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Three ways the role of the CMO has evolved to drive innovation and growth

Today chief marketing officers (CMOs) must lead the organization in connecting the enterprise, adapting and predicting market opportunity, and advancing purpose to drive the overall business strategy.
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Written by Vala Afshar, Contributing Writer on
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The business world has experienced change at unprecedented scale and speed. The pandemic created decentralized and digital-first business engagement models that continue to shape our future today permanently. Research shows that major shifts have occurred in the marketing and IT, including changes in strategies, priorities, challenges and opportunities during the last two years. Ray Wang and I recently spoke with an incredibly successful chief marketing officer trailblazer to learn more about the evolving role of CMOs and the focus to drive innovation and growth. 

Kim Salem-Jackson is the executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Akamai. Salem-Jackson leads global marketing for Akamai. She is passionate about building and leading high-performing, purpose-driven teams driven by innovation and speed to market. Kim has the proven ability to work with senior management to envision, develop and implement corporate strategy and integrated initiatives that accelerate revenue growth. 

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Kim Salem-Jackson is the Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Akamai

Salem-Jackson reminds us that we have all witnessed over the past two years that the world is changing rapidly. Organizations and people need to adapt and advance their strategies and roles to thrive in this new climate. Salem-Jackson has spent her career in marketing, helping companies drive growth while amplifying brand and awareness. She has watched the role of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) evolve significantly over the past few years, taking on new focus and greater responsibility than the traditional job description. 

Here are Salem-Jackson's observations and recommendations on the three ways the CMO role has transformed to foster innovation and growth throughout the enterprise:

  1. CMOs have Become Chief Connection Officers

We are now uniquely positioned to forge connections among all stakeholders -- customers, employees, and shareholders -- to build engagement and deliver value. According to Gartner, CMOs have a far bigger responsibility to serve as a "connector" for all stakeholders, internally and externally. 

Now more than ever, marketing plays a significant role in not only driving awareness and demand for the business but attracting and retaining our talent. One of my marketing team's success criteria and top priorities is to empower and engage our employees. It makes them feel proud and connected to the organization. I view this as just as important as driving revenue for the company. Because if employees are proud of the company they work for, they will be more engaged, deliver better results and delight customers in every way. Creating this connection point is key. 

Creating powerful connections extends to all stakeholders, both inside and outside the organization -- from customers, partners and shareholders to colleagues in Sales, IT, HR, and Finance. Through these vital relationships, CMOs can be the connective tissue to drive a powerful force to deliver the best experiences and value for the customer, employee and all stakeholders. 

2. CMOs and Marketing Must Adapt and Predict

The way we live, learn, work and play has forever changed. Marketing has spent the last decade preparing for a digital-first world. Now more than ever, our customers expect us to meet them where they are, anticipate (or predict) their needs and deliver a superior experience, no matter where they are. We are ushering in digital transformation, creating all-new digital touchpoints in how we engage and serve our global audiences.

By understanding a customer's needs and leveraging insights from data, we can predict audience behavior, purchasing history, website analytics, and other areas to forecast outcomes of marketing tactics.

3. CMOs and Marketing Are Ambassadors of Company Purpose

Over the last two years, there has been a shift in how people are reflecting personally and professionally. People have developed a new sense of awareness and worth for themselves and the world around them. This is prompting employees to demand more personal value and purpose.

I am observing this firsthand, seeing that employees want to work in an environment where they have shared values and can contribute more to society. This social capital has allowed employees to work together to achieve a common purpose. We are finding that our purpose journey has given our teams a new voice for our "why" and serves as the North Star for our organization, contributing to our success by building a sense of shared values and mutual respect. And when you are clear on your company's purpose, it provides focus and drives everything you do, and it attracts talent who feel connected and drawn to that purpose.

Long gone are the days when the marketing organization was the "order taker" of business. Today CMOs must lead the organization in connecting the enterprise, adapting and predicting market opportunity, and advancing purpose to drive the overall business strategy. I am seen as not only head of marketing but as a critical business partner to the CEO and the entire executive team, driving impact for the company and the audiences we serve. With these three shifts, a CMO is better able to drive innovation and growth throughout the entire enterprise. 

Ray Wang, CEO of Constellation Research, and I recently spoke with Salem-Jackson and Kate Prouty, senior vice president and chief information officer at Akamai, about pivoting through disruption to not only meet customer and employee needs but to grow through innovation, adaptability and purpose. Prouty and Salem-Jackson aligned IT and marketing to purposefully create value at the speed of need. We also covered the importance of sharing insights to improve decision velocity, modernizing a technology stack that delivers value to all stakeholders, and pivoting to a digital-first strategy focused on improving the stakeholder experiences - employees, customers, business partners and communities. After listening to Salem-Jackson and Prouty, I now believe that the new power couple in business is the CMO and CIO. Driving innovation and growth requires both science and art, purposefully aligned and driven to delight all stakeholders. Success on this journey of continuous digital transformation aimed at producing a positive impact for all requires both strong IT and marketing to work as one team. 

This article was co-authored by Kim Salem-Jackson, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Akamai.

Kim leads global marketing for Akamai. She is passionate about building and leading high-performing, purpose-driven teams driven by innovation and speed to market. Kim has the proven ability to work with senior management to envision, develop and implement corporate strategy and integrated initiatives that accelerate revenue growth.

Kim serves on the Board of Directors of the Akamai Foundation, which is dedicated to supporting programs to attract more diversity to the technology industry, providing disaster relief and humanitarian aid globally, enabling volunteerism to the local communities, and promoting environmental sustainability through investments in alternative energy.

She is a 2022 Business Transformation 150 recipient by Constellation Research,  2021 CMO Award Winner, founding member of Chief, Forbes Council member and Fast Company Executive Board member. 

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