CMO Titles Will Continue to Wane, and That’s a Good Thing

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Chief marketing officer positions are likely to diminish in number again next year, but the trend may actually benefit companies’ efforts to sell products and services.

CMO roles at many companies can isolate marketing activities and encourage other executives to treat marketing as an afterthought, said Keith Johnston, vice president and research director at Forrester Research Inc., which predicts fewer such positions in a new report about the year ahead for CMOs.

Eliminating the title can help companies embrace the role of marketing in all departments, Mr. Johnston said. “Then the brand is free to be about the experience, about the communications, to be a recruiting tool and a retention tool for employees,” he said.

That is increasingly important as the efficiency of traditional advertising declines and every experience that consumers have with brands becomes more important.

Although the majority of big marketers have CMOs, the popularity of the title has been waning over the past several years. CMO titles have been eliminated or gone unfilled this year at brands including Uber Technologies Inc., Johnson & Johnson and Beam Suntory Inc.

About 70% of large companies have CMOs at the corporate level, down from roughly 74% in 2009, according to estimates by leadership advisory firm Spencer Stuart.

Many companies that have dropped the CMO title have named chief customer officers or chief growth officers in their place. “They’re pretty pragmatic,” Mr. Johnston said of those titles. “If you’re a chief growth officer, it’s like ‘OK, here’s the keys, let’s grow.’ If you’re a chief customer officer, it means everything that touches the consumer is going to be your responsibility.”

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