Skip to main content

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.

Tara Robertson, CMO at Bitly

“Communicating effectively is one of the most important things you can do outside of setting a North Star and the strategy for your team. You can have the best strategy in the world, but if you haven’t communicated it and generated buy-in from your peers across the business and CEO, then it really doesn’t matter.”

Fern Pucheu, CMO at Endeavor Streaming

“Strong communications skills are imperative. As a CMO, I prepare presentations for the executive leadership team to demonstrate how the work of the marketing department directly supports larger business goals. I need to simplify and translate operational information into meaningful insights and relate those to the strategic objectives of the business.”

Financial Acumen

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.

Fern Pucheu, CMO at Endeavor Streaming

“Strong financial knowledge is key. Beyond being able to communicate about the work, you must stand up for the value of your team. There’s often the perception that marketing is a business expense, but successful leaders need to justify marketing spend as an investment. A solid understanding of corporate financial principles is also important for laying out your marketing budget. Compare different areas of spend objectively to decide which investments will be the best for hitting your KPIs.”

David Marine, CMO at Coldwell Banker

“You don’t have to be a financial wizard, but you should be able to efficiently manage budgets, understand what drives revenue and measure the impact of each dollar spent. It is especially powerful when you can showcase how marketing is influencing the revenue drivers of the brand and how they are positively impacting the company as a whole.”

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.

Kate Mitchell, CMO at Majestic Steel

“Removing bias can be very hard in marketing. My sales background has pushed me to be more objective: look at the facts, not what you ‘think’ is right. I’m very aware that we all carry bias with us in our lives, but the more you can shed that in your professional life, the more chances to be a better leader open to all voices.”

Erin McLean, CMO at eSentire

“Make sure your programs are measurable. Look at the data, understand what the insights are telling you. Your gut may suggest one thing and the data backs it up, making it easy for you to make your case. Sometimes the data may surprise you.”

Making Your Mark as a New CMO? Get the chief marketer's playbook with strategies, insights, and tools for success.

Making Your Mark as a New CMO? Get the chief marketer's playbook with strategies, insights, and tools for success.

  • By submitting this form, you agree to receive our newsletter, and occasional emails related to The CMO. For details, review our privacy policy. You can unsubscribe at any time. We're protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

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.

Channing Fleetwood,

“Early in my career, I thought of brand building as creative development. Slap on a clean logo and modern color pallet and you’ve got a brand, right? Wrong, that’s a consumer-centric view of branding. I’ve learned that true brand building starts with an understanding of your company’s vision, knowing what drives your customers’ emotional and rational decisions and infusing that into your brand story, communications, product and consumer interactions.”

Matt Roberts, CEO at Demand Spring

“The organization looks to marketing for a vision to get behind—from where the organization is going, to how it will position itself in the market, to what is the organization’s purpose. The ability to create a shared vision with your leadership team (and extended leadership team) is essential to getting alignment across the organization.”

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.

Josh Gerber, Chief Marketing Officer for Ohana Growth Partners

“Be willing to pivot. Marketing is a fast paced industry and there is never a day that is the same as another (one of the reasons that I love this job). It can be stressful and challenging if you let it. You need to try and anticipate change when possible, but also handle the adjustments no matter what the situation or circumstance so you can do what’s best for your company. Utilize data to make decisions, follow up with peer guidance and then do what your gut says.”

Elyse Estrada, Global CMO at Aleph Group

“As someone who is building a brand from scratch, everything I do is publicly visible so the expectation of excellence is a constant source of anxiety. In those moments when I feel paralyzed by taking major decisions, I remind myself that it’s all a work in progress and we have to start somewhere and build up. That fear of the unknown can lead to some unexpectedly great ideas because you’re free to dream and explore and try.”

Preparedness

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.

Leah Chandler, CMO at Discover Puerto Rico

“Being prepared is critical as a CMO. What are we up against in our industry and how can we prepare for this—from economic headwinds to natural weather events? How am I going to mobilize the team whatever the situation may be? We’ve created both a Crisis Preparedness Playbook and an Economic Playbook to guide us, with roles for our team.”

Kathy Bryan, EVP Head of Marketing at Electives

“Be an active listener. I’ve often called myself a “crumb collector” because I’m regularly collecting crumbs of knowledge as I hear things. It’s a marketer’s job to be proactive, but not all of the information we need is given to us proactively. Therefore, it’s on us to listen and to ask questions so we can be prepared for what lies ahead.”

Curiosity 

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.

Kathy Bryan, EVP Head of Marketing at Electives

“Marketing is always evolving, which means marketing leaders must continually be researching, studying and learning. The strategies and tactics that worked last year may or may not be the ones that will work best for you this year. It’s on you to know what you need to know—from new channels, to algorithm changes, to new tools (like AI)—to efficiently and effectively build relevant strategies and campaigns for today’s audiences and platforms.” –

Christina Peirona, Head of Marketing at Ultimate Ears

“Have an endless sense of curiosity. I find everything interesting and always ask questions. I will take a stranger’s movie recommendation! I love hearing different perspectives, reading about obscure things, and setting goals. A goal that I have this year is to read a new book each week.”

Leadership Skills

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.

Tara Robertson, CMO at Bitly

“I think it was Zig Ziglar who originally said, “You don’t build a business. You build people and then people build the business.” This quote is one that has stuck with me through my entire career. In our industry you really are nothing without your people. And we are all always learning and growing in various ways.”

