5 Myths of What it Means to be a C-level CMO

Hal Conick
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Key Takeaways

​What? What is a CMO? Kim Whitler, assistant professor of marketing at University of Virginia, uses data to break some common CMO misconceptions.

So What? There's a lot of variance in who CMOs are and the tasks they undertake. Can more uniformity in the role help executives better understand what makes a CMO successful?

Now What? With 80% of CEOs disappointed in their CMO, it may now be time to ask tough questions, such as “What affects a CMO's effectiveness” and “What type of background does a great CMO have?"

​What is a CMO? That's the question Kim Whitler, assistant professor of marketing at University of Virginia, began with when introducing her studies of CMOs in the C-suite. 

Whitler, who worked as a CMO before starting her research career, presented the results at an Executive Jam Session during the 2016 Summer AMA Conference​ in Atlanta. Whitler's studies included 300-plus qualitative interviews, three quantitative insight surveys and secondary data, such as biographies and role descriptions. 

“What is the role of a CMO?” Whitler asked the Jam Session crowd. “If you asked practitioners, they wouldn't necessarily know. They'd assume it's what they're doing.”

Whitler says there are five common myths of what it means to be a executive-level CMO, including:

Myth No. 1: There is a single CMO role

There's a lot of variance in the CMO role. Whitler compared two different CMOs from multi-billion dollar companies, one with primary responsibilities centering around marketing and communications, the other taking on CRM, public relations, R&D and other tasks in addition to marcom.

“These are both CMO roles,” she says. ”When we think about trying to understand the CMO, how does this variance [affect that]?”

Myth No. 2: There is a type of CMO

Using the two aforementioned CMOs, Whitler showed one had never taken a marketing class and had a bachelor's degree in math. The other had a bachelor's degree in business, an MBA and plenty of marketing class experience.

“A question you might ask is, 'Wow, look at that variance. Does that matter?'” she says. “We don't know.”

Marketing roles are fluid, she says, and practitioners are looking for help from the academic community. Thus far, this research is “uncharted territory.”

Myth No. 3: Today's CMO only needs to have quantitative skills

Whitler's research showed that at companies with low marketing capabilities, 40% of marketers were analytic. At high caliber marketing firms, 27% were analytical. 

People have skewed from the “Mad Me era to the math-men era,” Whitler says, but there may still be gaps in hiring CMOs with a mix of creative and analytic skills. 

Myth No. 4: CMOs always manage marketing

Whitler asked multiple CMOs about the tasks for which they're responsible. Some results were obvious, such as 82% each saying they were responsible for marketing strategy and implementation and 75% responsible for brand strategy, but others were surprising. 

Whitler says 46% of CMOs were responsible for public relations, 43% e-commerce and 8% each for pricing and distribution. This points to a different view of marketing and CMOs at every level of business.

Myth No. 5: Secondary data is all that is needed to understand C-level marketers 

High-level secondary data simply isn't there, Whitler says. What does exist can be unreliable at best and inaccurate at worst. 

“We have to go beyond secondary data and sometimes even ask questions to get to truth to understand what's happening on the C-level,” she says.

What does this mean for research? Complications and significant variance in information, she says, with a need for more digging to find new, innovative data. 

Key questions

These myths all point out some key questions of what a CEO may want from a CMO. Whitley cited a study which found 80% of CEOs are disappointed in their CMOs, so figuring out what is needed before hiring could save a lot of hassle and heartache.

Questions she listed include:

  • What affects the effectiveness of the role?

  • What affects the effectiveness of the people? What attributes matter?

  • What skills to CMOs need to be effective? 

  • Should marketing education change? How?

  • What are the implications of being out of alignment between scholars and managers?

Author Bio:

Hal Conick
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Displaying 1 Comments
Deb Ranelle
May 16, 2017

Interesting points.

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