Why chief marketing officers are morphing into chief digital and commercial officers

The other day I was reading this MarketingWeek article about Unilever’s Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) dropping ‘marketing’ from her title. She’ll now be called ‘chief digital and commercial officer’ instead of CMO. Apparently, this move aims to “remove the silos between marketing and sales”. Unilever’s argument is that the business wants to use its ecommerce channels not just to build brands but to sell. But isn’t that what marketing is all about? Selling? Some would even argue that marketing and sales are if not the same thing, then at least two sides of the same coin. 

Unilever’s move implies that marketing has no commercial focus or impact and instead is about building brand. The conclusion is that if you want to run a team that’s about commercial outcomes, well, then let’s not call it marketing, it will just upset the salespeople. So, let’s call the new, revenue-generating marketing function the ‘digital and commercial’ team instead. And Unilever is not unique in its move to eliminate the CMO role, as this article shows.

Peter Drucker would turn in his grave if he heard this. After all it was him, the original American marketing mastermind, who said that “the aim of marketing is to know and understand customers so well the product or service fits them and sells itself… The aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous.” And I say therefore marketing will never become obsolete, but selling might become ounneccessary as customers educate themselves and get recommendations from friends and influencers. 

That might sound radical, but how marketing and sales work together has changed over time. Gone are the days when the CMO agonised over how marketing can support the sales team. More and more, marketing and sales teams are integrated. On one hand, this is because sales teams – and product teams, too – have become more versed at all things digital marketing, be it having an awareness of SEO principles or organising webcasts and wanting to track information on website visitors from their key accounts.

All marketing is digital now. All marketing is about sales. And sales is increasingly driven by digital customer insights and communications.

Yasmine Blosse, 2022

But hang on, not all selling takes place online – surely sales is also about relationship building. Well, yes, that’s true, but this relationship building can also draw on digital insights of customer behaviour and needs and be supported by digital means – I have not yet encountered any team that bills itself as the ‘analogue-only sales team’. If there were one, I guess they’d be sending out product flyers via pigeon post instead of by email or via the website… 

By definition, marketing is all about the customer, and all about getting the right product to the right customer at the right time, for the right price, at the right place, via the right promotional channel. Well, that brings back memories of marketing school and learning about the classic concept of the 5Ps of the Marketing Mix: 

5Ps of the Marketing Mix: Product, Place, Price, Promotion and People

Yes, all those strategic elements combine to build a brand. Brand value is typically measured through surveys, but ultimately, the value of the brand is to sell products and services at a premium, compared to identical products and services of other brands. So, while part of the purpose of marketing is to build the brand of products and organisations, the value of the brand is to generate loyalty, prestige, and in turn revenue. The aim of marketing really is that all-encompassing, covering the entire buyer journey from awareness through to consideration, decision, action, loyalty, and advocacy. It’s the purpose of marketing to propel prospects profitably through this funnel.

Still, despite marketing’s crucial role in the customer lifecycle and its commercial impact, it’s unusual for a marketing manager to become CEO of a company.  If we must change our job titles from marketing to ‘digital and commercial’ to get the top job, maybe it’s a small price to pay. The CMO is dead, long live the Chief Commercial and Digital Officer. 

About the author:

Yasmine Blosse

Yasmine Blosse is a Blogger, Digital Marketing enthusiast, Content Editor, and Product and Solutions Marketer with over 15 years of experience within the Tech and Financial Services Industry. She enjoys writing about marketing theory and practice at www.allaboutgoodmarketing.com and about sustainable business practices, change management, organisational cultures, gender equality and women’s empowerment at www.actionwomen.org, and about management education and theory in both places.

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