According to Zippia, there are over 72,677 Chief Marketing Officers employed in the United States. With an average annual salary of $135,198, that’s nearly ten billion US dollars being spent per year on a certain personality, expertise and skill set. But, it begs the question—exactly what makes a great CMO?
If you’re currently in the midst of climbing the corporate ladder (or you've already reached the top), you’ll likely have your own answer to the question I posed above. But in order to refine it down, I interviewed 22 different marketing executives across various sectors, and asked them one simple question: What five things do you need to create a highly successful career as a CMO? I then combed through all of the responses, finding which traits were mentioned the most, and which ones were a little more unexpected.
Strong Communication Skills
While there may be some points throughout this article that surprise you, those in the business world will already understand how strong communication skills are imperative. A CMO's ability to articulate visions, rally teams, and convey the brand's message to its audience can make or break a company's market standing, and strong communication skills ensure that internal teams are aligned, stakeholders are adequately informed, and the brand's voice resonates authentically with its audience. As emphasized by executives, communicating effectively is one of the most important things you can do, hence why it’s so high up on our list.
To reach the height of the C-suite, one thing is for sure: one must always be aware that at the end of the day, it’s the dollars that count. Financial acumen is therefore pivotal not only for those directly involved with finance (such as your company’s CFO and CEO) but, really, for everyone. With budgetary decisions, ROI analyses, and resource allocations all inextricably tied to marketing initiatives, a CMO with a keen understanding of financial metrics can optimize marketing spends, evaluate the profitability of campaigns, and ensure that marketing strategies align with the company's broader financial goals.
An Objective And Analytical Mindset
A great way to help stay on track with the company’s budget and financial goals is to always stay on top of the data. Marketing analytics tools and market intelligence software exist for a reason, after all. They can help CMOs remain objective, discern patterns, forecast trends, and measure the efficacy of marketing campaigns with precision. With a deluge of consumer data at their fingertips—ranging from online behavior metrics to purchase histories—a CMO's ability to distill insights from this data can optimize ad spends, personalize consumer experiences, and ultimately guide marketing strategies towards relevance, resonance, and revenue.
Vision And Creative Development
With a title like Chief Marketing Officer, these executives are leading teams of various sizes, and having a clear, established vision for the department and business as a whole is critical. Beyond the tactical components of campaigns, metrics, and channels, it's the vision that anchors a brand's direction and defines its position in the crowded marketplace. A CMO with a clear, forward-looking vision can anticipate market transitions, inspire innovation, and provide teams with a unified sense of purpose. This vision shapes the narrative arc of the brand, ensuring its messages resonate deeply with consumers.
Agility And Resilience
It was John Maxwell, Author of the book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership that said "Change is inevitable. Growth is optional." And with the level of change we’ve seen in the marketing world within the last few decades alone, his words couldn’t ring more true. Therefore, the traits of agility and resilience have emerged as paramount for CMOs and truly, all levels of leadership. With the marketing landscape rife with unforeseen challenges, the CMO's agility and resilience ensures they can swiftly pivot strategies, re-allocate resources, and harness emerging platforms or trends without feeling too overwhelmed or paralyzed by uncertainty.
And while the ability to stay agile is paramount for a CMO, so is a certain level of preparedness. After all, we can’t always be reacting to change—sometimes, it’s all about being proactive and anticipating what’s coming down the pipeline in advance. A CMO must have contingency plans ready, anticipating market shifts, consumer behavior changes, and even potential crises. Preparedness transcends merely having a backup plan; it encapsulates thorough research, scenario mapping, and preemptive strategy development. To lack this skill means to risk significant reputational damage, but to possess it provides the ability to transform potential pitfalls into moments of brand strength.
Along with agility and preparedness comes the complete unknown, an area that CMOs must feel comfortable and curious to navigate. As markets evolve, consumer behaviors shift, and new technologies emerge, it's the curiosity of the CMO that propels them to delve deeper, question norms, and uncover insights that others might overlook. More than just a quest for knowledge, curiosity sparks innovation, prompting the CMO to experiment with novel strategies, explore untapped markets, and embrace emerging trends before they become mainstream. This inherent desire to learn and understand enables a CMO to genuinely resonate with diverse consumer needs and aspirations.
