The 5 Key Attributes Every CMO Must Have


It goes without saying that chief marketing officers have to possess a marketing acumen. It also helps–but is not a mandate–that they have the real-world experience of having climbed that proverbial ladder to fully understand and appreciate what it takes to be part of a team.

In days past CMOs could get by having just a working knowledge of all other departments, notably Sales and IT. Those days are dead and gone. To be successful, it is paramount that the CMO has a deep knowledge and understanding of not only what these departments do, literally, but also how they all need to come together to ensure ultimate success.

At a very high level those are the professional attributes a CMO of today needs.

The flip side is the collection of personal traits every CMO needs to be successful in today’s world. Here’s just a few, in no particular order:

1. Passion

You simply cannot fake passion. It’s either there or it isn’t. If the CMO is not passionate about his/her job and the brand they are entrusted with, no amount of professional acumen will make up for it.

Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re more willing to take risks. –Yo-Yo Ma

2. Storytelling and Selling

The CMO–perhaps more than any other in the c-suite–needs to be able to tell a story, to effectively sell and convey ideas internally and externally. Internally, they need to be able to communicate their ideas, goals and ideals to both internal stakeholders, like the c-suite and the board, and their own teams. Externally, they are very often called upon to be the face of the brand. Having the ability to stand in front of a crowd and passionately tell the story–regardless of what the story is–is vital.

If you want to build a movement within the company, lead from the front with an inspiring story to win the hearts and minds of colleagues, including those who don’t report to you, and with a clear action plan to deliver tangible results. –McKinsey

3. Know What You Don’t Know

Steve Jobs once famously said: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” The best CMOs fully embrace this way of thinking. They check their ego at the door and realize that it’s ok to not know everything. In fact, it’s human to not know everything. Be open and willing to listen to the smart people around you as opposed to sitting in the ivory tower and making decisions on your own.

4. Continuous Curiosity

The best CMOs know full well that the world we live in is in a constant state of flux. Just looking at the state of martech alone should tell CMOs all they need to know when it comes to staying continuously curious. The speed at which martech changes today is nothing short of mind blowing. The key for CMOs is to never rest on any laurel. Never assume what worked today will work tomorrow. And that there may not really be a better mousetrap out there. The point is to never stop looking and never stop learning.

I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious. –Albert Einstein

NOTE: there’s that word again: passion.

5. Stay Human

It is very easy in today’s world–with the proliferation of artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation–for a CMO to go on autopilot. It’s an easy trap to fall into. But it cannot be overstated as to the importance for a CMO to be as human as humanly possible. That means staying highly engaged with your team. It means actually listening to them and hearing their concerns and their ideas.

Do not let the roles you play in life make you forget that you are human. –Roy T. Bennett

The best CMOs understand that these are the attributes that define who they are, rather than how they work. And this is just one element that leads to their success.

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