TRENDING: Complex CMO reality changes role

By Louise Burgers, Editor, Retailing Africa. Chief marketers are at the vanguard of seismic change in the marketplace, the pace of which has accelerated in recent years,

By Louise Burgers, Retailing Africa Editor. Chief marketers are at the vanguard of seismic change in the marketplace, the pace of which has accelerated in recent years, throwing up a constellation of challenges and transforming their role in the organization.

“Marketing has, over the last decades, changed, evolved and transformed itself more than any other discipline in business. The evolution of marketing has been subtle and equally disruptive, motivated by technology progress, performance expectations, alterations in the marketplace or by societal developments all over the world,” explained Ricardo Oberlander, Head of the CMO Council European Advisory Board.

Consumer concerns and the complex challenges for CMOs facing disruptive digital transformation is part of the marketer’s mandate going forward into 2024, as the feverish frequency of change has required marketing executives to pause to process how the profile of the position has evolved, particularly for Chief Marketing Officers.

Making messaging that delivers marketing magic was firmly on the agenda at the recent Nedbank-IMC Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, with the theme, Marketing. UpClose&Personal, where Oberlander submitted his presentation on behalf of CMO Council, which was a partner to this annual event – the largest meeting of marketers in Sub Saharan Africa, attended by over 2,000 delegates.

In fact, Oberlander moved marketers to find the magic for consumers in a world ravaged by reality, in his presentation on, “The Changing Role of the CMO”. While CMOs are pounded by performance metrics and measures, the essence of marketing has remained untouched over decades: it is still all about the needs and wants of your consumers and customers. What has changed, he said, is context.

This is where marketers need to get real to stay relevant. Oberlander set out the factors shaping our current reality, urging CMOs to adapt to rapidly changing consumer behaviors influenced by global events, and to leverage technology to connect authentically by addressing societal and environmental concerns.

“In the realm of marketing, while there will always be room for that touch of magic to inspire and captivate, we must recognize that today’s consumers are grappling with multifaceted pressures,” said Oberlander. “CMOs must navigate an increasingly complex digital landscape, prioritizing genuine brand trust and ethical engagement while ensuring that their messaging addresses contemporary consumer concerns and values.”

FOR THE FULL PRESENTATION, WATCH HEREThe Changing Role of the CMO by Ricardo Oberlander

Roadmaps to Relevance

Oblerlander urged CMOs to aspire to become CEOs and set clear roadmaps for their career development, emphasizing that marketing must lead the business and support CEOs in their mandates. “Our roles are not limited to mere brand-building and marketing campaigns. It’s about understanding every facet of business operations. It’s time for us to evolve from solely short-term marketing initiatives to encompass long-term business strategies,” he said.

Mzamo Xala, Group CEO of Avatar, one of the largest independent advertising agencies on the continent, asked marketing leaders at the hybrid in-person and online premium marketing event in South Africa, to imagine an AI future for Africa in which creativity was liberated to build true African brands that were “African Intelligent” and enabled by Artificial Intelligence. He went on to describe how the power of machine learning added to the marketing mix could benefit the continent and harness the magic of truly African brands.

“This is the moment for African marketers. New tools are here. New behaviours are being formed. Let’s unlock our African AI creativity to unlock regional influence. We need to become AI-first. Generalist AI is now, the next is Predictive AI, and then Prescriptive Cultural AI, which is the era we want to go into,” said Xala.

The need for marketers to reinvent themselves to stay relevant was the topic of the talk by Doug Place, Chief Marketing Officer, Nando’s Africa, Middle East, and South Asia, who urged marketers to connect with their peers on a personal level to take the temperature of our current reality and ensure they continue to aim for the C-suite. He said marketing mattered a great deal as marketers drove the economy, embraced chaos by running towards problems in the business, solved consumer challenges, created value, and through sustainability programs had a measurable and positive impact on society.

Kaleeta McDade, Chief Experience Design Officer of ad agency VMLY&R, North America, spoke about how moving from “Storytelling to Storyliving”, segued into the narrative of telling Africa’s story to the world by using data to map experiences so that brands could create “beautiful collisions” by co-opting culture captivated by human truth. And, thereby, crafting authentic African brands.

A final point from Oberlander: “In today’s vast and multifaceted consumer landscape, challenges are an unavoidable given. Yet, in every challenge lies an opportunity waiting to be seized, driven by the ceaseless evolution of needs and desires. CMOs must adeptly navigate digital transformations and evolving consumer behaviors while ensuring brand resilience amidst global uncertainties and market shifts. Embracing innovation, sustainability, and data-driven strategies is paramount for effective marketing in this landscape.”

First published on the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council. To become a member or subscribe, CLICK HERE.


Louise Burgers is the Publisher, Editor and Co-Founder of She has spent over 20 years writing about the FMCG retailing, marketing, media and advertising industry in South Africa and on the African continent. She also lectures post-grad students in Marketing and Advertising Communications at the Red & Yellow Creative School of Business; and works with the global Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council in the Africa region on editorial strategy. Specialising in local and Africa consumer trends, Louise is a passionate Afro-optimist who believes it is Africa’s time to rise again and that the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will be a global gamechanger this decade.

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