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PHOTO: Javier Santos Guzmán

What is a CMO? Before I tackle that question, try answering this one: What is marketing? The answer is not only complex, it almost certainly requires qualifying questions.

Just like the discipline it manages, the CMO role is inherently multi-dimensional and ever-changing. It thrives on being cross-functional because it tells the story of an organization at a time when human and digital communication is changing faster than we ever imagined. With CMOs so often overseeing go-to-market, business development and sales enablement, in addition to marketing, a “CMO” Google search will likely leave you more confused than when you started.

While the core drivers of the role vary significantly, the myths are universal. Perhaps the greatest myth of all is that businesses are opting to eliminate the role of CMO, in favor of new titles, like chief experience officer or chief innovation officer. Semantics are funny. Is marketing too big for one title? CMOs wear multiple hats as marketing rapidly evolves. 

Myth #1: Every CMO Role Is the Same

One common assumption is the CMO role entails solely leading marketing strategy and initiatives. Yet, according to Deloitte’s C-Suite Study, the majority of CEOs believe CMOs are most often responsible for initiating cross-functional collaborative efforts. Given the varying needs of organizations, many CMOs reach beyond marketing into sales and product, leading enterprise-wide innovation, managing distribution channels and mission-critical partnerships. As buyers become more demanding, selling, marketing and differentiating products or services are more challenging than ever. CMOs who rise to meet the noisy, modern buying landscape will certainly have to get comfortable operating outside of only the marketing department.

With every CMO role facing different challenges and needs, CMOs must have a transparent conversation with CEOs. A recent study of Fortune 100 CEOs uncovered nearly all Fortune 100 CEOs in tech-related fields have backgrounds or degrees directly related to engineering. This doesn’t mean CEOs don’t understand marketing, but their strengths, and by association, potentially their trust, may lie elsewhere. By having a conversation with the CEO on what the role demands, CMOs ensure they both have the same vision for the position. Doing this sets the CMO, and the company, on a path for success.

Related Article: Why the CMO Role Isn't Doomed After All

Myth #2: CMOs Only Handle Marketing Initiatives

If your sights are set on a CMO role because you want to live and breathe marketing strategy and implementation every day, think again. Instead of solely focusing on brand building or demand generation, daily (and often unpredictable) responsibilities touch everything from enterprise-wide business planning, analytics, sales enablement, product pricing and M&A discussions.

The CMO role is increasingly expansive and as a result, exhilarating, creating space to drive growth across the organization and advise your peers in the executive team. CMOs engaged in these activities are thriving, and the stats back the sentiment up, even if CMOs themselves don’t believe it. Compared to the 52% of CEOs that believe CMOs are initiating collaborative efforts, only 32% of CMOs believe they’re doing a good job in this particular area.

Related Article: The CMO Challenge: Success Depends on Customer-Centricity and More Collaboration

Myth #3: CMOs Have All the Marketing Answers

As cliche as it sounds, marketing is still a mix of art and science. In many cases, we rely on data to inform decisions, and in others, we need to trust our gut. Surprisingly, what might have worked well in a previous company (however similar a challenge to your current one) may not work this time around. This means constant testing, learning and benchmarking to get to the answers and what works now.

CMOs don’t need to solve everything alone. Connect with other CMOs to talk through lessons learned from previous experiences. Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t understand everything all the time — the best leaders surround themselves with experts on varied topics to serve as both educators and sounding boards. In the same way, don’t be shy about seeking advice from board members, and others outside of your organization or even your industry, to garner different perspectives. Having these conversations can help provide additional insight for both tactical and strategic decisions. In the end, be sure you’re having an open dialogue about what works and doesn’t — defending your opinions, not your ego.

Due to the way the buying process and the marketing/sales landscape has evolved over the last several years, myths about CMOs still exist. By taking the time to define and align the role of the CMO to the needs of the broader organization, CMOs and their CEOs are better positioned to drive business growth alongside the rest of the C-Suite.