized budgets come outsized expectations—for growth, for change, for transformation.
The CMOs who find themselves most vulnerable have either missed the memo that the role itself has changed or they’ve simply failed to execute on a mandate they more or less understood. Both of these are reasonable explanations for the ouster of perhaps this and many more CMOs to come.
Does this portend the end of the CMO? Hardly.
But it should be a wake-up call. Because whether or not it’s written into their job description, the CMO is no longer just the CMO. Today’s CMO has the implied responsibility of chief growth officer and chief innovation officer. They’re responsible for driving measurable, sequential growth in the current-state business and identifying and executing new opportunities to scale revenue via new channels, new markets, new products and new business models. They’re responsible for peering around corners and seeing ahead of the headlights, testing, learning, incubating the product, brand, and customer innovations for the future.
I’ve never met Marcos de Quinto and I certainly can’t speak to his particular circumstance. But what I can say is that this Coke example, while perhaps a bit alarming, really shouldn’t come as a major surprise. Maybe by making these roles more explicit, Coke will achieve greater focus on its twin mandates of growth and innovation.
But if you ask me, the title itself—here and elsewhere—shouldn’t particularly matter. Call it whatever you’d like. To me, it’s just a CMO by another name.
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