Executive Career Spotlight: Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)

Executive Career Spotlight: Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)

Filter tag: Change Management and Executive Outplacement, Culture & Organisational Effectiveness, Customer & Brand, Strategies for Growth

The marketing function has undergone a major transformation over the last decade, playing an important role in the increasingly competitive business landscape. Challenging economic conditions have made it vital to attract new customers and retain existing loyalty, while the digital world has reshaped customers’ habits and increased expectations. It falls on the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) to facilitate growth and sales, determines the brand’s direction and marketing strategy, ensuring their team can develop and execute successful future focussed marketing strategies.

This future will be shaped by leaders who are empowered by technology, consumers who adjust their habits with the times, and businesses who embrace digitisation quickly to avoid being left behind. Much of today’s customer journey takes place across digital touch points and will become increasingly virtualised over time. The CMO must prepare their team for this shift, generate support from related functions such as sales, and marry the best of the old ways with rapidly advancing market and business practices.

Here are some of the top skills required to be successful in the CMO role for the foreseeable future, challenges faced, and factors to keep in mind if a CMO role is your next career objective.


CMO Snapshot

At the time of publication, a LinkedIn search for profiles bearing the title of ‘Chief Marketing Officer’ yields 747,000 results globally, and 30,000 in the UK alone. A search for the same title in the Jobs section of the site results in just shy of 800 vacancies in the UK. Just as with many other C-suite roles, there is no blueprint for what a CMO looks like. However, demographic research helps provide a glimpse of where things currently stand.

Analysis of CMOs from FTSE 100 companies and the Inc. 5000 list found that a typical UK CMO is male, British-born, and 44 years old. Separate research from Korn Ferry finds that the average CMO is older at 54 years old, but still usually the youngest in the C-suite. On average, marketing chiefs in the FTSE 100 will have worked within their companies for approximately 8-9 years and had experience working for at least three other companies beforehand, spending around 5-6 years at each job prior to ascending to the CMO seat.

However, after ascending to the top of their organisation, the CMO is the least likely of their C-suite peers to stick around. This role has the shortest average tenure of any C-suite function at 3.5 years. This is notably higher turnover than seen amongst the average tenures of CEOs (8 years), CFOs (5.1 years), and CHROs (5 years).

In recent years, there has been a rise in businesses introducing what is called a ‘Fractional CMO’ as an alternative to having full-time marketing leadership in the C-Suite. These highly skilled experts are brought in from outside of the organisation to help with customer acquisition, developing and executing strategy, mentoring the marketing team, or delivering a specific campaign. This type of arrangement can benefit both the business and the individual executive. On the organisational side, the business gets to introduce much-needed marketing expertise and fresh, outside perspectives without the commitment of a full-time sitting CMO. For seasoned marketing executives, it offers the opportunity to enrich their career, seek out new challenges, or introduce more flexibility into their working life.

For those taking on the CMO role full time, according to Glassdoor, the national average salary in the UK is £106,552. The average additional compensation for the role is £20,901. The top-end salary for this role is approximately £201,000. In London, CMOs will earn slightly higher with an average salary of £112,125 and an average bonus of £16,000 per year. That said, compensation for the role will vary by experience, geography, business size, and other individual factors.


Top CMO Skills

Marketing is the primary communications function of the business, but there is more to being a successful CMO than simply being a skilled and effective communicator. Given the evolving needs of the marketplace and ever-changing consumer habits, our experts have identified the following top skills for marketing leaders to focus their attention on.

  • Customer Centricity: Serving your customers, whether that be through products or services, is the reason your company is in business. If you are not keeping your customers at the heart of every discussion you have, every initiative you introduce, and every decision you make, then you can expect to fail.
  • Keen Ability to Demonstrate Need: Behind the CEO and COO, the CMO is one of the most publicly facing roles in the C-suite. The CMO needs to be able to paint a picture for audiences that clearly communicates how the company’s products or services meet a need that specific customer segments may have. But at the same time, the CMO may find themselves having to sell their vision to the rest of their peers on the C-Suite, their own team, and others across different departments of the organisation. If your internal team does not share in the vision or understand how the wider strategy supports the customer journey, then you risk mixed or ineffective messaging.

