Understanding today’s retail CMO

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

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) role 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 changed how customers shop - seemingly predictable pre-pandemic behaviours have been completely disrupted. And they will be disrupted again as we move out of the pandemic. Given that, retailers need to understand and be relevant to what customers are thinking and feeling not just now, but also in three months, six months, and beyond. That has always been important to retail 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 retail CMOs still agree is their most critical: engaging customers in the right way, delivering a tailored customer experience that will change as their needs and purpose change. As one example, shoppers are now visiting stores and malls with more purpose than ever. In response, retailers are focusing on ways they can make the shopping experience more efficient and tailored to these highly focused customers.

What are retail organizations seeking in a CMO?

The need for CMOs who are data-driven, focused on the customer, 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, during the worst of the pandemic Harry Rosen partnered with the manufacturer of Harry Rosen Signature dress shirts to repurpose their 100% Italian cotton shirt material and resources to produce non-medial facemasks. They donated thousands of masks to healthcare institutions. When requests to purchase the facemasks started coming in, they were offered on a “buy one, donate one” basis with all proceeds reinvested into the program. Ford Canada created an ad thanking workers, and closing with information on how customers leasing or financing vehicles through its credit program could receive help. BMO ran an ad thanking "all the front-liners for keeping our lives moving" without mentioning any banking services.

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, the TD Bank Group brought 500 of their marketers through a “digital boot camp” covering everything from targeting customers to the economics of digital marketing to deepening customer relations. COVID-19 brought droves of customers who were desperately in need of advice and these digitally-savvy marketers helped TD launch Ready Advice, which equips tellers and call centres with “the ability to read customer cues.”

Another powerful example of pivoting successfully in a digital space is Canadian Tire. Many consumers don’t realize Canadian Tire sells many top brands, but educating consumers is usually a slow process. When COVID-19 boosted their website traffic 40-fold, rather than a looming technical disaster, their CMO saw a makeover opportunity. Almost overnight, Canadian Tire pivoted to e-commerce so stores became warehouses, with curbside pickup and speedy delivery as their new norm.

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 Retail Recruiters, we understand the value CMOs can deliver for retailers in these incredibly challenging and changing times. As Canada’s leading retail 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 retail CMOs. Their profiles show the kind of skills and experience retailers will need as they morph to operate successfully in our “new normal”. They may match yours, or you may discover you have transferrable skills. Retail professionals will be needed in other areas as well. If you focus on another area within retail, these profiles may give you some ideas regarding where you can add value as Canada’s retail industry rebuilds.

To learn more on this and other retail 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