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The rise of the Chief Marketing influencer

Smart and strategic use of social platforms by CMOs has elevated the marketing discipline both within and without brand organisations. We spoke to some marketers about it

By ian darby

Aline Santos from Unilever. Raja Rajamannar from Mastercard. Bozoma Saint John from Netflix. Cheryl Calverley from eve sleep. Pete Markey from Boots. We’re witnessing the rise of a new breed of chief marketing officer.

One that’s more outspoken and is looking to make greater use of the range of social media and other public platforms around them. Not only deploying social influencers in their company’s marketing activity but also adopting some of the principles of modern influence to build both their own profile and those of their brand.

This is, in no small part, due to the personalities of some strong and opinionated individuals but also to changing expectations from businesses of what CMOs must bring to the role to meet shifting audience expectations.

The persona of the brand

David Nobbs is partner and head of consumer at executive search firm Grace Blue and has worked on selection briefs with global brands such as Ford, through to smaller VC-backed ventures. He argues that it’s becoming more important to consumers to be able to see a human within an organisation who “represents the persona of a brand”, and that this is frequently the CMO. “As consumer engagement has risen through social and influencer marketing both big brands and small brands really rely on their CMO to become the face and the voice of the brand and speak to the customer," he says. "Over the past few years that’s grown more significant, and was further accelerated by the pandemic due to the rise in digital engagement and changes in consumer behaviour.”

Nobbs adds that some of the big purpose-based issues, such as ESG and diversity agendas, have become part of the CMOs remit, making it incumbent on the marketing leader to articulate these to internal and external audiences.

Creating good businesses

This leads to the important issue of the CMO being able to influence the conversation both within the higher echelons of their organisation and beyond. Cheryl Calverley, the chief executive of eve sleep, was promoted from the CMO role at the brand 18 months ago and previously held senior marketing roles at the AA and Birds Eye. She now deliberately speaks out on marketing issues, she says, because “I believe fiercely that marketing can be better, and that we can all be better at our jobs and have more impact in creating good businesses.”

Calverley adds that having a strong voice, both on social channels and on speaking platforms, is an asset when it comes to recruitment and when talking with investors: “We are a small business that has a very limited budget but we don’t feel like a quiet business, and I work consciously hard to say ‘yes’ to the right things to keep eve’s profile up, and my profile as CEO and CMO and someone you might want to work with.”

When it comes to building influence as a CMO the values of “stealth and consistency” are essential, says Kathleen Saxton, the managing director and executive vice president EMEA, at Medialink. She cites Fiona Carter, the CMO at Goldman Sachs, as one of the best marketing influencers around. Carter was hired by the global investment bank in June 2020 and has since secured greater investment in marketing at the business. Saxton says: “She’s gone in and really used her personal platform to say ‘I’m not joining unless you take marketing hugely seriously’.”

Some of this has involved large-scale initiatives including Goldman Sachs’ $500 million backing for companies and investment managers with diverse leadership. Saxton says: “Of course, the impact is that people start to reconsider Goldman’s completely. She’s doing her own marketing job but also using the power and money to make meaningful change rather than the tinpot initiatives that people sometimes come up with.”

Talking the industry up

But can, and should, CMOs develop a deliberate strategy when it comes to influence, as a professional TikTok influencer would do? Pete Markey, the CMO at Boots, says this wasn’t his approach, and that his outlook has evolved over time: “I knew I had to be on social media because that’s where the customers were, and the industry was going, and I wanted to be where the conversation was, in it and part of it rather than outside. I found over time that things came together, and social media has become the platform to reach out on.”

Markey’s current activity involves using channels such as LinkedIn, alongside speaking opportunities, mentoring through The School of Marketing and Marketing Academy, podcasts and media interviews, to both provide a commentary on the positive things that Boots is doing and “secondly to talk the industry up.” He argues that this has a strong impact, especially in terms of boosting recruitment, in building the profile of marketing within the company, and convincing other Boots executives to be bolder in speaking publicly about the brand.

Does being a marketing influencer involve necessarily having a bold, outgoing, personality? It seems, certainly, that a talent for performance is among the qualities businesses are now seeking when hiring a CMO.

David Nobbs at Grace Blue says brands that are selecting CMOs, and also those looking for marketers to fill non-executive roles, “have realised that they need to appoint people who enjoy being on that stage, and having a point of view.”

This suits Cheryl Calverley, who describes herself as “inherently an opinionated and vocal character, comfortable in a public space, and I like to be part of the conversation, listening to other people.” However, like Markey, this evolved initially out of circumstances as opposed to a grand plan to become an influencer: “It all started with me not having an expenses budget but wanting to get to conferences and hear things from people speaking on panels,” she admits.

Standing up for what matters

Saxton concludes that possessing a positive, fearless outlook, along with a genuine commitment to communicating serious issues, is important in the marketing industry and for wider business too: “It’s about finding individuals who will say what others are too frightened to say. Cancel culture has not helped people who want to make a stand against bad behaviour. There’s something about ego, status, money, fear of losing all of the things in the day job, that means it’s so refreshing when somebody does stand up for something that really matters.”


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