The Phi-shaped CMO

The expectations to drive growth and change sets tough skills requirements for the CMO.

The expectations of the CMO are always under scrutiny, and the requirements continuously develop. Unlike other C-suite roles, the type and responsibility of the CMO can vary depending on the type of organisation they are in.

In an article in 2017, Harvard Business Review defined three different types of CMOs: The commercial, the enterprise and the strategic. The expectations and skills needed for the roles are slightly different. Nevertheless, there are overall competencies that are necessary to help change the relevance of this position.

The key to unlocking this is to understand what the CMO is focusing on. Recent surveys suggest that CEOs expect that the main focus is to drive growth, to a lesser extent, the brand.  Bit of a paradox as these is not mutually exclusive. With increasing competition, strong differentiation is needed across all industries.

Collaboration for growth

The clear mandate from the CEO to drive growth is easy to understand but hard to execute. Depending on the company, it requires short-term tactical solutions and longer-term strategic decisions. It is, therefore, not an advantage that the average tenancy for the CMOs is 40 months. Within a mere three years, the opportunity to drive long-term growth is already challenged, and this is why marketing programs often become short-sighted from the beginning.

To succeed, the CMO needs the ability to speak the language of the CEO and the CFO to ensure that there is a correct investment in growth programs and a common view of how the outcomes are measured. It also requires a tough balancing act of near-term outcomes and longer-term strategic thoughts.

A key component is insights through data. With the support of the CEO, is it possible to drive cross-company efforts with the customer at the centre. The CMO can thereby combine market knowledge with customer interaction insights that drive strategic decisions across the business. The use of technology will help enable scalability and efficiency, and that is why the CMO needs to have a strong understanding of how technology can support strategic programs.

Besides the technological understanding, the CMO needs a strong marketing strategy to execute the right programs to drive growth. This will also ensure clarity across the organisation as to what and how marketing is driving growth for the company. The ability to communicate in the language of the C-level stakeholder, therefore, becomes fundamental for success. This level setting is crucial not only for success but also to ensure that the CMO gets the time needed to succeed hence extending the tenure.

A strong brand to stay competitive

While the CEO is looking at the CMO to drive growth, it is essential that the CMO is clear with the management that short-term programs will not just do the trick.

It is not all about branding, but the guarding of the brand in the market the company is in. This is also fundamental for longer-term success and is linked to the customer journey as well.

The CMO needs to work strongly to understand the dynamics of the markets and how the company is positioned to compete in the future. It can be to look at any shift in customer behaviour, industry moves or meta trends to be aware of. It will allow the CMO to translate the DNA of the company to market relevance and, at the same time, work with internal stakeholders to ensure that customers experience the same brand in every channel.

Not T but phi profile

We often talk about T-profiles when developing individuals – but within marketing, maybe we need phi profiles instead. The CMO needs to have strong strategic marketing skills but also master more than one other. This naturally depends on the role, as discussed earlier. However, if they are to stay more than three years in the role, the art of communicating with C-level and the ability to drive cross-collaboration is of utmost importance.

You might consider that an important skill is the use of data and technology to support the future transformation of the modern marketing model. I would like to challenge that.

My view is that how to lead people is of most essence. The reason is that while technology will have an impact, it is the leadership of people in daily life that becomes one of the most important elements to understand as a CMO. You need to be able to put together the right team with the deep right skills that are needed to support the brand and drive towards growth — it will be those people who will be creative at problem-solving in securing the success of marketing in the future.

Karsten Stokking

Marketing Strategy Consultant

Read next


Supporting women in tech: Fluido executives graduate from Stanford Graduate School of Business

Contact us

Contact us