Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

The recent decision by The Coca-Cola Company to do away with the chief marketing officer (CMO) position must have given many CMOs sleepless nights. Those who weren’t rocked by the fact that they may be replaced by the chief growth officer perhaps don’t fully understand the gravity of the situation.  Has Coca-Cola rung the death knell for the traditional ad man?

Coca-Cola’s chief growth officer combines the positions of global marketing, strategy, and customer and commercial leadership in  one overarching function. This already shows that the traditional right-brain creative-orientated leader has made way for one that integrates both hemispheres to accommodate the added responsibility.

The path Coca-Cola is taking shows that new marketing leaders need to be well rounded. This might terrify the living daylights out of traditional marketers, but the next generation is likely to be one that starts with data. 

Start With Data – a fundamental element of the Coca-Cola lesson, but, importantly, it refers to not just data for the sake of data. For the past few years many people have been collecting data without a clue of what to do with it. Take as an example the case of a local financial institution that was bemoaning the fact that it had data “coming out of its ears”. It was being sent one report after another from agencies, without being able to study these in detail or studying them only when the data was already old. This made it difficult to take actionable marketing decisions that affected real-time change. We have seen a huge shift in what companies are looking for at the moment – real evidence-based insight.

And here lies the crux of the matter. For marketing executives to remain relevant they need to be able to prove the return on investment for decisions made. If the data is not there to unequivocally support the fact that marketing made a contribution to sales, it is difficult for organisations to justify having a traditional creative marketer leading the conversation at board level. Without the ability to interpret data, marketing suffers a major challenge. For example, how does one show that yesterday’s video ad actually made a meaningful difference to sales figures? For CEOs looking at the bottom line, the question remains: We spent money, what return did we get? Historically, marketing has not been able to quantify this empirically.

Fortunately, technology has come to the rescue, with new marketing technology (martech) software able to provide the insights needed to not only keep a marketing officer’s head off the chopping block, but help him stay ahead of the curve. My advice for the under-pressure marketing department is to tech up. Understand the fundamentals, understand the core tech and what the data analytics and visualisation programs can do. Marketing needs to realise that data is not a scary thing. Most of the new visualisation platforms crunch the numbers for you, and present it in beautiful pie and flow charts. You don’t need a degree in statistics to make sense of it. 

There’s not much of an alternative; Coca-Cola’s decision to revise the CMO position makes this clear. But this is not a bad thing, as it speaks to the opportunity that exists for marketing to reposition the conversation. If it uses data effectively, and successfully demonstrates the value it contributes, marketing becomes much more than just marketing, it becomes the business. And if that is not enough motivation for change, nothing is. 

The big take-out: As Coke has announced that it is doing away with the CMO role, Rogerwilco CEO Charlie Stewart’s advice to marketers is to tech up so that they can prove return on investment.

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