Revisiting the Roles of Marketing and Customer Executives

Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and Chief Customer Officer (CCO) — the CMO is the more veteran and familiar of these two roles; with the rise of the customer-centric approach in management in the 1990s, a position of CCO was created to advance and assimilate a customer-driven viewpoint throughout units and activities in companies (e.g., marketing, product development, services). With growing emphasis on the greater importance of experiences to customers — as compared to tangible and functional aspects of products, services, stores, or websites & apps — a role of Chief Experience Officer (CXO) is additionally being advocated in more recent years. However, the boundaries between areas of responsibility of these roles are getting blurred, in particular when it concerns caring for and satisfying the customer.

Actually, different functional units in an organisation, not just marketing, are bearing a duty for catering for the customer. A marketing division has responsibility for initial acquisition of consumers (or businesses) as customers, and for offering new and complementary products and services to the customers over time. But other divisions also are involved in caring and providing the best solutions to customers, such as delivering services and support, product development and design, and maintaining the platforms of information and data-based digital tools and utilities to be used by customer-facing employees or directly by customers. Indeed that is the essence of a customer-centric approach, that it runs through the organisation of a company and affects how managers and employees in different units plan and perform their tasks with the customer in mind. The chief customer officer should have the ultimate duty of educating, coordinating, and ensuring that a customer’s viewpoint is taken and practiced across units of the company with greater explicit impact on the customer’s wellbeing.

The CMO already has the responsibility for bringing the consumer’s or customer’s perspective (e.g., needs, wants and expectations) into the company. The CMO, for instance, is tasked with conducting marketing and consumer research to obtain better knowledge of consumers, extending to research on prospective and actual customers. Moreover, the strategic concept of relationship marketing posits that marketing duties do not conclude with customer acquisition; marketing initiatives, product offerings and experiential activities should continue so as to enhance and sustain relationships with customers. CMOs could hence be in a qualified position to take responsibility for customer retention. Yet CMOs may not have the capacity needed to take full responsibility for customer retention.

Chief marketing officers have additional important duties: devising marketing plans, carrying out advertising and other promotional activities, building and managing brands, and generating opportunities and explicit leads for salespersons or targeted advertising. But the horizon of marketers may not go far enough beyond securing the purchase of products or services by the consumers-customers. The traditional linkage of marketing with sales could be an obstacle that still stands in the way of CMOs when it comes to retaining customers. It is not even clear that CMOs are perceived as having the authority or clamour within an organisation to intervene in activities for the benefit of existing customers beyond the scope of marketing per-se. Take for example the design and operation of websites and mobile apps: they may include product information, features aimed at strengthening brand image, and facilities of shopping or e-commerce, seeming typically to be in the jurisdiction of marketers. But websites and apps often include also utilities for providing services and support to existing customers in their on-going relations with a company. A position of CCO seems to be needed to help in coordinating and guaranteeing that concerns of the customers in different areas, during and after making purchases, are addressed.

The CMO and CCO are likely to share the most between them in their knowledge, views and appreciation of the significance of the customer to the company, vis-à-vis other roles in a top management (c-level) team such as the chief operating officer, chief product officer or chief information officer. But the CMO as well as the CCO should be working in cooperation and collaboration with other executives and their divisions to accomplish best results for the customers.

For example, new product development (NPD) has to take close consideration of the needs, desires and preferences of consumers-customers from a very early stage of the development and design process. While the R&D people may be able and content to perform the necessary research on their own, it would be erroneous to keep the marketing people out of this process until a late stage, as they are the ones commissioned to introduce the products in the market, and they have rich knowledge of consumers and the market. Together the marketing & product R&D divisions may combine research methods associated with different paradigms (e.g., consumer psychology, choice analysis and prediction, idea generation, and design thinking). Cooperation with the chief operating officer (COO) should be required to the extent that the COO is in charge of establishing and operating the logistics of service systems (although the CCO may have more direct responsibility for the interactions of customers with the company).

