What is a CMO? Defining the Chief Marketing Officer Role

Casey Slaughter Stanton

Casey Slaughter Stanton

Founder and CEO
CMOx®, The Fractional CMO Company

The CMO, or chief marketing officer, is the executive, C-level head of marketing for an organization. They oversee all elements of an organization’s marketing strategy and implementation.

The role of the CMO has been debated a lot in recent years, especially in regards to what the expected responsibilities are. A CMO’s duties often vary depending on the needs of a business and what they and the other C-level executives, particularly the CEO, agree on.

Regardless, it is clear that the chief marketing officer is the leading marketer of an organization. The role oversees a marketing departments activities from strategy to implementation and follow up.

The parameters of that position have to be clearly defined when a CMO is joining an organization, otherwise, there can be conflict between the CMO and CEO.

This article defines what a CMO is and outlines the role’s typical responsibilities and duties.

What is a CMO?

The Chief Marketing Officer, or CMO, is an executive role that oversees a business’s marketing efforts including brand management, marketing research and communications, and distribution channel management among many others.

CMOs are on a level with other “C-level” executives and are the highest position in an organization’s marketing department.

Typical responsibilities of a CMO include marketing strategy, analytics, and management. Strategy is the creative process of being a CMO; this is where all the business’s potential is compiled into a marketing strategy that aligns with the organization’s goals. 

The job of marketing is clear enough. Marketing is selling a product or service on a large scale via advertising or other marketing techniques, with the aim of increasing revenue and, ideally, getting a strong return on investment. 

The CMO is the most important marketing position in an organization. This role is responsible for the success of a company’s marketing efforts. As a result of this responsibility being crystal clear, the CMO is held accountable if the marketing strategy is not successful or not as successful as predicted. This explains why the chief marketing officer role has the highest turnover rate of any c-suite executive, with the average tenure of a CMO being 43 months. 

One explanation as to why this is the case, as pointed out by the Harvard Business Review, is that the lack of success of a chief marketing officer in an organization is due to something wrong with the relationship between the CEO and CMO.

This can be, for example, a disconnect between the CMO’s authority and the CEO’s expectations. Businesses and CEOs know the importance of marketing and having the right people in the right seats, which is why the role of the CMO has been analyzed, and to some extent, redefined in recent years.  

VIDEO: Becoming a CMO

Becoming a CMO requires plenty of experience and knowledge in almost every facet of marketing. Responsibilities may include elements of both digital and non-digital marketing like physical brochures, social media, and organic search. Because of this, you’ll need to develop specific skills needed for CMOs and gain experience in as many forms of marketing as possible to succeed in this position.

This video goes over some of the ways you can follow on how to become a Chief Marketing Officer.

Of course, rather than striving for a full-time role, marketers may instead work towards becoming a fractional CMO. This allows you to work as the head of marketing for multiple clients to your preferred amount and set your own hours rather than committing to a full-time schedule.

The CMOx Accelerator provides the guidance you need to take the first steps to becoming a fractional CMO.

CMO Job Description & What They Do

The job description and responsibilities of the CMO can be debated. Often, these parameters are set and agreed upon by the CMO and the CEO when the former joins the organization.

Typically, the CMO is in charge of all marketing communications, such as advertising and public relations. This area of authority is not normally compromised.

The areas that the CMO can be responsible for, but sometimes are not include branding, pricing, market research and customer service. 

Customer service and customer communication is an important area as it is so crucial in business development. It is much cheaper to keep a customer and upsell them than to get a new customer. This method generally has the best return on investment of any marketing. CMO’s know this which is why their success in their role starts with what the business has already. This is why having a strong grasp on the business’s customer relationship management tool is crucial for maximizing marketing efforts.

Some people, such as Neil St. Clair, believe that the title and definition of CMO should be expanded to be more inclusive of this responsibility. In his article in Forbes, St. Clair states that the title should be Chief Marketing & Business Development Officer (CMBDO)to clearly highlight the true nature of the role and its responsibilities. 

The exact role and job description of the CMO is inevitably going to change depending on the organization and its needs. This is why the communication between the CMO and the CEO is so crucial, especially during the early days.

Clear parameters should be set, dictating what authority the CMO has and the role’s responsibilities.

CMO Salary

How much does a CMO typically make? Well, Glassdoor reports the average CMO salary to be $174,738 per year. This is base pay so does not include stock options and bonuses that many CMOs enjoy. With these accounted for, that could take the total over $200k per year.

It is safe to say that hiring a chief marketing officer is not cheap, but nothing of great value ever is. An alternative that is becoming an ever more popular choice of organizations is the Fractional CMO, a role in which the company does not need a full-time, 40 hours per week CMO, but instead can bring in one for 10 hours per week to lead strategy and keep the team on track with their KPIs. This is a more viable alternative for businesses that are less than $30 million per year in revenue. 

Learn more about what a Fractional CMO is to see if one is right for your business. 

The role of the CMO is one that is generally the same across various organizations and businesses. There are differences regarding what the role will include, such as responsibilities and authority. These have to be laid out on a case by case basis, with clear communication and understanding between the CMO and the CEO from the offset being of paramount importance. 

Casey Slaughter Stanton

Casey Slaughter Stanton

Casey S. Stanton is a marketing strategy expert and founder of CMOx®, the Fractional CMO company. For over 10 years Casey has been leading marketing strategy for 7 and 8 figure businesses in both digital and brick-and-mortar markets.

Casey Slaughter Stanton

Casey Slaughter Stanton

Casey S. Stanton is a marketing strategy expert and founder of CMOx®, the Fractional CMO company. For over 10 years Casey has been leading marketing strategy for 7 and 8 figure businesses in both digital and brick-and-mortar markets.

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