Over the last decade, the roles of the marketing team and chief marketing officer have undergone fundamental transformation. As a result, marketing leaders are undertaking expansive, nuanced roles that require great agility.

Four marketing experts on Kellogg’s faculty—Jim Stengel, former global marketing officer at Procter & Gamble, Diane Brink, former CMO for global technology services at IBM, Eric Leininger, former corporate senior vice president at McDonald’s Corporation, and professor of marketing strategy Gregory Carpenter—discuss the ways current trends are remaking companies, brands, and marketing careers.

The Kellogg Marketing Leadership Summit is an annual meeting of senior marketing leaders working in collaboration to advance the field. Each fall, Kellogg hosts this discussion between renowned researchers and the marketing executives leading many of the world’s most important organizations.

Jim Stengel: One of the trends I’m seeing is that CMOs and senior marketing leaders are going way beyond the old definition of the marketing function. They’re leading a repositioning of companies. They’re working on the culture. They’re getting everyone across functions on board, on the purpose of their company and what that means to everyone’s daily work.

Diane Brink: While brand building is still essential, there is an expectation on: Where are the new sources of revenue? How can I become deeper ingrained in my existing customers? How can I acquire new customers? It’s all about driving growth.

The aspect of marketing that hasn't changed is the function’s understanding of the customer, the marketplace, and the competition. And I think that since marketing leaders are uniquely positioned to offer up those insights, there's an expectation that new ideas and new ways to perform will come out of marketing departments’ efforts.

Another aspect is that clients are doing a lot more to drive the conversation and the expectations of the work they do with companies. Clients are more self-sufficient, so customer engagement has been expanded to be omnipresent.

Stengel: And the end consumer has changed dramatically. People are shopping differently, getting information differently, being affected by news differently—and most companies are struggling to keep up with that.

Eric Leininger: To add to that, there are two topics that I think are really increasing in intensity for marketing leaders. The first is what I would refer to as tectonic channel shifts, particularly in b2b. The b2b marketing department role is really being changed by a disruption from the traditional sales-driven channel focus—where marketing was in a support role—to digital, automated capabilities.

Marketing people also need to take on explicitly—in ways that may have been more implicit in the past—responsibility for customer experience. Companies need to realign their workflows so that a customer has a more consistent experience with the brand across channels. This is a lot easier to say that it is to do! You’ve got to get the organization working horizontally instead of vertically and educate so many more people about the experience you want the customer to have with your company.

Brink: Marketing is the one function that can knit the various functions together in an enterprise. How many times have you been around the table and you were orchestrating the conversations between sales, finance, general management, product development, right? Many times, it's the CMO who’s facilitating that end-to-end alignment for the enterprise’s success. I believe that’s going to continue to be an essential part of the CMO’s role.

Greg Carpenter: There used to be so many more people who were under the direct control of the CEO, and now it's people outside the organization you have to inspire as well as inside. I think of Steve Jobs and the app developers: 60,000 employees and 400,000 developers, which suggest that the CEO must inspire people outside the organization in addition to leading the formal organization. Developers are smart people who can do lots of things with their time. Is that task of inspiring people outside the organization falling to CMOs too?

Stengel: As a CMO, I think your people have to believe in it and internalize it, understand their role and be able to talk about it in their own language. We live in a frenemy world—we’re working with so many people that we’re also competing with, and I think it’s important they all understand what you’re trying to do: your purpose, your meaning, your differentiators. I recently read a PWC study that showed that nearly 30 percent of CEOs are considering or are working with competitors. Think Microsoft and Dell, Amazon and Unilever, WPP and Google.

Brink: To build on that, the collaboration that's required across functions by the CMO is incredibly intense. Take ecommerce: the conversations that CMOs are having now with product management and how new offerings are designed to be able to seamlessly work through digital channels is a whole different set of conversations than were had in the past. Or conversations with the CFO on new types of metrics as you look at digital engagement.