The CMO and CCO also need to work in close cooperation with a chief information officer (CIO) who is in charge of information technology and related tools of digital technology, heavily used today in marketing, advertising, e-commerce, and customer service. However, professionals working under the CIO should conduct the planning, design and testing of tools and interfaces with teams of the CMO and CCO as the latter are more likely to obtain the knowledge and perspectives of marketing, economics and psychology, that are essential particularly for designing and managing efficacious and pleasant customer experiences. (Note: Many experiences are not digital-centred, as in stores or festive events, but more often they do entail now some digital-based interactions via apps and social media networks.)

The domain of ‘experience’ that a chief experience officer would have to direct is to a great extent in the realm of responsibility of the CCO — enabling productive positive experiences for customers. It may also overlap with issues that concern the CMO such as in stages of the consumer-customer purchase decision process. It seems therefore that instating a CXO in addition to a CCO would be superfluous; it may induce too many unnecessary tensions between a CCO, CXO, and CMO, which could also badly inflict on their relations with other executives in a company. It would be more correct to treat the CCO and CXO roles as interchangeable (Mary Drumond, CustomerThink, 15 July 2021). Drumond suggests that the role of CXO could be transitionary, in need for leading a transformation process in a company for instilling a customer-centred, experience-driven culture and strategic thinking. The need to sustain and improve the outcomes of a successful transformation may never really end, hence the role of a CXO or CCO can always be justified — but just one of these titles is truly sufficient. (One may use both terms as Drumond suggests in an alternative title to CXO: VP Customer Experience.)

In order to substantiate a valuable collaboration between them, it is advisable that the CMO and CCO would meet regularly and frequently. Such relationship would reinforce their common knowledge and understanding of the centrality of the customer to their company. Even in matters that are not strictly in the domain of marketing, the CMO can contribute — if the CCO is overseeing the management of customer relationships and experiences, the CMO can bring-in specifically the perspective of relationship marketing. Any standing or unresolved issued can be discussed in frequent meetings with the CEO, which are recommendable also for letting customer-driven messages reach the top executive and spread across functional divisions of the company with the CEO’s endorsement.

Locating CMOs and CCOs in Top Management Teams

The discussion above still leaves the question: In practice, do CMOs and CCOs have a deserved seat in top management to let them have genuine influence over customer-oriented strategic thinking and operation in a company? As a small-scale study, I reviewed the top management teams (often called ‘leadership’ or ‘executive’) of 35 companies (from Fortune Global 500 ranking list of 2020, issue of August 2021). Two-thirds of the companies are based in the US (other countries include the UK, Germany, France and Switzerland). Among the companies included, twelve were technology companies (computers & devices, software, information [IT], telecommunication, systems and appliances). Three other salient domains included were banking, finance & insurance; retail; and consumer goods (five companies each).

It should be noted that many of the companies do not necessarily or consistently use the terminology of ‘chief [.?.] officer’, thus the heading frequently used of ‘c-suite’ or ‘c-level’ loses some of its validity in practice. Executive or senior managerial positions may be titled vice president (VP), executive VP (EVP), or senior VP (SVP). In some cases, a chief officer title may be assigned conjointly with a VP-type title. The chief executive officer (CEO) and persons in some executive functional positions may also be members in the board of directors. Therefore, I refer in each area to the respective ‘chief [.?.] officer’ and similar executives with related titles.

Notably, top management teams always include, with the CEO, a chief financial officer (CFO) and a chief operating officer (COO). A chief marketing officer is much less frequently present in top management, and chief customer officers are even fewer. However, the situation is somewhat corrected if we include additional roles associated by title with marketing, customers and experiences. A very frequent presence of legal, regulation and compliance officers in top management teams, more similarly to CFOs and COOs, may indicate the strong attention and import assigned to the ‘legal’ topic, apparently even more than attributed to the marketing and customer topical areas.

