Four Big Ways the CMO Is Changing During the Pandemic

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the role of the CMO?

This question looms large. CMOs are in high demand as businesses turn to them to figure out how to build their brands during a time of uncertainty. According to search firm Russell Reynolds, there were 243 publicly announced marketing executive moves in the first half of 2020, which amounts to a record number of hires.

Russell Reynolds said that companies are looking for CMOs who can“ adapt to rapidly changing consumer behavior.” Our own research points to an even deeper need: to take a more active role in product development, experience design, and digital transformation.

Let’s take a closer look.

The Isobar CX Survey 2020: Creative Experience in the Age of Covid-19

To understand the world of the marketer today and their view of the future, Isobar spoke with 1,350+ CMOs across 12 markets, ranging from China to the United States. We found that:

1) CMOs Play a Bigger Role Than Ever

The CMO acts as a vital point of connectivity between the business and a rapidly changing world. The role of the CMO is evolving, shaping product and retail strategies as much as communications. In 2020, 56% of CMOs state that product and service innovation is a core KPI (an increase in 5 percentage points over our 2019 study). About half are accountable for driving digital transformation (+9 percentage points year over year).

2) CMOs Need to Be Adaptable

Some 64% of CMOs have changed their CX strategy completely or moderately in response to the pandemic. And no wonder! Consider how many businesses have made dramatic pivots because of the pandemic. Disney recently announced it is reorganizing the company around its streaming business as people spent more time online and less time in theme parks. Restaurants such as Panera are becoming grocery retailers. Fitness companies have moved their businesses online.

These types of business shifts place new demands on CMOs. They need to do more than adapt to changing consumer behavior: they need to understand how to fundamentally change the way a business builds relationships with people largely through digital. As Ramin Eivaz, Chief Marketing Officer, Mattress Firm, told Google recently, the largely offline retailer has quickly transformed its operations through digital during the pandemic. Mattress Firm has experienced a 4X increase in e-commerce revenue in just six weeks and achieved two years of planned digital transformation in just three months.

3) CMOs Are Changing CX with Digital

At a time when people are spending more time online than ever, CMOs have a new challenge: creating great CX that builds loyalty. Digital is more than a one-and-done channel for making a transaction. Now digital is where businesses create long-term relationships. It has to be as we’re all living in a digital-first world now.

CMOs told us that they’re increasingly turning to technology to build those relationships. While AI is currently the most used emerging technology by 36% of CMOs, voice and chat based interfaces follow closely behind with 29% and 28% adoption. Virtual and augmented reality are also entering the mainstream, with 28% and 27% adoption among CMOs.

We see an increased desire for organizing creative ideas that can live across every touchpoint, from commerce to communications to colleague and community engagement. Technologies such as AI, voice, gesture, and augmented reality are key ingredients in creating differentiated, brand building experiences in a world that has moved beyond minimizing friction to maximizing desire.

On our blog, we recently share a great example of how one brand, KFC, uses digital to build customer love – check out our post for more detail

4) CMOs Must Build Cultural Relevance

In a world where brand belief and brand behavior must align ever more closely, CMOs must ensure that what’s happening inside the business aligns with the cultural shifts happening outside the business and with the needs and values of employees. Forty percent of CMOs believe consumers expect businesses to take care of employees as a priority in response to Covid-19. Thirty-six percent of CMOs have implemented purpose-led initiatives in response to the Covid-19 crisis.

People expect businesses to play a new role in improving their lives, whether embracing sustainability, fighting systematic racism, or addressing the emotional and mental toll of the global pandemic. CMOs now must go beyond building a brand to connecting a brand to culture.  

One way that we help clients do this is through Isobar Good. Isobar Good uses design thinking to help businesses align social impact and purpose to their core products and services to ensure they make good on their promises to society while growing their business. 

Moving Forward in 2021

The Isobar CX Survey 2020 identifies four practical ways for CMOs to deliver outstanding and distinctive CX in a rapidly changing world:

  • Change: Accelerate innovation to turn promises into reality.
  • Commerce: Embrace idea-led commerce.
  • Content: deliver content at the speed of culture.
  • Culture: Align brand beliefs and behaviors as never before.

To learn more about how CMOs can adapt successfully to change, download our report below. And if you’re interested in learning more, contact us for more insight and learn how we can help you. 


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