The CMO of the future

He presented the exciting results of the 2019 Swiss Marketing Leadership Study at the 2019 BSI User Group Meeting. Then, he was very generous and granted us a short interview full of ideas about the future of marketing and the new role of the CMO: The Swiss marketing expert and Head of the Institute of Marketing Management at ZHAW (Zürcher Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaften; Zurich University of Applied Sciences), Prof. Dr. Brian P. Rüeger.

Prof. Dr. Brian Rüeger at the 2019 BSI UGM: “The future belongs to absorptive and collaborative companies!”

How is the role of the chief marketing officer (CMO) different today from what it was like a few years ago?

The environment has changed. We are dealing with a higher level of complexity and corporate dynamics today. We talk about VUCA markets – business environments that are volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. It helps to understand that this is what the market is like now and accept that the old ways won’t come back. In the past, the level of complexity and dynamics was manageable, and if you had good instincts, you could make equally good decisions. These times are gone, and this type of decision-maker will disappear.

Who will succeed those who made decisions based on their gut feeling?

Companies must gather facts everywhere. The facts do not always have to be representative but should provide a certainty of 80 percent that things are moving in the right direction. To compile these facts quickly and on a limited budget, the experimental approach is often suitable. What’s in demand is this: new processes, strategies, and cultural changes, more activity from the bottom up, collaboration, and new skills at every level.

How can companies acquire these new skills?

By trying things out, gradually. A test and learn and trial and error culture is useful in this regard. What has worked well is to start simply and build on positive experiences. This shift should not happen overnight, nor should it be directed from the top down. You can’t change a culture on command. I place great hope in the young people who graduate from universities today. They carry this culture with them and will take it into companies that welcome change from the bottom up. Companies that do not permit this will be having difficulties in their recruiting efforts, and then they will have to change something. A change in culture requires a CEO who is willing to make a change. Even though the process occurs from the bottom up, you need a willingness to do it “from the top.”

Success by living and breathing it?

In our research, we found that one of the biggest drivers of change and customer orientation in companies is the CEO and management team living and breathing it. While living and breathing this approach is the biggest driver, it can also be the biggest obstacle or biggest barrier, if this does not happen.

Which three pieces of advice would you like to give to CMOs?

  1. Be fearless!
  2. Move forward in small steps. This is not a contradiction to being fearless regarding the engagement, orientation, and the vision where one wants to go. The idea is to gradually create an experimental culture. When you combine both, it is like having many small arrows that all aim into the same direction.
  3. Get yourself in shape for the competition for skills. There are still decision makers who believe that they can win on price or cost advantages. In the future, it will be the absorptive and collaborative skills that will score. It will be all about bringing resources on board who want to walk this path together with us faster, more efficiently, at a lower cost, and more purposefully. Using this approach, companies enter an upward cycle, which will drive them forward. Companies that do not commit themselves to this concept will be driven out of the market. As far as Switzerland is concerned, I am very confident because many Swiss companies are engaged in self-reflection, which will be one of the most important success factors in the future.