David Marine, CMO at Coldwell Banker

“Coaching and teaching skills have always been important as a leader, but their significance has grown as we’ve adjusted to today’s remote workforce. Knowing what is going on within your brand, what your colleagues need to succeed and how to uplift your team members strengthens your leadership and builds a culture of excellence within your team.”

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.

Amy King, CMO of Relias

“The importance of building teams diverse in race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity has been clearly established. For marketers, diversity is critical to our development of creativity, empathy, and relevancy. If we do not produce materials from a wide range of perspectives, we will never reflect the reality of our customers and open ourselves up to being dismissed as irrelevant. This is true across every area of marketing and, while we are making progress, it’s critical to remain committed to further improvement.”

Derek Detenber, Chief Marketing and Merchandising Officer at Batteries Plus

“A CMO has to understand organizational strategy and how to structure a department that is right for the business and its needs. Then, they have to get the right leaders in place to augment and complement what’s already there.”

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.

Mona Charif, CMO at NTT DATA Services

“In a sense, reputation is like karma because it’s something you earn, whether good or bad. If you want to build a good reputation, then make commitments consciously, under-promise on the commitments you make, and then over-deliver with your actions and results. You can enhance your reputation by maintaining an excellent say/do ratio. People learn to trust you, not only for your expertise but also for your reliability and personal accountability. Ultimately, your reputation follows you and often precedes you! It will either expand or limit your career opportunities.”

Amy King, CMO of Relias

“Relevance is value. As CMOs, it can be difficult to stay up to date on the latest in digital technology and innovation. However, staying relevant is vital, and we must remain digitally fluent while engaging with our customers and industry partners. While we can rely on our younger, more digitally native employees to help advise us, it is also important that we invest our own time in learning and exploring new skills.”

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.

Dipti Kachru, Global CMO at Broadridge

“Establishing trust and credibility with key partners across core business functions is critical to achieving success as a CMO. Leaders who are amicable, team players and respectful, will find their professional partnerships will reciprocate that sentiment, and ultimately help foster a more positive working environment for all.”

Patrick Smith, Senior VP and CMO at Cvent

“Partner with Sales and build that trust. When Sales and Marketing are aligned–on goals, plans, and processes–magic happens. When they are not, in-fighting can occur, finger pointing can happen, and it gets that much harder to deliver results.”

Emotional Intelligence

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.

Ed Breault, CMO at Aprimo

“A CMO must have the ability to understand, manage, and effectively express one’s own emotions and the emotions of others. It includes self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. A CMO must understand and respond to the needs of their team members and create a culture of trust, respect, and collaboration.”

Esther Raphael, Chief Marketing Officer at Intersection

“When we lead with emotional intelligence, we create an environment where people feel comfortable with the way they are feeling. There is almost nothing more important for a company’s culture than feeling your manager has a genuine interest in your well being and an understanding of your strengths. Leading with emotional intelligence has a ripple effect from the top down, which is so important for creating a healthy workplace culture.”

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 to relevant marketing communities 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.

Mona Charif, CMO at NTT DATA Services

“Relationships are the lifeblood of marketing – developing, nurturing and sustaining relationships with clients and partners as well as employees and diverse community leaders. That’s just inherent in the job. I also make my personal relationships a high priority.”

Marta DeBellis, Global CMO at HireVue

“Maintain a robust network to recruit the best talent to join your team. I feel grateful to have worked with some amazing marketers and wonderful human beings over the years. I make an effort to reach out and touch base periodically to see what they are working on and how their career is going. I have been fortunate to bring some of this talent into each of my last three companies.”

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.

Josh Gerber, Chief Marketing Officer for Ohana Growth Partners

“Exude tenacity and passion. You need to be able to have difficult conversations, fight for things you believe and push the envelope to achieve success. No one is going to give you anything. You have to chase what you want and set goals for how you will get there.”

James Watson, CMO at The Glimpse Group

“Yes indeed, you need to be passionate about marketing and ideally the sector you are operating in. I’m really lucky in that I am not only passionate about marketing but also the sector I’m in; it’s a really powerful combination. But even if you aren’t passionate about your sector—let’s face it, some sectors are hard to get passionate about—a strong desire to drive the organization forward from a marketing perspective will get you where you need to go.”

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.

Josh Gerber, Chief Marketing Officer for Ohana Growth Partners

“Sharpen the Saw. You must be a student of your craft and be up on the latest and greatest in marketing as well as developments in your industry. I do this through relationship building, reading marketing-related publications, attending webinars, seminars and speaking engagements. Victor Brick told me many years ago, “If you are the smartest person in the room, you should go to another room!”

Keith Alsheimer, CMO at Unravel Data

“Just as any great athlete continuously works on their physical fitness and individual skills, even the most experienced executive must never stop learning and growing. Market trends, emerging best practices, new technologies, and generational/cultural differences must be continuously understood and integrated into your thinking.”

Conclusion 

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.

By Stephanie Hood

Stephanie Hood is an experienced marketing professional and Editor of The CMO. With nearly a decade spent as Marketing Manager at Discover Holidays and Executive Editor at VIVA Lifestyle & Travel, she built her career leading editorial and marketing teams and strategies that turn six-figure budgets into seven-figure profits. She now enjoys connecting with the world's top executives to learn their secrets to business success, and shares those insights right here with her community of like-minded professionals. Curious what she’s uncovered? Be sure to sign up for The CMO newsletter.