LAS VEGAS — Traditional brand marketers have a seemingly larger presence than ever at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year, with some major names, including Procter & Gamble, making their official debut at the annual event. The uptick in legacy players presenting on the showroom floors and in conference halls scattered around the main strip of Las Vegas reflects how the CMO role has, in recent years, expanded beyond creative duties to encompass areas of data, technology and growth, making the appeal of a consumer electronics show far greater than it has been in the past.
"Nothing has impacted the field of marketing like technology and data have," Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communications officer at Mastercard, said on a panel Monday. "There are many CMOs whose technology budgets are actually bigger of than [that of] the CTOs in their own company."
But during the discussion — the first in a new CMO Insights track at CES this year — Rajamannar, along with representatives from National Geographic and NPR, acknowledged that the evolution into a more complex, technology-led profession has not always been an easy one and has, in many ways, presented fundamental challenges to marketing success. Marketers who fail to find the proper balance in managing a growing number of performance-led duties with their usual branding ones not only risk losing out on promising new talent that will help to future-proof their businesses, but also might lose their relevance in the C-suite altogether, according to executives.
"If you are not numbers savvy, you will not be able to do it," Rajamannar said of modern marketing leadership.
"There are some companies — some of the top marketing companies — that have done away with the roles of CMOs," he added later. "What does it tell you? It's an existential crisis."
A fine balance
Rajamannar's comments, part of a talk about how technology has reshaped brand strategies, reflected the tense push-pull marketers have with the rapidly evolving digital space. P&G, for example, positioned a line of new products on display at CES as a response to forces of "mass disruption," including digital. Additionally, Mastercard on Monday debuted a new logo that drops "Mastercard" from its branding for a simpler, more streamlined look that Rajamannar said comes in recognition of smaller screen real estate.
During the panel discussion, speakers noted that the same digital technology partners and platforms that inform these types of high-level business decisions are more frequently acting as disruptors in another way: as competition for hiring talent in a highly competitive business climate.
"Thirty-forty years back ... marketing was the most glamorous and sought-after field," Rajamannar said. "Today that's not the case: today the best students want to go to Silicon Valley or they want to go to an investment house..."
At the same time, other executives present reinforced that better technical expertise isn't a cut-and-dry solution to marketing problems, and suggested that there will continue to be a place for the traditional branding and creative ideas that have typically defined the profession.
"It's not necessarily a perfect hourglass of the right brain and left brain that we require," National Geographic CMO Jill Cress said. "It very much depends on the specific role."
Avoiding the 'flavor of the month'
Another anxiety CMOs expressed was keeping up with the pace of change for technology while remaining cautious not to sink an undue amount of resources and brand dollars into flash-in-the-pan trends. The subject felt especially topical at CES, a show in constant search of — but maybe not so often finding — the next "big thing." Virtual reality (VR), for example, has been a staple at the show in recent years, but for some marketers, the promise in the field hasn't significantly evolved beyond small experiments.
"I love the idea of [VR] ... but we're looking at a couple of customers [using it]," Deborah Wahl, CMO at Cadillac, said on a CMO Insights panel later Monday afternoon. "It's something that's not scalable at all; it takes so much time for one person to go through it. There's a ton of potential but we haven't figured it out."
Given the often high cost of developing and implementing such complex technologies, the next step for marketers might be not only keying into emerging trends, but figuring out if they are scalable and can easily be implemented into older marketing tech stacks.
"You see the number of companies coming up with blockchains, and a lot of them have got claims which, if they are true, it's a marketer's paradise," Rajamannar said on the earlier panel.
"But the fact is: is it true, is it sustainable, is it scalable, is [there going to be] enough critical mass to get [that] across the entire ecosystem?" he added.