The role of the chief marketing officer is changing profoundly, as businesses increasingly rely on their top marketers to help deal with issues from sustainability to digitalization. This has led to a growth in applications to executive education programs that help CMOs—as well as other marketing professionals—facilitate and respond to transformation.
One such course is offered by Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Established in 2013, the Kellogg Chief Marketing Officer Program is specifically designed to increase the odds of success for high potential candidates, enrolling people who are newly promoted or within 18-24 months of a divisional or corporate marketing leadership role.
The CMO Program is invitation-only to ensure a strong peer group. Many will have broken out of the traditional brand focused remits of the role and have become strategic partners to their CEOs. And much of the change is driven by digitalization, says Nick Caffentzis, Adjunct Professor of Marketing at Kellogg.
“Technological advancements have driven changes in most aspects of marketing,” he says. “Always available access to information has changed the relationship brands have with consumers. This has driven a closer connection between marketing and numerous functions across organizations. The CMO is often leading or influencing the innovation and growth processes, creating a more customer-centric-orientation, and [driving] digital transformation.”
Beyond the Kellogg program, a number of business schools across the world offer executive education courses aimed at CMOs or other marketing professionals. Some options include the Strategic Marketing Program at INSEAD in France, the Strategic Marketing for Competitive Advantage program at Wharton in the US, as well as the Chief Marketing Officer Program at China Europe International Business School (Ceibs), based in Shanghai.
The latter has been specially designed for the top decision makers who are responsible for marketing; at least eight years of management in marketing and basic marketing knowledge are required.
What skills do CMOs need?
So what are the key skills and capabilities marketing leaders need in order to succeed in the new CMO role, and how can executive education equip participants with these abilities?
In his work with CMOs over the past decade, Kellogg’s Caffentzis says he sees that the most successful ones perform well in two critical dimensions at the same time: being a strategic business partner in the C-Suite, while simultaneously being an outstanding leader of a highly effective marketing department.
“The first dimension requires strategic thinking, working effectively with C-Suite peers and external stakeholders, an understanding of the relevant business metrics for your organization and how to translate that to a marketing strategy,” he says.
“The second dimension requires an alignment of business objectives with marketing priorities, creating compelling brands, executing a plan to build and inspire the capabilities across the marketing organization, an ability to build and retain strong teams, and embody empathic leadership,” he adds.
Kellogg’s program is designed to provide all of that through a “blended” approach that blends academic concepts and frameworks with executive guest speakers and peer learning experience. “In addition to Kellogg marketing faculty, the program includes sessions with globally recognized CMOs and CEOs who share their unique perspective and experiences,” says Caffentzis.
While the content constantly evolves, the program focuses on four enduring themes: leading a customer focused enterprise, marketing innovation, effective C-suite working relationships, and self-development. It is one of a handful of programs that cater specifically to CMOs. Another option is the
Embracing digital transformation and technology
Elsewhere, in New York City, Columbia Business School also offers a Chief Marketing Officer Program, which is delivered in person and online in a blended format. It’s been designed to help CMOs adapt to changing dynamics and excel in an increasingly diversified role.
A big part of the program’s focus is on digital transformation and technology. “We’re preparing executives and managers, so while we expose them to the nuts and bolts of how each channel works, our focus is on effective tools for managing the strategy: strengths and weaknesses of each channel, how it works, and tools and metrics to manage for success,” says Jeremy Kagan, professor of digital marketing at Columbia.
“We do this through information and discussions leading to hands on exercises to use digital tools,” he adds. “Lectures are always laying the foundation for exercises that demonstrate the real world power and applications. For example, we use search tools to come up with estimates of customer acquisition costs and how many can be acquired as a baseline to start.”
Alongside digital innovation, environmental, social and governance (ESG) requirements and shareholder pressure are giving brand purpose a central role in marketing. And this shift is reflected in the marketing programs at Columbia. “Digital forces a more radical transparency, so the connection between mere statements of brand mission and actually acting on it are more clear,” says Kagan.
“Marketers don’t just have the bullhorn of advertising to say what they want; content marketing and social media force a brand dialog and make it so consumers can quickly identify when a brand isn’t living up to its stated goals.”
At Columbia, the focus is on making sure marketers realize this and how to use digital channels to reflect this and showcase brand strengths and messages. “This is particularly important in making sure more traditional marketers understand the power and impact of these new, more two way channels of engagement,” Kagan says.