Top-notch marketers often specialize in a few functions. Frequently, the paid search expert is also a master of affiliate marketing, or the SEO guru is brilliant at both copywriting and site architecture.
The best marketing teams need specialists who will hone their craft and excel in their respective fields. But the glue that brings these experts together, especially in high-growth companies, is a skilled and knowledgeable chief marketing officer (CMO). As jacks-of-all-trades, successful CMOs have multiple marketing superpowers that are less technical — but increasingly valuable — in business environments that require strong leadership.
As the founder and managing director of the boutique marketing consultancy, Group 8A, I regularly work alongside talented CMOs from companies of all sizes. With more than 15 years of industry experience, I’ve learned which traits are leading indicators of success and which ones are ruinous for careers. Here are several key qualities every high-ranking marketing executive should possess:
In the ever-evolving marketing landscape, CMOs must be flexible. Tried-and-true tactics lose efficacy as consumer habits change, competition creeps in, and technology advances. Successful marketing heads allocate budget and resources towards experimentation with new and emerging marketing channels to stay ahead of the curve.
When Google updated its search algorithm, businesses reliant on search traffic went belly up. Many amateur CMOs didn’t see it coming, while others had prepared for the change in advance. Companies that were surprised never recovered — while those who’d hedged their bets and diversified — thrived.
While CMOs leave the execution of select strategies to team members, they dig through data to identify weaknesses and seek out growth opportunities. Analytical marketers develop educated hypotheses about what is wrong with specific marketing campaigns and brainstorm ideas for how the team can best resolve issues.
For example, I once worked with a CMO who likened himself to a day trader. He constantly monitored his analytics dashboard to uncover unexpected dips and spikes in traffic. When traffic was low, he’d find a way to normalize it again. When it was high, he’d look for opportunities to capitalize on the new visitors and sustain this increase in traffic volume.
Smart company managers can spot mistakes a mile away. They don’t tolerate sloppy work and hold everyone to a higher standard. Good CMOs are even more detailed-oriented, and many senior marketers document what they do and how they do it. This enables the development of replicable processes and systems that minimize room for error. CMOs develop checklists for things that are commonly overlooked because attention to detail can turn mediocre marketing collateral into award-winning deliverables.
A CMO I once worked with maintained an extensive library of how-tos for developing creative, managing campaigns and optimizing his company’s marketing funnel. While they were available for him to edit and reference, they served the greater purpose of providing his team with materials they could use to improve their own marketing skills.
In 2014, Stuart Elliott, a former advertising columnist for The New York Times, wrote: “those attending Advertising Week in New York are being advised — sometimes gently, sometimes forcefully — that to produce campaigns that will more effectively resonate with contemporary consumers, they must risk failing and risk alienating their target audiences.” Defying convention, successful marketers produce bold campaigns that investors might be reluctant to sign off on. To avoid becoming irrelevant, marketers need to challenge themselves to be different and operate outside of their comfort zones.
Growing a company is a marathon, not a sprint. At the global marketing summit, BMA15, Carla Johnson published a tweet paraphrasing Joe Pulizzi that read: “Average company needs 12-15 months before monetizing content.” While channels such as paid search and display advertising can yield results almost instantaneously, neither is a silver bullet for building a profitable business long-term. CMOs understand that the best marketing strategies take time to scale and they budget accordingly.
Top-performing CMOs have a long-term vision about where they’ll take their company. A couple of years back, a newly-appointed CMO I knew in the e-commerce industry shifted his marketing budget away from direct response campaigns and into branding initiatives. Everyone thought he was crazy, but he believed it was a worthy sacrifice to forgo short-term sales in order to realize later long-term gains. Surely enough, nine months later his branding efforts secured distribution partnerships with three of the biggest brick-and-mortar retailers in his niche, which multiplied sales overnight.
To influence investors, other department heads, the press, customers, and vendors, top CMOs have to be well-spoken. They have the ability to confidently express the direction the company is heading in and how marketing can support that vision. Chief marketers also articulate stories that help inspire their team to perform better, faster, and smarter. Additionally, they are humble, not boastful. Everyone makes mistakes — humble professionals admit when they’re wrong and can recognize when things aren’t working and adapt.
Chipotle’s CMO, Mark Crumpacker, is a perfect example of humility. In his 2014 interview with TIME about the company’s recent earnings report and growth trajectory, Crumpacker maintained a modest position. He attributed the restaurant’s success to its efforts to stay consistent rather than resort to gimmicks. Inexperienced CMOs tend to exaggerate circumstances and share overly optimistic outlooks, which can alienate audiences who can see through the facade.
There are even more qualities that differentiate great CMOS. In addition to these 6 key qualities, great CMOs are considerate, humble, enterprising, and structured. Do you have what it takes to become a fantastic marketing lead, or know how to identify a stellar CMO?
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