Emotional Intelligence and the Human Touch: A global survey of 935 senior leaders and direct reports and over 1,100 members of the workforce suggests that human emotions are a key determining factor in the success or failure of a business transformation.

A successful CMO is one who truly understands and can put themselves in the shoes of their customer, and who allows that perspective to guide their strategy. Instead of imploring your customers to flock to you, you need to be able to meet them where they are and offer a solution to their pain points. This can at times be difficult, as CMOs will face pressure from the organisation to deliver results at all costs. But the ability to be realistic about who your customers are, what they care about, and what they are going through will make you better able to relate to and effectively communicate with them. Having this understanding at the top of the marketing function helps to shape the activity and the mindsets of the rest of the team. This is now more valuable than ever with digital taking over so much of the customer experience. Being able to provide a human touch to all marketing activities helps to fill a crucial gap that technology cannot and can add rationality and reasoning to all communications decisions.

  • Empathy: If we are being truly honest, then it is fair to say that we are living through a challenging period in both our professional and personal lives. We have made it to the other side of a multi-year global pandemic, but many of us have lost things and people along the way. The aftermath is still echoing through our global economies alongside new challenges, disruptive forces, and geopolitical tensions. Business leaders, their people, and their customers are having to navigate all of this. In the meantime, marketers are having to adapt to the resulting changes in their customers’ spending habits, priorities, and needs.
  • Future-Focused Leadership: After ChatGPT burst onto the scene with vigour, there was much discussion surrounding what this would mean for entry- and mid-level marketers. If a bot can create content, what do we need people for? This mindset does not depict the reality of the situation, which is that most jobs will be reshaped rather than replaced, but the thought is likely to have burrowed itself into the minds of many in the marketing department. The CMO should be able to help clearly define the respective roles of both technology and human talent within the marketing department and ease their people through this transition. Do not downplay their concerns, but instead communicate openly about what change lies ahead and what it means. Bring your people on the journey with you but understand that they will likely have their own reservations.


Top Market Challenges Impacting CMOs

The skills above will be critically important as CMOs attempt to navigate the challenges of the current business landscape. Some of the top factors that these executives should be aware of are:

  • Rapid Digitisation: The future will most likely include new technologies such as generative AI, which has been quickly disrupting the marketing space and altering the way companies communicate with and understand their audiences. It has also provided a competitive edge to businesses of all sizes and industries, allowing those brave and bold enough to embrace change a leg up on the laggards. As International Hotel Group (IHG) CIO Eric Pearson was once quoted as saying: “It’s no longer the big beating the small, but the fast beating the slow.”

Marketing will likely be a major area of focus for many businesses’ AI adoption efforts. The CMO will have the responsibility of pinpointing which areas technology can improve and making those recommendations to the rest of the C-suite. CMOs should expect to work alongside other business functions to help create a unified omnichannel customer experience across multiple marketing, sales, and service platforms. New generative AI solutions like ChatGPT, Bard, and DALL E have already raised questions about what the role of the human marketer might be. It will fall on the CMO to decide where and how their people use these types of tools day-to-day and guiding the team through that change.

