Recently I had the chance to moderate a panel discussion at The Churchill Club in Silicon Valley on the future of marketing. Here, I sat down with Karen Walker, CMO of Cisco; Liza Landsman, chief customer officer of; and Whitney Mortimer, CMO of IDEO to talk about what the future holds for marketing leaders.

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It was a pleasure and privilege, both because these three panelists were smart, funny, and a lot of fun to talk to, but also because, collectively, they represent the mind of the modern CMO.

While they each had lots of values and beliefs in common—they agreed a lot—they spoke from different points of departure, different angles of attack. And, while they appeared to share plenty of skills and responsibilities, they were each slaying their own unique set of dragons.

Here’s a sample of what I heard.

Liza: The Customer Advocate

Before joining Jet, Liza was CMO of E*TRADE, where, among other things, she was responsible for retiring a talking baby and hiring a Kevin Spacey. She calls E*TRADE her “first pure marketing role,” after a career with other financial services companies where her roles were more GM-like in orientation.

What struck me about this distinction was that, while this may have once been a novel characteristic for marketing leadership, it’s fast becoming a mandatory requirement. Why? Because, the best CMOs think like CEOs. In fact, according to our research, most CMOs now own or share P&L responsibility. This requires a different way of thinking—a broader orientation and a more commercial mindset.

Today, as chief customer officer of Jet, Liza is responsible for the entire customer experience, which is also a key characteristic of the modern CMO. That’s not to say that every CMO will have this formal mandate or sphere of authority, but Liza suggests that it’s still their responsibility. There was a time when marketers could focus only on the brand promise, but now they need to actively ensure that this promise is realized for the customer. Liza tells her team, first and foremost, be sure everything is true. Why? Because the fakers will be discovered. Customers will see the dissonance and hold you accountable.

Karen: The Change Agent

Unlike Liza whose company was born digital, Karen Walker’s mandate is to bring this thinking to a company of decidedly different provenance. She says that Cisco is rethinking the role of marketing, driving change in brand and positioning, digital, content, customer experience, among other areas. It’s a change of enormous magnitude for a company of over seventy thousand employees, with $50 billion in revenue, #54 on the Fortune 500. At the risk of mixing branded corporate metaphors, she’s teaching an elephant to dance.

Needless to say, this is hard work. But she sees good progress. She says that it begins with crystalline clarity on vision and strategy, an articulation of the desired end-state “so the leaders can taste it.” It also requires a new operating model, moving from waterfall to agile and from command-and-control to distributed executions that allow flexibility within a governed framework.

Above all, Karen suggests, you need a culture of openness and transparency so people feel they can ask the right questions and iterate their way through the journey.

Whitney: The Innovator

Whitney Mortimer is CMO of IDEO, the storied design and innovation firm once featured on 60 Minutes. Like each of these marketing leaders, Whitney brings a whole lot to the table. But what distinguished her on this panel was, unsurprisingly, her thinking on innovation—innovation that’s made manifest in the customer experience.

Whitney says marketers have to stop relying on big brand and start unlocking everyone’s capacity “to build experiences for clients with singular and unique needs through tools and empowerment.”  The goal? To differentiate by providing deep, long and valuable relationships with customers.

I asked Whitney whether CMO’s have the authority to pull this off—or are they expected to lead through influence alone. “Is there any other way?” was her pointed response. Of course, she’s right. There’s a lot being laid at the CMO’s feet and while their formal responsibilities may be broader than ever before, customer experience is now the name of the game—and this game is very much a team sport.

*This article is reprinted from the Gartner Blog Network with permission. 

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