According to The Blueprint for the Modern Marketing Organization by the Wall Street Journal, “On average, CMOs oversee 69 individuals and seven direct reports, most of whom are responsible for marketing strategy and marketing operations/technology.” That’s nearly 80 individuals per CMO. This illustrates how leadership skills are critical to success, determining how visions are translated into actionable blueprints, how teams are galvanized towards unified goals, and how challenges are transformed into opportunities. A CMO with adept leadership can foster a culture of innovation, instill a sense of purpose, and cultivate an environment where talent thrives and feels valued.
A Diverse Team
With an average of nearly 80 individuals under your leadership, ensuring that this team stays diverse is imperative. A diverse team, representing a rich tapestry of backgrounds, cultures, and experiences, offers a kaleidoscope of perspectives, enabling a more holistic understanding of varied consumer segments. Such a team is also inherently equipped to challenge biases, spotlight blind spots, and create campaigns that resonate on a universal scale. For the modern CMO, championing diversity is not just a nod to inclusivity—it’s the key to crafting messages that resonate, foster trust, and build authentic connections with a multifaceted audience.
Reputation And Relevance
On the note of fostering trust, a CMO’s reputation is more than just a personal accolade—it's a tangible asset that directly influences the brand's credibility. A CMO with a sterling reputation becomes a beacon of reliability and expertise, not only within the organization but also in the broader industry landscape. Their endorsement of strategies or campaigns carries weight, bolstering stakeholder confidence and often expediting decision-making processes. Internally, a well-regarded CMO also serves as an inspirational figure, motivating teams to strive for excellence and fostering a culture of integrity.
Collaboration and Partnerships
Of course, the role of a CMO extends beyond individual reputation and what they can accomplish themselves; it delves deeply into the art of collaboration and partnership creation. The ability to collaborate seamlessly across internal departments, such as finance, sales, or product development, ensures that marketing strategies are holistic, aligned with broader organizational goals, and resonate with every facet of the business. It also leads to more investment and motivation within the team under the CMO’s supervision, as employees will feel included in designing the overall strategy and share the weight of its results.
When understanding human motivations is as crucial as deciphering data trends, the emotional intelligence of a Chief Marketing Officer emerges as a critical competency. At its core, marketing is about connection, resonance, and eliciting reactions, and a CMO endowed with high emotional intelligence possesses the innate ability to tap into the collective psyche of the audience. Such a CMO can discern the subtleties of consumer sentiment, tailor messages that evoke genuine emotions, and navigate the delicate balance between brand authenticity and market demands. Internally, it can also serve as the foundation for effective team leadership.
Relationships And Network
It's often said that opportunities don't just arise; they're ushered in through relationships. On this note, a CMO with strong ties can be hugely beneficial to the company they work for. Through this robust network, they can expedite partnerships, gain early access to cutting-edge tools or platforms, and even secure favorable terms in negotiations. Better yet, these relationships foster knowledge exchange, providing insights and perspectives that can be pivotal in decision-making, as well as amplify the brand's voice, garnering support and endorsements from influential figures and entities.
Tenacity and Passion
Similar to our point on resilience, tenacity equips a CMO with the unwavering determination to push through obstacles, be it budgetary constraints, market downturns, or campaign setbacks. Passion, in parallel, infuses every endeavor with genuine enthusiasm, ensuring that projects aren't just executed but brought to life with vigor and zeal. A passionate CMO not only inspires their team, but that in turn ignites creativity, leading to campaigns that resonate deeply. Without the drive to propel the organization forward, you won’t achieve the best results—for yourself or the company. It’s really as simple as that.
A Willingness To Keep Learning
And finally, in point number 15, we leave you with the final thing you need to create a successful career as a CMO: a willingness to keep learning. With consumer behaviors evolving and technologies advancing at an unprecedented pace, traditional wisdom can quickly become obsolete. A CMO who embodies a perpetual learning ethos remains adaptable and future-ready, ensuring their strategies are not just relevant, but pioneering. This commitment to education transcends formal courses or certifications; it encompasses staying abreast with industry thought leaders, embracing feedback, experimenting with new platforms, and even learning from failures.
So there you have it—15 traits that will help you to build a successful career as a CMO. While some may be easier to hone earlier on in your career, many CMOs are still working with a lot of intention every day to build out their professional network, nurture their relationships, and craft a vision that they can feel passionate about presenting to stakeholders.
Remember, any role in the C-Suite is not an easy job, and as our 22 executives pointed out, it takes a lot of resiliency and adaptability to do well. I highly recommend finding a role model or mentor in the field, and doing your research to stay abreast of all the latest trends, tech and more. To help with that, be sure to sign up for The CMO newsletter and get it all to your inbox.