  • Breaking Down Communication Silos: Of course, for digitisation and the overall strategy to be successful, there needs to be collaboration between marketing and the other departments of the business. This includes sales, customer service, procurement, operations, and research & development. According to a reportfrom CMO Council and KPMG, 70% of marketers don’t feel very confident in their current sales and marketing model to sell effectively in the digitalised customer journey, and 60% of respondents said marketing and sales don’t co-own customer strategy and data. While these two departments may not function the same, they share the same goals and objectives and need to work together harmoniously to create a seamless customer experience. It will fall on the CMO to encourage collaboration to achieve shared business objectives, defining KPIs for both teams, and creating total alignment on customer audiences and personas. To achieve this, CMOs will have to be very clear on the C-suite’s target growth objectives, whether that be acquisition, retention, revenue growth and so on.
  • Shifting Towards Retention and Experience: It is likely that revenue growth will be a top priority for businesses after a few economically challenging years. One of the avenues that CMOs may explore to achieve that goal is to focus on loyalty and retention. Existing customers are much less costly to retain than new customers are to attract. In an increasingly competitive landscape, CMOs will be tasked with holding on to their valuable customers for as long as they can.

Oftentimes, the deciding factor for loyalty is the experience that businesses can offer their customers. Marketing is a very CX-focused business function to begin with, but digitisation has upped the stakes and the expectations. Customers can easily draw comparison between you and your competitors on price, quality, and so on, but these do not always drive decision making. According to Salesforce, an astounding 97% of marketers witnessed a rise in business outcomes as a result of offering their customers personalisation. CMOs need to keep experience at the forefront of their strategy and

  • Conscious-Minded Consumers: To successfully attract and retain customers, you need to meet them where they are and cater to their interests and priorities. Over the past several years, consumers have increasingly begun to value and prioritise more cause-driven businesses, products, and initiatives. This includes things like sustainability, diversity and inclusion, socioeconomic mobility, and so on. Today’s consumers, especially in younger groups such as millennials and Gen Z, have increasingly begun to ‘vote with their wallet’ and become choosier about the products they use and the companies they choose to support. This adds an extra layer of depth to customer personas that CMOs simply cannot ignore. Marketing chiefs will need to gain insight into what it is that their customers value most and how those values align with their organisation. Integrating these values into the comms strategy will be important for raising awareness in the marketplace.


Our Advice for CMOs

Given these challenges, our expert Rialto Executive Career Coaches recommend that current and aspiring Chief Marketing Officers focus their attention in these key areas:

  • Don’t Fear Digital: Over the past century, marketers have adapted from print to radio, radio to television, television to web, and web to social media. This is simply the next evolutionary stage in a long journey of growth and innovation. Rather than letting that intimidate you, let it excite you. The most successful CMOs are those who can look beyond the status quo and view innovation as an opportunity to experiment and push the boundaries.
  • Listen More Than You Speak: Marketing, at times, can feel like shouting into the void and hoping that it echoes into the ears of the right people. It can feel very one sided, but every expert knows that the key to good marketing is two-way communication. At the C-Suite level, it is unlikely that you will have much—if any—regular interaction with your everyday customers. That is why it is important to foster a strong chain of communication from the top of the marketing function down to its lowest level where most of the direct interaction with customers happens. These team members will be the most in tune with what your customers need, want, love, hate, and are most motivated by. These members of your team may not directly report to you, but they hold valuable insights that can help inform the strategies that govern the entire marketing function. Regularly seek feedback, and truly listen when it is given. Understand that your idea of your customer and the marketplace may not always be in line with the reality, and be willing to adapt as needed.
  • Become increasingly Data Driven: In addition to communicating with your people, you can also consult your data. Businesses collect more data than they know what to do with, most of which can directly benefit the marketing function. By becoming more data-minded, the CMO can derive valuable insights into their customers, their team, their strategy, and the effectiveness of the company’s marketing efforts. Relying on gut instinct is not always the best and smartest move. Making a habit of consulting your data helps to ensure you always have a realistic view of your audiences and your efforts.

If you are a current Chief Marketing Officer looking for your next executive role, or an executive looking to transition into a CMO role, we can help. The Rialto Consultancy offers a range of career strategy services including Executive Outplacement, Executive Career Coaching, and Personal Branding. Get in touch with our team to discuss your options to make a game changing transformational career move.

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