The most important change happening in Marketing- the introduction of the Gen X CMO

Harvard Professor Harry Dent suggested that the baby boomer “age wave” would result in an employment, economic and stock market crest between 2007 and 2009, when baby boomers would reach their peak career years in their early 50’s, and then our largest single demographic would start to retire and decrease their spending.

gen-xMost of the literature around online marketing and the ROI of advertising has discussed the changing nature of consumer media consumption habits.  There have been a lot of pixels spilled noting that Gen X, Gen Y and the Millennials/Gen Z now consume over 60% of their media on the internet, but less than 20% of global media spend and effort is on the web.

While the new Generations X-Z changed their media consumption habits due to major innovations in technology and media, the Baby Boomer Generation still held the office of CMO in large companies and the Presidency at large agencies—and they held the purse strings as well.  The earlier Baby Boomer generation is unfortunately stuck in the business models and media types of the past. While Millennials are “digital natives” and Gen X and Gen Y are “digital immigrants,”  the Boomers are being left behind labeled as the “digital ignorants.”   These are the folks who grew up with the Marlboro Man and Mad Men. “Creative” ruled the day.  When business results were down, a CMO called up the ad agency and ordered up another TV commercial.

Over the next 5 years,  however, the age wave impact will truly occur.  The current 50-to-60 year old Baby Boomer CMOs will retire and be replaced by 35-45 year old Gen X and Gen Y CMOs.  Not only will a new generation of CMOs be taking office, they will take office at a younger age than their predecessors. These new CMOs will have grown up with Apple computers at school and Ataris at home, and will have come of working age in the mid-to-late 90’s, at the dawn of the first internet boom. The new CMO won’t need to learn how to use current technologies or embrace new ones, because agility and speed and innovation, coupled with math, science, computers and analytics, are part of their genetic makeup and their schooling.   The new CMO is also a CIO, CTO and CFO as well, and they will be more comfortable doing more in-house, running the numbers, and not requiring big media or big agencies to get the work done and make results happen.

Most importantly, the new CMO will demand accountability and ROI from their staff, their spend and their partners.   “Marketing is the new Finance,” says Ann Lewnes, CMO of Adobe.   The new CMO will know how to facilitate conversations but not dominate them, they will simultaneously be global and local, they will use more highly targeted and sophisticated messaging through more nichey and organic channels to influence specific constituent personas.

Intel’s Sean Maloney and Adobe’s Ann Lewnes, are examples of this younger, digital-savvy CMO, and it only makes sense that the first wave of the new CMOs would appear at the largest technology companies.  We are also seeing Gen Xers appear, however, at more traditional companies as well, such as  P&G’s new  Marc Pritchard.

In the next 10 years, the face of marketing will change even more dramatically than it has over the past 10 years.  Not just because consumer tastes or technologies will continue to evolve, but because the first wave of the truly digital, Gen X CMO will be taking office, and they will be the ones writing the checks and driving the decisions.

ACTIONABLE INSIGHT #1: If you are a search marketer or digital marketer in a company with a Gen X CMO, then you’re in luck.  Focus on ROI, analytics, and financial metrics when pitching for budget.  Provide cost-benefit analyses, tradeoffs and risk assessments.  Don’t be afraid to push for software and personnel to get things done in house, rather than outsourcing.

ACTIONABLE INSIGHT #2: If you are a search marketer or senior interactive executive in a company with a more traditional CMO, then you have a few options.  Focus on the creative aspects of search and digital and how they enhance and extend the value of the traditional media such as TV, print and radio.   Expect to leverage the agency of choice of the CMO, or provide “options” of which agencies you prefer, with some leaning more toward technology enablement and some leaning more toward pure service.   Make sure to be aligning yourself with any up-and-coming potential Gen X CMOs, or be prepared for one to be brought in from the outside—the average tenure of a CMO is still less than 2 years.  If you are feeling more aggressive or you think YOU are the Gen X or Gen Y CMO that’s next in line, you can always pitch your CFO or go straight to the CEO on the benefits of paid and natural search and digital marketing overall, and make a play to get more budget and prove it.  This is a risky career strategy, however, for those in large traditional companies!
At the end of the day, if you do great work—both creative and metrics-based, you let your work speak for itself, and you make others around you (including your CMO) look great and achieve great results- then your time will come soon enough and you will become one of the next generation CMOs that are driving global changes in marketing!