“One of the leadership imperatives that CMOs today need to embrace and demonstrate is getting comfortable with the uncomfortable...” —Diane Brink

Stengel: I was with the CMO of a global beverage company recently. And the CMO laid out the capabilities they needed to build for the future. Think about these versus traditional marketing skills: the first one was ecommerce leadership, the second one was digital storytelling, then agile innovation, agile data, service capability, and venture capital capabilities. I mean, geez.

Carpenter: Can you talk about the venture capital capabilities? That seems a little bit unusual. The others seem more apparent or obvious.

Stengel: Everyone has some method or system to work with startups. They realize their organizations are not that great at creating new value, and they have to be better at acting like venture capitalists. That means having a wide-swath approach to ideas that are relevant for their company, how to source them, how to find them, how to invest small amounts of money to see if they're proving out.

You're hard-pressed to find a legacy company that doesn't have some sort of active venture capital–like operation. And good CMOs are in the middle of that because they're responsible for the growth of the company.

Interestingly enough, GE, which is a company that faces many challenges, has a very aggressive venture program with more than 100 companies they've invested in, partnered with. We may see GE turn around based on these relationships they've built through GE ventures. And they recently made the GE ventures head, Sue Siegel, Chief Innovation Officer for GE.

Leininger: This calls out some old paradigms that are still in place and that may be counterproductive. One is the b2b versus b2c paradigm—it’s just not as useful as it used to be.

People like Jim at P&G and Diane at IBM and the leaders at McDonald’s, we weren’t just thinking about b2b and b2c, we were thinking about B to G: business to government; B to E: business to employees; and B to S: business to stakeholders. This requires much more integrated thinking and planning and internal orchestration than how those functions were managed in the past.

Brink: One of the leadership imperatives that CMOs today need to embrace and demonstrate is getting comfortable with the uncomfortable and having the ability to employ agile methods to think about speed versus perfection and creating environments and cultures that are open and curious versus planned and static.

At IBM, in our digital marketing work, we would have two weeks spurts where we would try different things, and if something failed, we would characterize it as “fail fast and move on.” We saw no downside to making a mistake. If something was slightly off-brand, we would take that, integrate it into our learning, and apply it in our next round. It was quite uncomfortable. It wasn't the traditional planning process where you have 6- or even 12-month market plans. You were literally evolving what you were going to do every two weeks.

Carpenter: All of you describe the job as much more complex: it's much broader, it involves these cross-functions, it involves more control outside the organization, it involves dealing with ambiguity and change. So it seems like the person who would do this is really a very different sort of person with different characteristics than would have been valued 20 years ago.

Leininger: You see many fewer people who came up one organization, and many more who made strategic moves across companies, across industries. Relative to 20 years ago, it’s more global in scope. Global capability is now practically assumed, as opposed to being a differentiating capability for candidates in the past. The requirements that have changed least are operating experience with profit and loss responsibility, enterprise-wide general management orientation, and leadership skills.

Stengel: When I was at P&G years ago, there was a very deliberate career path: get out of your own country, do learning assignments in other functions, go spend time on the retail customer teams. It was meant to open up your mind, give you different experiences, get you out of your comfort zone by being in a different culture. And I think that more thought has to be given to the capabilities that marketing departments and CMOs want to build now, and structure career paths around that.

Leininger: When I talk to people about their careers now, I say, go someplace where you're going to get that strategic discipline, someplace that knows how to move fast and where the modern marketing capabilities are fully in place.

I feel like that's good advice, but it also puts a lot of burden on the person thinking about their career to go find those places, because it's not as simple as saying, “seven years at Procter & Gamble and you're golden.” We used to be able to sort more by company, and now we're telling people, “here's what you need to go look for.”

Brink: It means being able to get comfortable with the fact that there isn’t a cookie-cutter career path that you’re going to follow or a cookie-cutter job description. The CMO role will continue to evolve and transform—accept that and embrace it.