The CMO career choice

by | Mar 14

11 min read

A chief marketing officer, or CMO, is the C-suite individual who is hired to implement all of a company’s marketing initiatives. Once employed within this executive-level role, you will need to show that you are boosting the incoming revenue of the company by overseeing everything from its brand management and marketing communications, to its market research, product marketing, distribution channels, pricing and customer-service levels.

Your four key responsibilities

As you set about driving revenue by increasing the sales that are possible through your daily marketing initiatives, so you will need to wear the following four hats:

that of marketing guru, to lead your team professionally and expertly;
that of customer cheerleader, as you strive to create brand loyalty and ensure that the end-user experience is a highly rewarding one;
that of growth instigator, by means of the strategic decisions that you’re called upon to make;
that of head creative, as you nurture the stories that the marketing department is weaving, spur on the development of their most innovative ideas, and thereby attract the customer base that will ultimately lead to the continuation of the business as a thriving concern.

Because of the senior, or executive, nature of your role, you will generally report directly to the CEO, in partnership with the chief revenue officer (CRO) – as you collectively set up a marketing roadmap where product development and growth goals, together with profits, are never far from your minds.

How the role has shifted

It is interesting to note how the marketing role at any given company and across the entire business landscape has evolved, as a result of the bombardment of information hitting us all from the likes of big data and artificial intelligence (AI) tools; and also how these tools have personalised many of the customer-focused communications we wish to send out today.

According to the the research of marketing experts at Harvard Business Review, the CMOs of today are expectd to “creatively apply insights to business challenges, validate decisions with data, create seamless customer experiences across media and revenue channels, and lead efforts to put the customer at the centre – throughout the organisation”.


But what duties did marketers attend to in decades past? Here’s a brief timeline of what their roles looked like in the rapidly shifting marketplace of yesteryear:

The 50s
Marketing employed mainly TV and print ads to sell goods to targeted consumers.

The 60s
Creative and memorable ad campaigns replaced the exaggeration, and often rather aggressive punts, of before.

The 70s
Marketers had to rise to the challenge of addressing product management, pricing, promotion and distribution, as digital analytics begin to throw out useful insights about customer categories, and their individual choices.

The 80s
The likes of cable TV, infomercials and vide casette recorders (VCRs) increased the pressure on marketers to assist brands with ensuring that their customer messages were on target; while analytics continued to advance, meaning the performance of each sales channel could be tracked so that effective ones could be used more often, and those that were imploding could be ditched.

The 90s
Companies attempted to balance strategic responsibilities, such as brand positioning, market segmentation and business growth (in the B2C space); with tactical responsibilities such as sales enablement, brochures and trade shows (in the B2B space). The CMO role was introduced, and a focus was placed on customer relationship management (CRM) – as marketers realised the extent to which customers could make or break a particular brand.

The 2000s
Digital transformation, and the increasing popularity of social media platforms, changed the way in which people and brands related to one another. Word of mouth and online feedback began to take hold, and marketers focused even more strongly on relationship-building with their customers in the brand-messaging space.


How to succeed in the role

The main problem with taking on a CMO role, is that it is a career in which the job description needs to allow you to increase a company’s revenue; not simply manage marketing communications (i.e. via advertising campaigns and on social media). Whereas CEOs often have high expectations for what their newly hired CMO may be able to achieve, unless their job description allows them to draw up a strategy for driving firm-wide growth, no one in their shoes will be able to succeed.

 To overcome this problem, say marketing academics Kimberley Whitler and Neil Morgan, companies should be sure to create the appropriate CMO role and fill it with a suitably qualified person. They write, in the Harvard Business Review article “Why CMOs never last”, that:

• a CMO’s tasks be set out clearly (whether enterprise-wide, strategy related or taking a commercial focus);
• a CMO’s responsibilities be related to their entent of their scope (see bracket above);
• the CEO sets out, from the get go, how their success will be measured (whether via metrics, goals or targets);
• the appropriate candidate is hired where no disconnect can be seen between: 1) the person’s qualifications and experience; 2) the part they will strive to play in a company’s success; and 3) the jurisdiction they are given to help the company rise up against the competition.

How to get there
Whether you’ve just finished school and are considering which course of study is best to get you into marketing – or you’re changing career paths a little later on in life – the experts at GetSmarter advise that you kick off the process with a bachelor’s degree in business or a marketing-related subject. As a second step, this organisation, which delivers online courses from world-leading universitites and other educational institutions that are designed to fit into a busy schedule, holds firm on the clout of a Masters in Marketing; or, alternatively, an MBA specialising in Marketing.

If the latter course of study seems extreme, remember that when you reach the CMO corner office, you will be managing budgets and will need to have a clear understanding not only of customer-related functions, but also of strategy, corporate finance and leadership development. Few forms of study other than an MBA can provide the specialised knowledge, language and approach to help you succeed in the super challenging marketing game.

