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Egon Zehnder at the 2019 Kellogg Marketing Leadership Summit

Exploring the importance of growth in the marketing function

  • December 2019

Over the past year, we’ve seen a great deal of change within the marketing function. For some brands, the decision has been to remove the CMO role in favor of Chief Growth or Chief Experience officers. These roles, while not titled “marketing,” are still functions of the marketing leader; the constant that exists among them is a customer-focused mindset that will ultimately lead to growth.

At the 2019 Kellogg Marketing Leadership Summit – the ninth-annual conference attended by 120 of today’s top marketers and held by The Kellogg School of Management in collaboration with Egon Zehnder and McKinsey & Company – marketing leaders discussed the topic of growth. The message conveyed was that the CMO role is now more important than ever before, regardless of the form it takes. This notion is one we’ll continue to champion as we advise marketing leaders to be stewards of modern leadership, connecting C-suites under the common goals of purpose and customer-centricity to achieve growth in many forms.

These are the themes we explored:

1. Growth from purpose

Core to marketing success in today’s world, where consumers demand authenticity from brands, is company purpose. Jim Stengel, senior fellow and adjunct professor with the Kellogg Markets & Customers Initiative at the Kellogg School of Management, stated that companies must develop a distinctive and authentic statement of purpose that ties directly to their values and beliefs. He contends that creating this connection is central to enabling purpose-powered growth. However, none of this can happen without rooting the company strategy in purpose. Doing so will enable collaboration across the C-suite, inspire employees and create customer loyalty. He contends that measuring purpose is the next frontier for marketing.

2. Growth from the outside

On a panel called The Inorganic Growth Imperative: Exploring the CMO’s Seat at the M&A Table, distinguished panelists including Egon Zehnder’s North America CMO practice group leader, Jason Hecker, discussed growth via external ventures and the role marketers can play in M&A. In reference to the potential for marketers to engage in the M&A process, he said, “Given how important acquisitions have become as a key growth driver, I think it’s less a question of whether marketers should have a seat at the M&A table, but rather what you are doing with the seat that you fill.”

The panel, which consisted of both CMO and Corporate Development leaders, emphasized that the M&A process begins at the earliest stages—when white space strategic needs of a company are being explored—and continues through to the integration of eventual acquisition targets. It was recognized that CMO’s toolbox goes well beyond brand development and communication. They are uniquely experienced in understanding the customer and helping contribute to the direction of M&A activity. In doing so, they are well equipped to ensure company purpose and a customer mindset are part of the decision.

3. Growth through culture

In many industries, the marketplace moves faster than businesses are able to keep up with – meaning speed and agility are core to business success. Old, slower ways of doing business will not translate into results today. Marketing leaders can ensure this success by acting as growth hackers and working to establish teams that include a diversity of experience. Introducing new ways of thinking will breathe new life into business processes, making them more data-oriented, analytical and agile.

Lara Balazs, CMO of Intuit, described this growth through her experience connecting purpose with employees. She talked about Intuit’s strategy to build service centers in economically underserved locations, hiring and developing local talent who would become powerful ambassadors for the brand while actually living its purpose of “Powering Prosperity Around the World”. The ability to thrive in local economies while also empowering employees to become dedicated members of the corporate community and positive voices for the brand at large embodies this concept of growth through culture. It is this type of growth that introduces new ways of thinking that will enable companies to achieve longevity in a changing marketplace. 4. Growth through customer voices: Understanding customers must go beyond knowledge on how a person interacts with a product. Having a holistic and analytical view is especially important today as customer mindsets have shifted. Brand trust is on the decline, and no role is better suited to provide this view – and communicate it broadly to the C-suite – than the CMO. Vineet Mehra, CMO of Walgreens Boots Alliance, said that in order for marketers to become the connecting force within the fragmented C-suite, they must use their position as the voice of the customer to “become an architect of end-to-end customer journeys and experiences.” Savvy CMOs will understand that consumer socioeconomics is not the only predictor of purchasing decisions. Deeper connections with aspirational and purpose-led brands mean consumers will sacrifice on budget. By having this holistic knowledge of what is influencing buying decisions, CMOs can drive deeper connections and growth with customers while influencing customer-centric decision making amongst the C-suite.

2019 Takeaways

To ultimately achieve growth through marketing transformation, leaders must develop a mastery of fundamental skills while using external forces as learning opportunities that will influence marketing leadership in novel ways. By creating a culture of purpose and credibility, marketing leaders can unite C-suites, employees and customers, and use their influence to achieve growth internally, externally and for the benefit of the market overall.

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