The breadth of the CMO remit has expanded far beyond its scope even five years ago, according to outgoing O2 marketing boss, Nina Bibby.

Data has been the “big gamechanger”, coupled with the shift to digital, which means the CMO’s relationship with the chief technology officer (CTO) or chief information officer (CIO) has risen in importance.

“Like it or not, CMOs need to be much more tech literate than in the past. Traditionally, the closest relationship for a CMO around the executive table was the sales director or the commercial director, or a country director. Those sorts of equivalent roles,” Bibby pointed out, speaking at the Festival of Marketing: Fast Forward (10 June).

“Now you could argue that it’s the relationship with the CIO or the CTO that’s the most important, or equally important relationship. As CMOs we have to understand the capability that’s required to deploy and activate data-driven marketing, so we have to work with the CIO and CTO to build out the technology roadmap and the business case to do that.”

The O2 CMO has doubled the amount of time she spends with the company’s CTO and has consciously carved out more time to focus on capability building, chairing a steering committee focused on capital expenditure programmes. She has also tapped into external expertise around data and martech in order to learn more.

“I really get into the detail, far outside my comfort zone, but I do that because I need to understand it because this is really about the brand’s future success,” Bibby explained.

Success can’t and shouldn’t be measured through brand measures or attitudinal measures alone, but through actual performance.

Nina Bibby, O2

When it comes to the CEO, this relationship should ideally be a close and trusted one, which frees the CMO up to challenge their C-suite peers to always start with the customer when making decisions, however weak that link may appear to some. As soon as the Covid crisis hit, the O2 executive team convened daily calls, while Bibby also chaired a cross-functional group focused on the customer, bringing together colleagues on the network, product, tech, corporate comms and marketing teams.

She believes taking a five-year view shows just how a combination of data, proliferating digital channels and heightened competition has “really stretched” the CMO remit. However, even though expectations of the CMO have broadened still further over the past year, marketing leaders should never lose sight of how they’re moving the dial financially.

“Success can’t and shouldn’t be measured through brand measures or attitudinal measures alone, but through actual performance,” she argued. “So, are you winning share? Are you growing the market? Are you sustaining loyalty? Are you improving ROI?”

While the remit is large, and growing, Bibby is not convinced that the CMO role in unsustainable. She acknowledged, however, that it can be broken up in different ways in different businesses, with data and digital sometimes sitting elsewhere.

“What’s essential though is that the CMO needs to champion the end-to-end customer experience, even if they don’t fully own all of the components or the levers, because that’s the biggest risk if the role is split,” she noted.

“The customer experiences us as one and so we need to ensure that experience is joined up, cohesive, consistent and hopefully creates value for the customer and the company. So, no matter what, making sure the CMO really does champion that end-to-end experience is vital.”

O2’s Nina Bibby on the ‘genius’ of uniting commerciality and customer

She believes the role of marketing is “absolutely intrinsic” to successfully growing businesses beyond Covid-19 and given the increasing breadth of the CMO’s role, the priority should be on leadership, identifying talent and coaching for success.

Her team at O2 consists of a marketing strategy and planning team; a brand and marcomms team including sponsorship and events; a data, insight and analytics team; the product and proposition team; consumer commercial team and the small business commercial team.

“It’s really hard to master everything and that’s why people and talent are so crucial. It’s building the best team and ensuring that, as the CMO, you’ve got the right skills and the right knowledge around your table,” Bibby explained.

“Having said that, I think CMOs do need the intellect to be able to look across the entire customer experience to understand how the different parts work together to hopefully create a bigger whole. It’s probably equally important to be comfortable and adept at building the processes, the networks, the relationships that are necessary to orchestrate that customer experience. Going along with that, we have to be master storytellers because we have to galvanise the entire organisation.”

Flourishing post-Covid

Thinking back to the start of the first lockdown in March 2020, the O2 CMO explained how the pandemic forced the business to become “agile overnight”, as shops closed and marketing investment shifted away from outdoor and driving people to retail, to online and TV.

At the onset of Covid-19, Bibby formed a rapid response team in marketing, including O2’s agencies, with a view to rethinking all the planned activity. On a personal level she also changed her approach to internal communications, ramping up the frequency of her presentations and making them feel more personal, even when speaking to the entire team.

Twice last year O2 held development weeks spanning the whole marketing function. Focusing on professional development, external speakers gave presentations, there were workshops and each member of the marketing leadership team, including Bibby, offered 30-minute one-to-one mentoring sessions. These events ran in addition to the normal marketing development programme.

CMOs do need the intellect to be able to look across the entire customer experience to understand how the different parts work together.

Nina Bibby, O2

The stand out characteristic she looks for in emerging marketing talent is attitude, primarily people who ‘lean in’ and bring positive energy to any challenge.

“With my marketing leadership team we spend a lot of time talking about our people, not only how they’re performing, but how they are as individuals. Their potential. We identify those who we think have huge potential and ensure that we are doing the right thing in terms of their personal development and next roles,” Bibby explained.

The most important skill she wants to see from marketers post-pandemic is a consideration of the entire customer experience and thinking about how to knit together all the specialisms to serve the consumer. Bibby also wants her marketers to really listen to what customers are saying and react to the changes in their expectations post-Covid.

“Also, as we’re coming of this people are tired,” she noted. “People have been worn down over the past year, so marketers in any organisation should be a source of positive energy. So, galvanising and rallying the organisation is another really important skill.”

While the past 12 months have been characterised by negativity, Bibby is optimistic about the future thanks to the sheer level of innovation that has taken place across the business world, as well as the ability of companies and consumers to adapt quickly to extraordinary circumstances.

“As a creative person that gives me huge optimism to see that innovation, to see that creativity,” she added. “Also, what gives me optimism is that evidence I’ve picked up across sectors that there is tremendous pent up demand. People are desperate to get out again, to experience and to engage with the world again.”

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