The Gist

  • Creative core. Creative thinking remains the most vital skill for marketing leaders, enabling them to tackle challenges and innovate strategies.
  • Changing roles. CMOs have experienced significant changes in their roles, requiring increased cross-functional partnerships, enhanced customer experiences and a focus on digital transformation.
  • Future focus. Marketing leaders must prioritize data collection and analytics while adapting to the evolving privacy regulation landscape to stay competitive and drive results.

With exciting changes and new technologies in the market, the modern CMO has a lot to master and respond to. The role is anything but static. CMSWire's first “State of the CMO” survey looks at the biggest trends, changes, challenges and opportunities for modern marketing leaders.

Just like every other C-suite executive, the marketing leader has a vital role to play in the success of the company. Their understanding of clients or customers informs the direction other departments must move in, and their external communication educates the public on what the company does, what its brand is and what its value is. 

To further understand what sets marketing leaders apart from other leaders, CMSWire Insights recently conducted its first annual “State of CMO” survey, which received answers from more than 700 current marketing leaders and nearly 300 aspiring marketing leaders. This data provided valuable information to help us understand the role of the CMO on a deeper level — from the core skills that make people shine as marketing leaders to the technology investments that take their strategy to the next level, and beyond. 

Survey results paint a largely optimistic picture of the modern marketing leader. Even as customers, the market and the economy rapidly change, CMOs can lean on their creative thinking and flexibility to continue providing value to their companies. That being said, there are many modern challenges that leaders must be better prepared for.

Here are some of the key findings from the survey and how they can inform marketing leaders on their paths moving forward.

CMO's Most Vital Skill: Creative Thinking

Marketing leaders progressively develop new skills over time to respond to the changes in the world around them. For example, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, leaders had to begin thinking digital-first practically overnight. The tried-and-true strategies of the past did not cut it anymore. As new technologies come and go and as new trends upend the way successful marketing is done, CMOs must change a lot about what decisions they’re making and why. 

But even as these leaders gain new technical and soft skills in response to the world around them, there are some things that never change. Our survey identified the top competencies across many data cuts, and for every group the consensus was clear: Creative thinking is the most vital skill for marketing leaders to have. Much like HR leaders are employee advocates and learning leaders are people educators, marketing leaders see themselves as creative problem solvers. Other top competencies include strategic management and resilience. 

Being able to play nice with others is also vital to a CMO. Marketing is inherently a cross-functional job that requires input from sales, IT and executive leadership, among others. Good customer experience impacts the organization as a whole — including its brand recognition, its reputation and its ability to acquire new business. 

Related Article: Recessions: How CMOs Can Turn Hard Times Into Growth

The Changes on a CMO’s Radar

Our respondents have been working in the marketing field for an average of 15 years and have been marketing leaders for an average of nine years. Given this context, they have many years of experience in responding to new trends and predicting which direction the field is going.

According to the survey, most respondents agree that their role has changed in major ways over the past few years alone. Over a third say that their role now requires increased cross functional partnership with sales, that there is more pressure to improve the customer experience and that they have been tasked with digital transformation. Related to the need for digital transformation, about a third of respondents said they’ve had to increase their technical competencies significantly over the past three years.

Learning Opportunities

CMOs primarily rely on a few ways to develop new skills, especially through webinars, networking and taking courses. Some of the top competencies they want to develop are executive leadership, analytics and creative thinking. Aspiring marketing leaders understand the importance of developing their creative thinking skills, as well. Respondents also indicated which technical skills they want to improve in the next two years, and data-related skills won out by far. Sixty percent of leaders said they want to improve their ability to use data analytics/predictive analytics to make informed decisions, and 51% said they want to improve their ability to measure the effectiveness of their marketing strategy.

Related Article: The Top Challenges Facing CMOs in 2023

Looking Toward the Future of Marketing

Developing a future-proof strategy can help marketing leaders stay as ahead of the curve — and as ahead of the competition as possible. While there’s no way to predict the future of marketing with absolute certainty, marketing leaders are doing what they can to be able to predict trendsand respond to surprises quickly and effectively.

For example, the changing privacy regulation landscape has the potential to be a major stress for marketing teams, but more than half of survey respondents said they are only slightly concerned (or not at all concerned) about the impact of changing privacy regulations on their job. For companies who saw the writing on the wall and observed the direction that privacy laws were moving, they likely prepared themselves for the changes to come, making the impact of these laws less dramatic. 

In a world centered around digital transformation, data collection and analytics will also be a key area for marketing leaders to focus on in upcoming years. With the ability to collect, organize and analyze data into actionable insights, marketing leaders can use their creative thinking skills to come up with solutions that address real needs in their organization. With many leaders saying that ROI is difficult to measure, though, there’s a lot of work to be done in this space. 

Conclusion on the 'State of the CMO'

As the outside world changes, so too will the role of the CMO continue to evolve. The first annual “State of the CMO” survey revealed many trends to be optimistic about, including the CMO’s ability to constantly develop new skills, respond to challenging trends and further their organization's use of analytics in a useful way. There will also be many challenges that marketing leaders can expect, like the amount of work that true digital transformation requires. 

In this report, we dig deeper into our findings and into the secret behind the success of a modern marketing leader. We compare answers between companies with basic technical abilities and more technically mature organizations, which provides insight into the best practices for those organizations that want to be at the top of the pack and have the most advanced digital transformation. We explore the current state of analytics and measurement and identify areas in which many organizations need to upgrade their analytics strategy. For more information about these findings and beyond, check out the link below. 

Download the “State of the CMO 2023: Insights from the 2023 Annual Chief Marketing Officer Survey."