Today I read that Vodafone has made the decision to axe the role of CMO from its board.

Is this just the result of a long standing lack of get-up-and-go in the Vodafone brand and it’s marketing or the sign of something a whole lot more important?

Anyone who knows even a little about Vodafone understands that it is a product led organisation which like many businesses struggles with understanding and delivering for customers. There has been a string of changes at the higher levels both in the UK and globally with David Wheldon leaving as Brand Director and Andy Moore leaving as Head of Insight.

The Vodafone brand is seemingly directionless in terms of both advantage and leadership especially in those markets where it holds an incumbent player status such as the UK. Of course those times, even in the UK, are changing as T-Mobile and Orange merge and consumers are taught that all the main players are broadly the same and the market is largely commoditised.

The CMO role hasn’t just been axed but replaced by a Chief Commercial Officer role and a Group Commercial function that will apparently, “help it focus on its customer and commercial strength, leadership in data, brand advocacy, cost efficiency and shareholder returns by reducing layers and simplifying managerial governance.” Clearly the last few Vodafone CMOs and their organisations haven’t done a very good job of communicating and delivering, if the only mention in the description of this new function of brand or marketing is “brand advocacy” (whatever that means).

So what is going on?

On one hand if it is Vodafone giving up on their marketing organisation whilst pretty demoralising for their marketing team, then so be it – they were pretty crap at it and their organisation has clearly rejected efforts to change. Stick to what you know and be true to thyself.

However if on the other hand it is Vodafone deciding that the core skills of world-class marketing are no longer relevant or valuable to them then I fear they’ve just accelerated the race to the bottom. A bottom that will all be about commoditised price-based products, no rewards for loyalty, constant switching, crap service and ultimately a smaller profit pool for the whole industry. That’s what happens marketing is replaced by the purely commercial.

Understanding customers, creating profitable propositions that leverage their technological and data advantages, delivering this as a compelling message to those customers, and commanding their loyalty profitability are what a CMO and marketing organisation should be able to do within any corporate culture if they are good at what they do.

As a customer I hope Vodafone stay true to tried and true marketing principles even if depressingly they have decided that the best way to implement them is not through a dedicated marketing function.

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