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The Unofficial Number One On The Forbes World’s Most Influential CMO 2022 List: “Anyone”

Once, marketing was a centralized function and the chief marketer had effectively singular control over brand strategy, image, communication, activation, and destiny. Those days are gone.

Now, on any given day, at any given moment, any given anyone can influence the trajectory of a brand and business. One tweet, one TikTok, one thing said—or unsaid—that captures the imagination or indignation of the socially connected can out-message even the most strategically brilliant, well-executed and integrated campaign. Those individuals once collectively defined as “consumers,” “customers,” or “colleagues” now—intentionally or not—are creators, collaborators, amplifiers, distributors, critics, obstacles, the makers and breakers of brands and purchase decisions. Today, anyone can exercise influence over the destiny of a brand and the business it helps drive.

It’s for this reason that we name “Anyone” the unofficial number one on this 10th anniversary edition of the Forbes World’s Most Influential CMOs list, an embodiment of a decade of change.

We do this neither as a gimmick, nor homage to the rationale behind Time’s 2006 Person Of The Year being named as “you.” And we most definitely do not intend to detract from the accomplishments of the chief marketers being recognized on this year’s list. To the contrary, we do it to acknowledge that today’s CMO confronts challenges that are unprecedented, ever-proliferating, and that were unimaginable even just a decade ago—requiring them to reconsider old tools, learn new ones, and perpetually adapt to perpetual change, something we think their CEOs and CFO
s would do well to remember.

While this inexorable shift in a chief marketer’s influence and control didn’t begin with social media, it has absolutely been accelerated and codified by it, playing out over the decade since Forbes first measured CMO influence in 2012.

Despite massive change what remains unchanged is that attention remains the table stakes of influence. When a 16-year-old you’ve never heard of has a bigger social platform and megaphone than almost any brand you’ve ever heard of, marketers must think differently about the relationship between brand and audience. Because not only can the social megaphone mitigate (or, on good days, amplify) the impact of a marketing budget, it serves to remind us, again, that marketing’s message control has been diluted, distributed, and can be usurped—for better or worse—in a moment, by anyone and an algorithm.

On any given day, without regard to marketing calendars, campaigns or plans, a Nathan Apodoca can find himself having to skateboard to work because his truck, with 330,000 miles on it, broke down. In a moment, he grabs his board and a bottle of Ocean Spray, and films himself skating to work, lip syncing a Fleetwood Mac track. Getting to work, he posts a video he made on a whim to TikTok, where it goes viral, influencing the sales of both Ocean Spray and “Dreams.” Consider that 3 weeks ago, something inspired someone to tweet an ode to his love of Diet Coke, where in days it was retweeted nearly 50,000 times and “liked” over half a million.

Consider that a Peloton bike misused in an HBO series created almost a week’s worth of cultural conversation and call and response—requiring the company’s CMO, Dara Treseder, this year’s official number one on the Forbes list, to respond immediately and in a variety of ways to protect brand and business. Consider that 19% of Spotify users planned to cancel their subscriptions after CEO Daniel Ek left Joe Rogan on the platform. Consider that when a Delta customer service rep on Twitter who asks a customer to “calm down” because they need more time to work it becomes media fodder that does little to reinforce the brand’s “supporting you through your travel journey” positioning.

Again, on any given day in any given moment, any given anyone can influence the trajectory of a brand and business. And while marketers can either embrace this or try to hold it off, the latter being the marketing equivalent of tilting at windmills, this is why “anyone” is this year’s unofficial number one.

This bottom-up exercise of influence, however unintentional it may sometimes be, stands in stark contrast to the literally top-down etymological origins of the word “influence” which, in the 14th century, defined it as a “streaming ethereal power from the stars when in certain positions, acting upon character or destiny of men.” That anyone now has the potential to (and whether intentionally or not) influence what used to be the CMO’s alone will only become more so in a decentralized Web3 world and marketing landscape, and as “headless brands” emerge both literally and figuratively.

When influence over brand and purchase destiny is in the hands and typing fingers of anyone, it requires Chief-marketers to think about—and ultimately deploy—their influence over same differently, and perhaps to think about “engagement” differently. Because in the absence of control, influence on anyone may increasingly be all marketers—and CMOs—have.

So, as we raise a proverbial glass to the unofficial “anyone,” let’s raise another to the official fifty CMOs, who continue to find ways to establish and exert their influence despite anyone else’s.

~ Seth Matlins, Managing Director, Forbes CMO Network