Understanding today’s hospitality CMO

Today’s CMO does more than just understand and market to the ever-changing needs of the guest and the business.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) role in hotel, restaurant, seniors living and other hospitality organizations was already in a state of flux, with multiple high profile brands moving away from that specific title. There was a belief the focus needed to move from developing and executing marketing strategies, to growing the business and activating customers by tapping into their mindset.

The CMO role now has a direct influence on the brand and is focused on using the customer experience to drive growth. A modern CMO has wider responsibilities and is more accountable than ever, essentially advocating for the customer and driving critical transformation.

Customer focus is still the key

COVID-19 has dramatically changed how hospitality budgets are being spent - seemingly predictable pre-pandemic behaviours have been completely disrupted. And they will be disrupted again as we move out of the pandemic. Given that, hotels, restaurants, seniors living and other hospitality organizations need to understand and be relevant to what their guests are thinking and feeling not just now, but also in three months, six months, and beyond. That has always been important to hospitality organizations. It’s now essential because those thoughts, feelings and behaviours are dramatically different than they were before.

There are multiple ways CMOs can help drive that relevancy, and Deloitte has identified 5 major CMO archetypes as:

  • The customer champion, focused on providing customers with information and a great experience
  • The growth driver, focused on increasing customer acquisition
  • The innovation catalyst, focused on building breakthrough customer offerings and improving internal processes
  • The capability builder, focused on developing capabilities in marketing and analytics
  • The chief storyteller, focused on creating great narratives and compelling content

However, research pinpoints one issue that hospitality CMOs still agree is their most critical: engaging guests in the right way, delivering a tailored experience that will change as their needs and purpose change.

What are hospitality organizations seeking in a CMO?

The need for CMOs who are data-driven, focused on the guest, and able to anticipate needs people didn’t even know they had has not changed. What’s been added is an emphasis on good leadership skills – the ability to lead the organization – and the ability to provide the right level of empathy. CMOs must be sincere, empathetic and capable of managing ambiguity. Agility and an openness to developing stronger digital skills are also essential. CMOs need to be nimble, creative and skilled enough to connect the brand to today’s landscape and consumer sentiment, while allowing it to change direction at any time.

Combining these skills gives today’s CMO the ability to help their organizations maintain relevancy in our incredibly uncertain world.

For example, one Tim Horton’s ad followed their trucks delivering free coffee and doughnuts to essential workers. They also opened many of their locations near major trucking routes for truck drivers to shower and get food. A&W created an ad with a message of gratitude to its restaurant staff, essential workers and everyday Canadians "staying home to help stop the spread" that didn't show anything more than the QSR chain's spokesperson, presumably in his own home, with a partial logo visible on the wall behind him. And across Canada, Sandman hotels offered discounted hotel rooms for truckers.

Developing the digital skills to support those efforts is particularly important. CMO responsibilities now sometimes overlap with the chief information officer and chief technology officer, overseeing complex data and product innovation platforms to predict, understand and align with consumer behavior. As an example, like nearly all travel brands, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts suffered from the industry stall that swept the world. Forced to re-evaluate its entire marketing strategy to put digital first, they launched a new app which helped them capitalize on the growth in mobile and touchless check-in and checkout. It also allowed guests to book a room in just three clicks on their phone.

The way ahead

For the foreseeable future, there will be great demand for customer-centric leaders. In our changed and changing world, the CMO can step in and be the essential translator, looking after both the business needs of the organization and the customer.

At JRoss Hospitality Recruiters, we understand the value CMOs can deliver for hotels, restaurants, seniors living and other hospitality organizations in these incredibly challenging and changing times. As Canada’s leading hospitality recruiting specialist, we understand the advanced skillset and experience required for CMOs to be able to deliver that value today, and tomorrow.

The sample profiles below represent some of Canada’s top hospitality and retail CMOs. Their profiles show the kind of skills and experience hospitality organizations will need as they morph to operate successfully in our “new normal”. They may match yours, or you may discover you have transferrable skills. Hospitality professionals will be needed in other areas as well. If you focus on another area within hospitality, these profiles may give you some ideas regarding where you can add value as Canada’s hospitality industry rebuilds.

To learn more on this and other hospitality trends and insights you can check out our blog.

Chief Marketing Officer – Vancouver

This candidate personifies the “modern CMO”. Their work in vendor, agency and in-store roles gives them a unique perspective in acting as an enterprise-wide revenue driver. It enables them to tap into the hearts and minds of customers across all channels. Self-employed, they provide Customer Experience (CX) consulting, helping retailers build and connect digital and physical consumer touchpoints. Their clients include Canadian and US-based retailers seeking a scientific and empathetic approach to the Customer Experience. Their key value stems from their rich 20+ years in digital, retail, and retail technology, working for innovative retail, grocery and food service startups and established, national big-box retailers. Their entrepreneurial spirit and their courage in pushing boundaries, innovating, taking calculated risks and constantly recalibrating is enabled by both a data driven mindset, and a creative spark.

VP Digital and Direct Marketing - Toronto

This stellar candidate has a passion for smart, creative, customer-centric marketing campaigns that maximize brand loyalty. They’re a seasoned CRM, loyalty and digital marketing professional with over 15 years of loyalty program and communications experience. In agency, they’ve developed hundreds of cohesive communications programs for Fortune 500 brands, including retail and food service organizations. They’ve developed and launched reward programs and mobile shopping apps, designed numerous experiential programs to augment member advocacy, and implemented hundreds of innovative direct marketing campaigns that drove traffic, sales and loyalty. As a trusted marketing quarterback with the proven ability to motivate and galvanize cross functional teams to reach common goals, and as an idea generator valued for both analytical skills and creative thinking, they’re an asset to any organization.

Chief Marketing Officer - Calgary

Any conversation with this candidate about the Canadian retail landscape will quickly reveal how intelligent, insightful, knowledgeable and grounded they are. With a history of building brands for successful Canadian retailers in apparel, liquor and cannabis, they play at the intersection where operations and merchandising meets marketing. Their track record demonstrates the meaningful impact they’ve had on activities across the retail enterprise. Working collaboratively with executive teams and senior merchants, they have a thorough and rigorous approach balancing “facts and feelings” (customer and market data with creative insight and intuition) to define and articulate brand vision and strategy. A self described “builder”, they’ve developed marketing departments from the ground up, and would be ideal for any company looking to bridge their business and creative strategies to activate all customer-facing touch points and accelerate sales.

VP, Digital Marketing and Analytics – Toronto

As VP Marketing for one of North America’s fastest growing fast casual dining chains, this innovative digital marketing strategist has proven they can deliver best-in-class omnichannel experiences (website, social, paid, ecommerce, app) and grow top line sales. They’ve developed the strategy and managed the digital ecosystem for 400+ locations in both corporate and franchise settings. They’re innately analytical, basing their approach to business on data and facts. They also understand the validity of the human experience and often use it to amplify accumulated data. In their current role they helped develop and drive the brand’s regional analytics data strategy, including data capture and enhancement, to enable world-class analytics and CRM operations. With an empathetic and humble approach to business, this candidate understands that building the right team is critical to a company’s success and is a high-energy leader who does not settle for the status quo. They operate best in a corporate culture that values honesty, integrity, and transparency. And they deliver results.

Written by Patricia Viscount and Rob Fisher