forked path in the woods
The career path to a CMO isn't a straight shot, but one thing all candidates have in common is a focus on experience and empathy PHOTO: Caleb Jones

Chief marketing officers (CMO) are not only gaining in prominence at public companies, their compensation reflects that increased stature. A recent study from information services firm Equilar found nearly 200 marketing executives were among the top five highest-paid employees at their respective companies. That is more than two-and-a-half times the same number five years ago, Equilar said. The company also noted that total compensation for top CMOs increased nearly 25 percent in the past five years, based on analysis of annual proxy statements of public companies.

There are a lot of reasons to want to be a CMO and compensation, at least at the larger public companies, is clearly one of them. Likewise, there are just as many paths to becoming the CMO as there are reasons to want to be one.

It wasn’t always like that, Glen Hartman, senior managing director of Accenture Interactive North America and Global Digital Marketing told CMSWire.

Transformation of the CMO Role

Accenture's Glen Hartman
Glen Hartman
“A few decades ago, you would start off at a company, inside the marketing department, working on one component such as direct marketing or advertising or media buying. Then you would move your way up the old hierarchy.”

Those days are over, he said. While there are a few companies that still take this old-fashioned approach, they are in the minority. Indeed, since those days just about everything related to the CMO role has changed from what he does on the job, to who she represents.

The latter is perhaps the biggest change, Hartman said. “Today the CMO is someone that understands the customer and advocates for the customer. From that vantage point he works on making the brand relevant to those customers.”

The CMO Mandate: Experience and Empathy

Just as importantly, the CMO is in charge of what Hartman called the Big E, which stands for both experience and empathy. Before, a brand would tell customers what they could expect from their product, Hartman said. So Volvo customers knew to expect safety, for example, while BMW customers knew they were getting performance. Today, by contrast, consumers experience the brand and make their own decisions about whether the brand has kept its promise of, to cite the BMW example, safety.

That is part of the CMO’s role: making sure the customer experience aligns with what the brand promised, through every channel, whether marketing or sales or loyalty, online or offline, Hartman said. The other big E — empathy — has to do with how the CMO gets to that point. “The CMO needs to be able to empathize with the customer in real time if she is going to deliver a great experience.”

'You Can Enter From Anywhere'

So the old path up through the hierarchy is no longer viable and the customer experience is now the paramount responsibility of the CMO. How does that translate into a working career path? Or to be more accurate, paths.

There are many routes into the CMO office, starting with the functional areas that make up marketing today, according to Hartman. But any would-be CMO should know a few basics first, such as the technology that underpins modern marketing. “Do you have to understand how to write code?” he said. “No. Do you have to be a technologist? No. But understanding three or four of the big players that enable marketing through technology is key.”

Experience working on an integrated team is also very helpful, he continued. “Being able to communicate your brand strategy, brand vision, campaign strategy and understanding how the analytics and the creative and the technology all come together is very important.”

Those fundamentals aside, almost anything goes — take any path that appeals to you — so long as the path gets the individual to the Big E, or Es. Are you in sales? That can work — sales, after all is tightly linked to marketing. Do you have a consulting background? Such a person knows how a CMO can talk to a CIO. More to the point, such a person will know how to bring teams together.

“You can enter from anywhere,” Hartman said. “You can enter from the creative side, as a copywriter. You can enter as an account manager or someone that’s doing website development. It doesn’t really matter as long as you understand this idea of creating experiences across marketing, sales and service.”

Marketing Sheds Its Cost Center Association

Here is another notion that should be put to rest with climbing the path through the hierarchy to the C-suite: marketing is a cost center. Clearly, this is no longer the case. Over the years, especially with the infusion of advanced technology over the last five years, marketing has become a growth driver for most companies. And Equilar has tracked the rise of CMO salaries over that same time period, noting a 25 percent increase.

Compensation has changed significant in a relatively short period of time, Hartman said. In some cases companies are linking the CMO’s compensation to different kinds of outcomes, such as sales or lead generation, or effectiveness. “We are seeing all kinds of new models,” he said. "There are compensation packages that are trying together outcomes, process, loyalty and brand effectiveness in new ways.”

Just like the CMO’s role itself.