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Three Critical Skills for CMOs in 2020

20 FEBRUARY 2020

Gerard Escaler, Co-Founder & CMO, Lyrium

   “What skills should I look for in a CMO?” A senior executive I met with at CES 2020 posed this question. He was looking to hire a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) for their rapidly scaling consumer technology company. I thought this was intriguing because it explores a complementary perspective to what many marketers seek to answer in enhancing their careers.

   CMOs have historically come under immense pressure, with ever-increasing demands placed upon what is expected both from them and from the marketing function. In many instances, the gap between expectations and performance is tangible, as evidenced by a decrease in CMO longevity. A study by Spencer Stuart indicated that the average tenure for CMOs in 2018 was 43 months, the shortest among the C-suite, with the median tenure over the same period at 27.5 months.


   In contrast to a marketing director role, the CMO role is more strategic and retains a broader, cross-functional mandate. Beyond expectations on branding and market development, the CMO is also expected to play a more active, advisory role to the CEO and the board, and contribute to strategy development and management across siloes. Essentially, to be a successful CMO, one has to move beyond marketing and add additional foci on corporate strategy and management efficiency.

   Strategically, the CMO delivers the most value across three critical areas:

  • Becoming A Growth Champion: A previous Strategy+Business article elucidated that successful marketers demonstrate common characteristics, such as quantifying their contributions in terms of revenue growth or return on investment (ROI), demonstrating a broader range of capabilities than their peers, leveraging standardized tools and processes to maximize efficiency, being proactive in delivering guidance to the executive team that adds value and being perceived by senior leadership as significantly contributing to the growth agenda.

  • Facilitating Access To Customer Insights: Marketing’s roots lie in identifying patterns and developing deeper customer insights to enhance the customer experience. In addition to Net Promoter Score and customer pulse surveys, CMOs need to be able to access individual data and provide a more personalized, human connection to their end customers. Concurrently, they also need to ensure compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and other data privacy regulations, which is no small feat.

  • Evolving Into A Technology Integrator: With the advancement of e-commerce and digital marketing, a Harvard Business Review article noted that CMOs would need to evolve into chief marketing technologists. As technology continues to drive change across markets and business models in 2020 and beyond, to remain at the top of their game, CMOs will need to invest in learning, understanding and deploying new technologies. One specific application of this is leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) into the work that CMOs do.

From a technical standpoint, the CMO should also be a marketing generalist with broad experience across a number of functional areas. While this is not a comprehensive list, a typical workday could include advising the executive team and setting direction on:

  • Branding: Developing and managing the master brand and product brands across core channels.

  • Sales And Business Development: Identifying new markets and partnerships, expanding sales training and distribution channels, and leveraging data.

  • Demand Generation: Utilizing search engine marketing/search engine optimization (SEM/SEO) to deliver targeted advertising on Google Ads, Microsoft Advertising and other platforms.

  • Strategic Communications: Refining content strategy and disseminating core messaging to various stakeholders.

  • Media Relations: Developing and maintaining relationships with key media outlets that are core to the business.

  • Video And Multimedia: Integrating short-content video to drive key messaging.

  • Social Media: Managing the brand across platforms, engaging in social listening and providing in-channel customer service.

  • Design: Integrating design thinking across the company, its digital presence, and print, broadcast and digital collateral.

  • Customer Experience: Managing each touch point where customers come into contact with the brand and optimizing the experience.

  • Product Development: Providing input into a pipeline of new products that meet demand and retaining a pulse on core markets to develop new solutions.

Depending on the culture and leadership styles, the CMO’s remit can shift dramatically from one organization to another. With this in mind, how could CMOs continue to build upon their expansive skill set and place learning into practice? Below are three straightforward steps any marketer can take to enhance their capabilities:

  1. Seek out a mentor. Among the most successful marketers I know, many did not ascend to the apex of their careers entirely on their own. Instead, they worked closely with mentors within their industry to help guide their career development. If you don’t know where to start, hire an executive coach, or join an industry association and get acquainted with the participants.

  2. Pursue targeted learning and development opportunities. Many companies provide comprehensive learning and development programs or sponsorship for executive training. For those that don’t, an abundance of both free and paid development programs are available online, including MIT’s OpenCourseWare or programs through the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

  3. Build your network. Networking events not only represent an opportunity to promote your company, but they are also an excellent forum to identify like-minded professionals, exchange ideas and learn from each other. I have learned just as much from peers within and outside my industry as from practical experience.

By investing in developing these characteristics and technical skills, CMOs can enhance their likelihood of remaining at the top of their game, and those aspiring to the CMO role can develop the marketing foundation needed to successfully chart a path to future growth.


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