By Jenny Rooney
When Kristin Lemkau oversaw the launch of last fall’s #ThisMama work featuring tennis great Serena Williams, she saw a championship winner. “Best piece of work I’ve ever been a part of,” she tweeted to her more than 12,000 followers at the time. “Being a Mom is to experience extreme joy, fatigue, and self doubt all at the same time. A tribute to the unstoppable @serenawilliams showing us all we can do it and to Mamas everywhere. #ThisMama salutes you.”
In this year’s World’s Most Influential CMOs report, we look beyond the noise, beyond the Twitter followers and the speaking engagements, to assess the extent to which CMOs are using their voices, visibility, stature and decisions for change in three areas: inside their companies, in the broader advertising and marketing industry, and in society and culture, at a time when corporations are now regarded by many as the most powerful social forces. Building trust is paramount for all marketers today, said Facebook Global CMO Antonio Lucio. And that priority demands a laser focus on and understanding of customers as well as a defined, authentic purpose and narrative.
According to the report, “the influence exerted by these marketing leaders goes beyond the scale of their social media followings or the breadth of their news mentions. Their influence lies in the way they tune into customer attitudes and industry trends, translating an ever-growing set of data points and marketing inputs into a coherent strategy for their own business, and often, a vision for the industry as a whole.”
CMOs like Lemkau recognize the very real power of marketing in acknowledging the new capabilities, power and passions of consumers, as well as cultural conversation and shifts, and responding in kind in an effort to build brands and businesses. And internally, they are developing their marketing organizations and partnering with C-suite peers for future growth.
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Today Forbes unveils its seventh annual World’s Most Influential CMOs report, a comprehensive look at the individuals who are the best at driving transformational change within and outside their organizations. Today’s CMOs are some of the most multidimensional, strategically savvy, creative, innovative and, yes, challenged executives in the C-suite. In uniquely owning the voice of the customer, they are architecting customer experience, digital transformation and industry innovation—even as they navigate the increasing complexities and expectations of their role. The most influential CMOs are driving change at various levels within their organizations, lending their voices to broader industry conversations, and articulating core brand and business purpose and sharing perspective on cultural issues as they seek to drive business growth.
Topping that list for the third year in a row is Keith Weed, who recently departed Unilever after 35 years but was a force behind such ambitious initiatives such as the Unstereotype Alliance and the overhaul of influencer marketing in an attempt to end fraudulent activity in the practice.
Key highlights from the report include:
- Of the top 50, 28 are returning from 2018 and 22 are new to the list.
- 31 of the top 50 are women; 19 are men.
- Technology company CMOs dominate the list, accounting for 17 of the 50.
- Top CMOs talk about AI the most of all technology topics, followed by digital transformation, blockchain and 5G.
- The most mentioned social topic among top CMOs is gender.
In this report, as in past reports, CMO influence is defined as the impact a chief marketer’s actions and words have on his or her internal organization’s motivation and performance; corporate brand perception; broader marketing and advertising trends; cultural and societal discourse; and, ultimately, corporate financial performance, including stock price.
Watch on Forbes: Levi Strauss & Co. CMO Jennifer Sey on rebuilding relevance for the iconic, beloved brand.
Of course, driving change externally and internally go hand-in-hand. Looking at the recent accomplishments of the CMOs on this year’s list, it’s clear their influence enables them to drive seven types of change within the enterprise: focus, priorities, trajectory, attitudes, thinking, behavior and outcomes.
Lemkau, for example, is a CMO who uses influence to change attitudes within her company or, as is the case, to spur a shift broader social attitudes. With the #ThisMama campaign, JPMorgan Chase takes center stage as a financial-services company that supports accurately representing the experiences of motherhood.
Diego Scotti, meanwhile, as CMO of Verizon, has made it a priority to build a more diverse marketing team. His AdFellows program, a fellowship program that enables diverse young talent to work in internships at Verizon and at partner agencies, has been highly successful and has set an example for the broader industry; recently American Express and Anheuser-Busch joined as members.
And Lucio is driving diversity-and-inclusion efforts at Facebook in much the same way he prioritized such initiatives at HP Inc. An initial sponsor of Free the Bid, a program advocating for women directors, under his leadership Facebook also is now a sponsor of Free the Work, a program to increase the number of women, trans identifying, nonbinary and underrepresented creators in film making.
Jennifer Sey is solidifying Levi’s hold in culture as a storied, progressive brand that stands for inclusion and self-expression for a new generation of consumers.
Watch on Forbes: Hyundai CMO Dean Evans discusses how he leads marketing and develops campaigns that drive emotional connection with the brand.
Beyond social purpose, other CMOs’ influence manifests in repositioning their businesses for growth based on shifts in consumer wants, needs and shopping habits. Hyundai Motor America’s Dean Evans, for example, made the car-buying experience a priority for his team. Innovation, of course, is key to that, and Evans is an example of a CMO who is leaning into new technology—in his case, augmented reality through a partnership between Hyundai agency Innocean and Live Nation—not just for the sake of doing so, but to boost ROI of marketing efforts using new tactics that enhance the customer experience and build brand awareness and appreciation all while increasing scale of exposure—ultimately driving sales.
Tony Weisman, meanwhile, helped change Dunkin’ Donuts into Dunkin’, repositioning the brand as a coffee chain and enabling it to be a stronger player in a highly competitive category.
Others are driving real change in the broader marketing and advertising industry, causing peers to question age-old marketing assumptions as well as shiny new objects: According to the report, “Adobe’s Ann Lewnes has challenged the inevitability of automation and argued for the continued relevance of the human touch.”
Meanwhile, Syl Saller, CMO at Diageo, “has cleared the path for a new wave of female marketing executives by throwing her support behind an initiative that promotes transparency within advertising and marketing agencies,” the report explains.
Procter & Gamble Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard has both pushed for change in cultural dialogue around how men need to set an example for younger generations in the #MeToo era, with the “The Best Men Can Be” work for Gillette, as well as called for brand safety and data security and transparency among social networks.
And Lucio has brought the full weight of his experience at companies like Visa and HP Inc. to Facebook, where as global CMO he is working hard to reposition a brand under intense scrutiny with a substantial marketing spend—the first manifestation being the “More Together” campaign launch that spotlights the Facebook Groups offering.
In the end, results are what matter: Departing CMO Kelly Bennett, for example, helped the platform go from 26 million to 139 million subscribers during his seven years at the marketing helm.
For this year’s report, Forbes again teamed with research partners Sprinklr and LinkedIn to assess how the CMOs of top companies rank in terms of influence.
This year, 497 global CMOs were eligible for consideration. To be eligible for inclusion, CMOs or their brand must have appeared on at least one major brand or marketing list in the past year. To make the Top 50, a CMO must be in the top 20% of CMOs on at least three different indicators of personal, industry or internal influence.
Scores are based on three datasets: Brand performance as measured in the Sprinklr Benchmarking platform, which aggregated more than 495,427,052 brand-related social media shares, likes, retweets and comments; personal influence as measured in the Sprinklr Listening platform, which aggregated more than 647,197 news, blog, Web and Twitter mentions about or from eligible CMOs; and industry and internal influence as measured by research partner LinkedIn, which analyzed more than one million LinkedIn articles and more than 10 million LinkedIn engagements across more than 10,000 topics. Assessed time period was from January 1, 2018 to March 31, 2019.