But, when all is said and done, relevant work experience of at least 10 to 15 years may be just the thing that gets you hired; and particularly so if you can talk at a high level about making the product/service more attractive to the customer, or the customer more amenable to the product/service.


Your essential attributes

Taking on the CMO role in a company, and making a success of it, requires that you have the majority of the following six attributes, writes Jennifer Lonoff Schiff for


  • tech dances for you: you’re familiar with key marketing techniques and technologies, such as the best-in-class software and platforms guaranteed to bring your work up to speed;
  • you take the customer seriously: because knowing who and where they are, what they like and what is important to them is vital to the products or services you are marketing;
  • you’re data driven: because a your solid grasp of analytics means you can also eek out customer trends, and assess consumer reactions (which often relate to emotions and technology preferences) to product launches;
  • you’re a high-level translator: this involves making sure employees are able to grasp exactly why they’re doing what they’re doing, and that customer receive the message you’re broadcasting on a vast range of interactive and far-reaching channels;
    • you work seamlessly with other departments (sales, IT, finance): because, by listening to their feedback, everything you need to know about challenges, trends and successes will become clear to you;
    • you’re keen to try new things: because direct email marketing has evaporated with the ark, and CMOs worth their salt are always up for a cautious level of experimentation with new and emerging digital channels, so as to gauge which channel/s work best for their company and/or brands, and where, in fact, their spend should be placed.

Networking 101: Your quest to stay current
The CMO Summit, scheduled for San Francisco on 21 September 2023, sees everyone from the world’s largest company to the most dynamic start-ups coming together to connect, collaborate and instigate the very future of marketing.

Just a few of the topics to be covered by pioneering CMOs during this year’s agenda, include:

• building successful marketing teams;
• use of data to drive marketing-related decisions;
• the role of storytelling in the marketing realm;
• valuable leadership lessons for us all;
• use of metrics to measure campaign success;
• how to become a marketing superpower.

For more information or to download the full CMO Summit brochure, click here.


Six marketing buzzwords
While you may understand how these marketing concepts can be applied in your work, will you be able to explain them to a client? Read on for a few helpful definitions:

  • paid media: use of a third-party channel, such as an online publication or digital advertising board, by purchasing an advert aimed at your specific target market
  • conversion rate: percentage of users who take the action you are hoping for, i.e. buying the product or service you have been marketing;
  • pay per click (PPC): an online advertising method, where you only pay when an advert receives a click through from a customer;
  • search engine optimisation (SEO): a way to increase a website’s performance, using keyword research, back links and outreach;
  • click through rate (CTR): the ratio of visitors who click on a link, to the total number of users who have viewed that page, email or advert;
  • key performance indicator (KPI): all the metrics (i.e. bits of numerical data) that can be used to identify and measure your business goals and objectives.


For a full list of 20 key marketing-related terms, click here.


Fast fact 1: World’s top five female CMOs

A top-five list of any global career role tends to be 80 percent (4 out of 5) held by men, right? So accolades to these 5 women heading up the Forbes World’s Most Influential CMOs List: 2022.




Dara Johson Treseder

Peloton Interactive

Leads the charge in designing and coordinating best-in-class marketing strategies that have seen her receiving numerous marketing awards

Morgan Flatley

Macdonalds Global

Has brought about a 70 percent increase in sales for the company, based on the integrated marketing programmes she has implemented

Sara Franklin


Has guided her company in the training of those in ITC-related careers, and sought particularly to elevate women in these roles

Bettina Fetzer


A leadership style based on empowerment and mental liveliness

Alessandra Bellini


Turned the grocery-store brand around by simplifying its products and regaining customer trust

Fast fact 2: A salary comparison
Average earnings of a CMO in South Africa: R990 876 per annum

Average earnings of a CMO internationally: US$247 241 [R4 568 781]



Fast fact 3: Five smartest reads to help a CMO get ahead

  • Killing Marketing, by Joe Pulizi and Robert Rose
    – about how marketing can become a profit center in a business
    One Million Followers, by Brendan Kane

– about how techniques used by famous people for growing an audience can work for normal people too
Principles Behind Great Customer Experience, by Matthew Watkinson

– the way terrific customer service from a brand distinguishes itself so intensely from lesser customer-focused competitors
The Greatest Salesman in the World, by Og Mandino
– a guide to the philosophy of salesmanship and success, making use of the example of a poor camel boy
How To Launch A Brand, by Fabian Geyrhalter

– a manual that guides you along the path towards building a cutting-edge identity for a brand


Fast fact 4: Getting back to basics
At the heart of the CMO narrative is a concise definition of the term “marketing”, which is the action or business of promoting or selling a simple product, such as toothpaste; or a popular service, such as an airport shuttle.
Source: Concise Oxford Dictionary















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