CMO Smart Round Roundup Part 1: Dynamic Market Forces Facing Today’s CMOs

By John Lawrence

In June 2017, Chicago AMA held its first CMO Smart forum, bringing together some of Chicago’s most dynamic marketing leaders to discuss the changing landscape while sharing best practices to collaborate across the C-Suite and tap into the resources needed to achieve growth. The event was moderated by Kim Feil, CEO of bizHive and CMO/CSO for Aspire Healthy Energy Drinks. Kim is also the President of the CMO Club Chicago and has been a retailer, general manager, consultant and e-commerce leader in marketing, sales and strategy with OfficeMax, Walgreens, Sara Lee, Kimberly-Clark, Information Resources Inc., Dr. Pepper/7UP and Frito-Lay.  Kim shared her unique insights on the strategies that marketing leaders need to adopt and master in order to thrive.  I’ve shared some highlights from her powerful keynote address:

Life is getting better for your customers. With just a mobile phone, your customers can shop online, arrange for an Uber, order and pay for Starbucks, and book a flight and Airbnb for an upcoming vacation. Technology is disrupting every industry from retail to transportation to food services and hospitality. And the speed of change is accelerating. In her CMO Smart keynote address, Kim Feil boldly declared that tech is going to drive everything that we as marketers do. While life keeps getting better for your customers, it’s only getting harder for chief marketing officers.

Amidst the peril of technological disruption, however, there’s also untold promise as new markets and unexpected opportunities emerge. CMOs need to do two things to prepare according to Feil: embrace technology and go back to the strategy drawing board to reevaluate how you do business. Now is the right time to do it because the economy is healthy and that means businesses have the opportunity to innovate and grow.

To illustrate her thesis, Feil surveyed a number of key industries that are experiencing profound change due to technology. Retail was first on the list. In no uncertain terms, Feil declared that retail is NOT dead but the future is complementary software design. To succeed, retailers must create a seamless experience for customers between online and offline shopping. Exactly how that will work is an area for experimentation and innovation. It’s clear, however, that retail is at a turning point and the strategies many retailers have been using simply no longer work.


Transportation is another major industry undergoing technological disruption. We all know about the impact of Uber and Lyft on the taxi business. That will pale compared to the impact of self-driving cars. Feil explained how the widespread adoption self-driving vehicles will disrupt hundreds of industries across the globe. Auto makers, car dealerships, gas stations, auto repair shops, parking garages, rental agencies, auto insurance, tire manufactures, and even ride-share firms like Uber will all have to transform the way they do business. Not all of these enterprises will successfully navigate the new transportation landscape. However, the firms that hone their strategies to embrace tech developments and exploit new opportunities are much more likely to survive and even thrive.

Along with adapting to the revolution in technology and the rapid evolution of consumer behavior, businesses need to look inward. C-suite executives must ensure that they have the workforce, corporate values, and company culture necessary to meet the challenges ahead. Feil pointed out that the increasing importance of technology has revealed a growing skills gap in many marketing teams. Digital marketing literacy and analytics proficiency are essential to your team’s success. Business leaders must also be aware of how implementing change will impact the culture and mission of their firms. Change management is a critical skill for executives.

Managing at the speed of change may seem daunting, but Feil suggested several ideas to help CMOs stay ahead of the curve:

  • Stage war games with cross-functional teams to test your response to changes in the marketing environment.
  • Study industries that are far from your own to gain new ideas. Shop your category with millennials.
  • Dedicate team time to debate the impact of external trends.
  • Create contingency plans to handle internal and external changes.
  • Identify potential support partners and resources that are needed to successfully pivot your strategy.
  • Finally, know where you need to build, buy, and ally to prepare yourself for the future.

As marketers, we’ve watched as technology has revolutionized the entertainment industry. We’re now seeing the profound impact it’s having on retail. No industry is immune. As Kim Feil made clear, technology is going to drive everything we do. Reinventing our approach to business means we’ve got some hard work ahead but the new markets and the new opportunities for success should keep us energized and ready for change.

John Lawrence is a marketing specialist at DeMarche Associates, an institutional investment consulting firm. He recently completed his MBA at Loyola University of Chicago. Marketing is actually his second career. John is a former journalist and television news producer. In addition to volunteering for the AMA, John is a member of the community advisory council for The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

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