This is good timing. This week I gave a talk on ‘Why marketers are the future CEOs of the media industry‘. Actually I believe marketers should now aspire to become the CEO across all industries, not just media.

Clearly this is not an entirely new phenomenon. The likes of Sir Terry Leahy started in marketing and graduated via various broader commercial and general management roles to become CEO.

However, I believe that now, more than in the past, we are entering an era where marketers are particularly well-suited to make it into the top job.

There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, and most importantly, you will not have missed talk of ‘customer-centricity’ or, more recently, ‘customer experience’ – the latter being ‘omnichannel’ of course.

Customer experience

For some years it felt like the talk about customer centricity was just that, talk. But it now feels like the strategic intent and focus around customer-centricity is more than just vapid management speak.

IBM has recently published research, titled “The Customer-activated Enterprise”, which is based on in-depth interviews with over 4,000 CxOs around the world. The focus on customers comes across loud and clear.

The ‘voice of the customer’ really is starting to drive strategy and operations. The C-suite are spending more of their time personally on customer experience management and ecommerce and proportionally less on things like the supply chain, risk, partner management, security and operations.

In 1998 Pine and Gilmore published a piece of work in the Harvard Business Review which shows how economies mature over time: starting with the extraction of commodities, moving into a manufacturing focus, then a service economy.

But the final stage of evolution is an economy based on experiences, where true differentiation and competitive advantage comes from the experiences you can deliver.

So we are living in an economic environment where, recessions and toxic debt notwithstanding, the drivers of future value, and the strategic direction of businesses, is based on true customer-centricity and experiences.

Surely this is the domain of marketing? Surely we are entering a golden era for marketers to lead businesses?

Growth and change

The second reason is about growth and about change. Assuming the recession, the internet, global competition, Google, or some pesky start up, has not actually destroyed your business and you have made it through some painful changes then we now start to hear a G-word that isn’t Google, but Growth.

How are we going to grow? Where are the opportunities? How do we change how we have done things before? Almost always there is a strong digital component to this, in terms of culture, marketing and technology.

Who better to set a bold vision, to energise for growth, to be a catalyst for change than a marketer? Specifically, and I would say this, of course, but a marketer with strong digital skills and experience.

We are seeing this happening. In particular we are seeing those marketers who gain digital experience now moving into roles which are multichannel and often have ownership not only of significant P&Ls but cover all the customer facing functions (sales, customer service as well as marketing) and customer experience across all channels including offline (stores, call centres etc).

Sometimes this role is called ‘Multichannel Director’, sometimes ‘Chief Customer Officer’, sometimes ‘Chief Digital Officer’. But their next role will surely be CEO.

Before we get too headstrong it is worth remembering that to become CEO it is not enough just to be good at digital, at marketing, at being customer-centric, at leading change.

We need to be strategic and commercial too. But those are all elements of our Modern Marketing Manifesto. We are setting high expectations of marketers; but you have got to aim high if you are to make it to the top.