While companies have often outsourced their marketing needs to agencies in the past, CMOs and fractional CMOs overseeing in-house marketing departments are becoming increasingly in demand. The need for robust and distinct brand identities continues to rise, making dedicated marketing leaders more valuable than ever.
As businesses of all sizes grow and compete for similar demographics, brand recognition has become crucial to converting and retaining loyal customers. CMOs support these efforts by knowing what works, what doesn’t, what’s been overdone, and what’s been overlooked.
Thrive in fast-paced environments with plenty of variation
Possess boundless wells of creativity
Have a knack for developing strategy, and
Bring out the best in others
…you may have what it takes to build a successful career as a chief marketing officer (CMO).
This career path provides an exciting opportunity to put new businesses on the map or breathe new life into a well-known company needing a refresh. The CMO position is also well-paid,, and allows individuals to pick and choose the industries in which they want to work.
The path to becoming a CMO can be challenging and may take time, but the rewards are often well worth the effort.
General CMO Career Path
Before you can successfully develop and lead a team, you need to learn the foundations and nuances of marketing strategy, along with how to anticipate and identify shifts in marketing trends. The only real way to do this is to obtain an entry-level marketing position and increase your value and experience enough to move up the ladder. Like any other career path, CMOs need to start at the beginning and work their way to the top.
However, this is by no means a rote or standardized process. You can use strategies and development tools to develop your skills, increase your upward momentum, and reach the C-level career just a bit faster.
A typical career path to becoming a CMO follows these general stages:
Entry-Level Marketing Position
Director or Marketing
VP of Marketing
Chief Marketing Officer
Entry-Level Marketing Position
Entry-level marketing positions are for individuals just starting out in marketing, either fresh from college or as part of a career change. These positions usually require a maximum of 2 years of experience and position you as a coordinator or specialist in the marketing industry.
When searching for these positions, look for project, social media, account, marketing, and event marketing coordinator positions or event marketing and marketing specialist positions. These jobs provide a basic understanding of the marketing industry and involve a lot of research and administrative tasks.
After you’ve proven your skills and knowledge as an entry-level specialist or coordinator, you’ll qualify for management positions. These positions require more than 3 years of experience and place you as a leader over one or more employees or processes. As a manager, you’ll establish, orchestrate, maintain, and evaluate marketing strategies while developing your direct reports.
Titles in marketing management tend to be specific, placing individuals in charge of things like brand, social media, advertising, or public relations management.
Director of Marketing
Several years as a marketing manager prepare you to leap into high-level management as a marketing director. This title requires 6 to 7 years of experience and positions you as the head of marketing strategy. You will likely spend your time analyzing market, customer, and competitor data gathered by your managers so you can adapt your company’s marketing strategy to meet high-level goals.
Like marketing managers, directors are often responsible for specific marketing tasks like brand management, advertising, public relations, media, etc.
VP of Marketing
Marketing VP roles require up to 14 years of experience in the industry. By the time you’re ready for this role, you should have finely honed leadership, technical, and business skills. You’ll also be required to act as the company diplomat, working across departments to strengthen the company’s focus and often act as a spokesperson to public audiences. You may also have a hand in interviewing and hiring for other leadership positions within the company.
In this role, your title will likely be more general because you’re in charge of a larger body of teams and tasks. For instance, you may be the VP of brand development or digital marketing.
Chief Marketing Officer
When you achieve the role of Chief Marketing Officer, you’ll likely have at least 20 years of experience in various areas of marketing, advertising, brand management, public relations, and more. CMOs oversee all marketing departments and activities, including developing, planning, and executing all marketing strategies and initiatives. Ultimately, this role is responsible for ensuring a return on investment (ROI) for the company’s marketing efforts.
It’s important to note that full-time CMO for a single company isn’t your only option. Becoming a fractional CMO (fCMO) allows you to work across industries, support smaller businesses, and optimize your earning potential. Companies benefit from your dedicated attention and expertise, and you’ll have more control over your career.
Credentials for Becoming a CMO
Those seeking a career as a CMO invest a lot of time, energy, and educational credits into their ultimate goal. Companies hiring CMOs are looking for the perfect blend of education, certifications, practical experience, and soft skills that lend themselves to excellent leadership.
Here’s a detailed list of things many employers look for in talented CMOs.
Successful CMOs must have a strong understanding of leadership, communication, time management, and marketing and communication technology.
Skills a CMO should have include:
Balancing the company’s marketing needs and goals with the needs of the employees, and the customer
Understanding the nuances of communicating with the customer vs. motivating their team
Taking advantage of technology to manage timelines and meet deadlines
At a minimum, CMOs must have a bachelor’s degree in marketing. Other acceptable bachelor’s and master’s degrees include journalism, communications, advertising, or public relations. Some companies prefer an MBA, but those with the right experience may be attractive candidates even without a master’s degree.
Companies may also ask about specific college coursework, depending on how long ago you earned your degree. Courses in economics, accounting, and data analysis are useful to your work and make hiring managers give you a second look.
Certifications for CMOs serve three primary purposes:
Increase their skillset and theoretical knowledge
Hone their professional skills
Increase their value to current or potential employers
The best certification courses meet all three goals, giving you the best value for your time and effort. You should always complete a certification course knowing more than you did previously. Always seek classes that fill in gaps in your skillset or provide marketing insight for a specific industry—never pursue certifications based purely on padding your resume.
If you’re unsure where to start, the two following certifications are courses offered by accredited entities that help broaden your knowledge base and keep you current on marketing best practices.
Many CMOs and potential CMOs take these courses electively to round out their education:
Certified Marketing Management Professional, offered by the International Institute of Marketing Professionals
Professional Certified Marketer, which is available in four specialties and recognized by the American Marketing Association
Theoretical knowledge and education are a stable foundation for becoming an effective CMO. However, there is no substitute for practical, real-world experience. Until you put your knowledge to good use in the industry, you won’t know where your strengths and weaknesses lie, nor will you know what your leadership and communication styles look like in a professional setting.
Handling emergencies is another crucial component of real-world experience. In marketing, emergencies may look like anything from missing a vital deadline to dealing with litigation. Once you’ve dealt with these situations, you’ll have an inside view of how to handle them even better next time.
Responsibilities of a CMO
Whether fractional or full-time, the responsibilities of a CMO include all internal and external marketing activities. They should also be current on emerging technologies, social media platforms, and trends that can be used to best position the company for maximum possible exposure to the desired demographics.
Here’s a breakdown of the activities that go into these roles:
Managing the business’s community and media relations
Meeting daily goals for campaigns
Conducting market research and analyses
Overseeing the maintenance of the company website
Ensuring messaging is always brand-consistent
Develop, strengthen, and maintain business relationships
Networking and leveraging contacts for the good of the business
The best CMOs are curious, self-motivated, innovative individuals with plenty of practical experience and a positive-but-realistic viewpoint. Rather than leading with an iron fist, a CMO should focus on motivating and inspiring their teams to be the best they can be.