In the companies reviewed there were explicitly 9 CMOs (e.g., Microsoft, HP, Walmart US). To these CMOs we can add the expanded roles of Chief Marketing & Digital Officer (in Target and Unilever) and Chief Marketing & Communications Officer (in General Electric). It is further noted that the CMO of Home Depot is also SVP Online and the CMO of Facebook-Meta is also VP Analytics. We may see in these combinations recognition of the importance of association developed in particular between marketing and digital, online, and analytics. Altogether 12 CMO titles were found.

Furthermore striking is the variation in other role titles (15) that relate to marketing, sales, commerce, or consumers. Nestlé, for example, has a Head of Marketing & Sales, and AT&T appoints a Global Marketing Officer. Apple has an SVP Worldwide Marketing, and in addition a VP Marketing Communication. Four role titles are in sales; one of them actually connects sales with customer operations. Three roles are in fact at CEO levels with responsibilities for consumer market segments (e.g., CEO Global Consumer Bank at Citigroup, CEO Worldwide Consumer at Amazon.com). In addition, four chief commercial officers were found.

It is hard to tell what to make of such titles that do not refer to ‘marketing’ where the companies also do not have a marketing-related executive title in the top management team. Several companies have executives at CEO or VP levels heading business units for product categories or global geographic regions in their top management teams. These executives may very well have marketing managers at a senior level working with them, but the question remains if and how the marketing perspective reaches the top management team. It seems that each business unit is taking care of its own marketing and the head of the business unit brings any marketing issues to the top management as necessary to one’s best judgement.

Turning to the customer domain, chief customer officers were found in the top management of three companies: Walmart (in US), CVS Health, and Tesco (the British retailer won much acclaim in the 1990s for its pioneer customer-centric strategy and loyalty club). Four other relevant role titles were found, not of the CCO form: SVP Customers & Products (BP); Executive Director Marketing & Customers (Carrefour); BoM Customer, Brands, Sales (BMW – BoM means member of board of management); and CEO Institutional Clients Group (Citigroup — see their other title CEO Consumer Bank above). The combinations with ‘customer’ are interesting. Yet, there seem to be very few CCO-type executives dedicated to and focused on a customer-centric strategy at the overall company level.

A summary of additional findings on relevant roles:

  • Fourteen (14) role titles are assigned with responsibilities for strategy, business development, and transformation (e.g., Chief Transformation Officer, SVP Transformation & Culture, Chief Strategy & Business Development Officer). Assimilating a customer-centric strategy could be one of their responsibilities.
  • There are three chief product officers plus seven more role titles related to products, brands, and product R&D. We may note here in particular the executive roles in brand management that could also be assigned to ‘marketing’ (SVP Brand & Product Development at Home Depot, Head of Coffee Brands at Nestlé, and Chief Brand Officer at Procter & Gamble — P&G also have a chief R&D & Innovation Officer),
  • While retailers may not have a marketing executive position in top management, they may have roles of chief stores officer and chief merchandising officer, and other retail-related titles.
  • Top management teams frequently include as members chief information officers (8), chief technology officers (5), and any of a number of role titles in different forms that combine information, digital, and technology (10). In some companies one may find a distinction between responsibility for the infrastructure of information technology systems and for the content of information. Furthermore, four role titles dedicated to digital, data, analytics and insights were found (Chief Data & Analytics Officer at Walmart, VP Data & Analytics at Netflix, Chief Digital Health & Analytics Officer at Humana, Chief Analytics & Insights Officer at P&G). Customer analytics is probably a major domain of data and analysis they are engaged with.

A chief marketing officer and a chief customer officer have close domains under their direction, interlinked and having overlapping practical issues and areas of responsibility, They should be able to understand each other better than in relation to any other executive in top management. However, there are areas in which a CCO can complement a CMO, having advantages in time and attention available, expertise and a broad perspective that he or she can dedicate to managing customer relationships and experiences. Therefore, there is place for both CCO and CMO in a company, and they should be working in close collaboration and coordination, while cooperating each with executives in charge of other relevant functional areas. Executives in roles of CMO and CCO (or similar titles) are ought to be involved and allowed to make impact on strategic thinking and decisions at the leadership table.

Ron Ventura, Ph.D. (Marketing)

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