Marketers are leading the business world through a revolution. Much of this revolution centers on putting the customer experience first. As Finance Executive Adrianne Shapira points out, “The pace of change is intense out there. And the customer’s in the driver’s seat.”

This is underscored by findings from the Fourth Annual State of Marketing report:

“Although delivering a superior customer experience requires attention from every facet of the business, marketing leaders — particularly high performers — feel they’re leading the charge. Almost two-thirds of marketers say their team is leading customer experience initiatives across the business. Among top teams, that number rises to 89%.”

What does this mean for marketing leaders — and their teams — embarking on a journey into this new world centered around the customer? Here’s what CMOs and marketing leaders had to say.


Marketing leaders are inspiring a customer experience transformation.


Scaling new heights, finding new paths and exploring new frontiers are all exhilarating and exciting moments to be a part of. As more business leaders witness the transformation marketing teams are leading, CMOs are going to have more influence on their companies’ broader business strategies.

First and foremost, the new CMO will be the one to see this transformation through by bringing together the boardroom and the buyer and re-centering the brand’s business strategy around the customer journey.

“CMOs are evolving to be business builders, and they do that through really understanding not only the mechanics of marketing, but the power of marketing, and connecting it to the business impact that they're driving,” says Alicia Hatch, CMO, Deloitte Digital. “And they can articulate that clearly. They can speak the language of business. They can communicate effectively not only in the C suite but in the boardroom. And actually deliver the blue sky, top-line growth.”

It starts with CMOs and marketing leaders who are able to hone their understanding of the customer. This means figuring out which data focuses that view of the customer, and which data distracts from it, then finding the right technologies to put that useful data to work in meaningful ways. Technology alone won’t do much. Marketing leaders who inspire people and processes that leverage the right data and technologies will see the most success. They then need to inspire not only their own teams, but also teams across the company, to invest the same time and energy into understanding the customer.

What if your leadership doesn’t buy in? What if you’re stuck with old-school thinkers who insist on tradition over transformation (“we’ll-do-it-how-we’ve-always-done-it” types)? Use your data. Show them in real numbers what a customer-centric focus can do for your brand’s business and bottom line.

Be prepared to start small. Successfully revamping one part of the customer journey, whether it’s onboarding, engagement or retention, can earn support for larger initiatives.


Marketing leaders are building more collaborative teams.


As the role of the CMO changes, so is the role — and the makeup — of the marketing team. According to Ronalee Zarate-Bayani, Head of Global Integrated Marketing & Digital Advancement at The Hershey Company, “The dream team is not so much about past experiences, but it is the innate characteristics and drivers . . . You need someone who's smart, who is flexible, who learns very quickly, who's adaptable, and will pick up whatever skill is needed at the time. But at the same time, you have to couple that with the ability to collaborate across the board.”

Marketing is leaving silos behind. Instead, teams are beginning to structure themselves around a unified customer experience and how they interact with it.

If 2017 was the year of the data analyst, 2018 will be the year of the collaborator. Marketing leaders will need teams with the dynamics capable of producing a seamless, empathetic and meaningful customer journey.

Andy Kaufman, VP of Digital Direct & Marriott.com agrees. “I don't look at hiring individuals,” he says. “I look at hiring team members. I am a firm believer that the whole is much stronger than the sum of its parts.”

When building your team, finding the right mix of personalities is as important as finding the right skillsets.


Marketing leaders are balancing risk and failure.


With any change comes the risk of failure. After all, nothing lost, nothing gained.

There is also, however, major risk in standing still. It’s the risk of falling behind and realizing too late how far you need to go to catch up. Just look at RadioShack or Blockbuster. These major brands failed to adapt to changes in their industries, and it cost them big.

According to the State of Marketing report, 68% of marketing leaders say their companies are increasingly competing on the basis of customer experience. Failing to adapt to this new status quo is sure to spell disaster.

Alicia Hatch echoes this sentiment. “I actually think it's safer to be innovative in the end,” she says, “safer to be able to pivot.”

As leaders of their teams and within their companies, it is up to CMOs and other marketing leaders to explore this new frontier and the risk that comes with it. Leaders who embody a sense of openness and willingness to accept some failures on the longer road to success will lead their companies as pioneers of the customer experience revolution.  

A leader’s job is to go first and set an example. Marketing leaders can do this within their companies and across their industries. Andy Kaufman adds, “My job as a leader is to connect dots and create opportunities for people.” Marketing leaders on the front lines will be better positioned to create opportunities for their customers, their teams, and their brands.

This blog is part 6 of our Trailblazer CMO series. Check out the other blogs in the series for more insights from today’s top marketing leaders.

Watch the Fourth Annual State of Marketing video to learn more about how marketers are leading the charge to transform the customer experience.