The Next CMO: An Evolving Profile

Dec 10, 2022

  • With more ways to reach and interact with customers than ever, today’s CMO is expected to possess an increasingly broader range of skills.

  • Burgeoning virtual spaces are adding a new level of complexity to the CMO role.

  • Compensation requirements and the desire to work virtually are presenting potential CMO hiring challenges.

  • CMO candidates who demonstrate a willingness to learn, grow and develop are at an advantage.

The NEXT CMO: An Evolving Profile

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{Want more of the NEXT series? Check out volume 1 exploring the evolution of the supply chain leader, volume 2 showcasing the progression of the chief revenue officer, and volume 3 analyzing the demand for ESG leadership.}

No role that exists functionally across an organization is required to continuously evolve more than the chief marketing role. The CMO must evolve based not only on macroeconomic shifts but progressive marketing and technology trends. The lead marketer has to understand how to best reach & communicate to key target audiences – and that is changing day by day.

According to Kantar’s recent 2023 Media Trends & Predictions report, “With the cost-of-living crisis showing no signs of abating, geopolitical conflict within Europe and a climate crisis whose shrill call to urgent action is growing by the day, consumers everywhere are rapidly changing their behaviors.”

The pressure on the CMO to drive growth, help lead business transformation, understand its audience, and keep pace with an increasingly complex marketing landscape and customer behavior has never been higher.

The skillset of today’s successful CMO reflects the channel expansion that has been drastically altering the way organizations sell to and interact with their customers.

According to ON partner Lynda Robey, “In demand are data-oriented marketers who understand how to determine market segmentation and personalization in order to spend marketing dollars efficiently. They need to understand how to acquire customers through both the upper channel as well as social channels, and they must possess a depth of focus around CRM and loyalty to drive relationships and customer retention.”

“Lead marketers today are not longer just responsible for building brand awareness, creative development, advertising, demand generation or customer acquisition. They are experts in the full cycle of the experience and all the touchpoints that come with it for a customer,” states Vicky Wilkens, Chief Marketing Officer at ON Partners.


“We’ve seen the CMO move from a functional leader to a business critical leader. This can include now overseeing the customer experience, innovation, product, data & insights, strategy and sales.”

{Want more of the NEXT series? Check out volume 1 exploring the evolution of the supply chain leader, volume 2 showcasing the progression of the chief revenue officer, and volume 3 analyzing the demand for ESG leadership.}

The Impact of More Virtual Spaces on CMOs


One relatively new touchpoint and brand opportunity that continues to gain customer interest and interaction is the metaverse, and this new frontier is adding an additional level of complexity to the CMO role. Organizations are seeking smart marketers who can test and lean into these virtual spaces that have the potential to serve the brand well.

With social & digital media, in particular, it continues to be the responsibility of the CMO to find the balance between a spend in activities that build the brand with those that can be directly measured around customer acquisition and conversion.

An increasing number of companies are looking for ways to express their mission and vision in all the ways they interact with their customers, and CMOs are central to that responsibility.

“There is an elevated place for strong and strategic brand marketers who have the ability to harness a company’s reason for being, its north star, to really break through,” adds Robey. “Those who are looking to broaden their skills to include product and ecommerce in addition to traditional responsibilities will have a superpower in today’s market.”

Who Owns the Customer Journey?


Virtually every organization struggles with who genuinely owns the customer relationship. While marketers used to be closest to the customer because they were conducting market research and adhering to the historical CPG method of the “4 Ps of product, price, place and promotion”, that ideology living in marketing alone no longer holds true.

Customer data is much more accessible across the organization and most product, sales, strategy, data and people divisions of an organization have to understand the customer base.

Marketers are increasingly interested in positions in which they have responsibility for the product itself, specifically martech products and technology – areas that impact the ability to measure the efficacy of marketing activity and/or ensure the customer has the best journey possible and optimize that journey.

Companies are seeking marketers with a breadth of capabilities who can do it all from end to end. The reality is that if they haven’t served as acting CMO, senior marketers who are ready for the CMO role have likely only owned two or three of the key areas of responsibility they’ll be asked to hold in the CMO seat. Clients need to be smart about exactly what they want and what their ideal CMO candidate needs to bring to the table.

For a CMO search, this means a shift in strategy.

In many cases, hiring organizations don’t even know what attributes they need from their chief marketer because the requirements are evolving so quickly. Compared to several years ago, telling a brand’s story today requires someone who is able to keep up with the likes of TikTok, online influencers, the metaverse…the list goes on.

From an executive search perspective, there are many ways into the CMO role. For example, a recent client of ON focused in the QSR space, needed a leader who comes from an agency background and understands how to advertise to a target audience and manage agency relationships.

By contrast, another partnering organization of ON in the healthcare space, wanted first and foremost a focus on ESG, and the leaders’ direct impact on the community and social causes.

A CMO can come from a sales, research, data, or customer experience background since all of these roles incorporate marketing now. It’s an interesting time in terms of what CMOs own and what is not under their realm – and it differs greatly across companies. 

“The type of candidate a client thought they wanted, someone with corporate marketing experience in retail and QSR, for example, could change to focus more on agency experience,” noted partner Josh Nathanson.


“With one client, we ended up placing a senior marketer who had experience in both areas and who understood how to drive consumers to the client’s app with an experience that would keep them coming back. Ecommerce in this particular need was key.”

How have Compensation and Location Changed for CMOs?


Hiring top marketers has become significantly more expensive as demand for highly experienced CMOs has taken off. Clients are having to choose to either pay what the market demands or hire less experienced executives.

“The cost of doing business is much higher than two years ago and this comes as a surprise to many clients,” adds Nathanson. “Way more importance is being placed on understanding the customer journey, and the value of the best candidates has gone up exponentially – and a lot of that is COVID-related.”

As a result of the pandemic workplace shift, top marketers often prefer not to relocate or go into an office environment at all, and this new work model remains a priority for many candidates. As they opt for a work from home or hybrid model, positions in what is considered less desirable locations remain harder to place.

Is Automation Replacing Marketers?


The pandemic has also brought a shift toward automated marketing tools that in many cases have replaced marketers and designers who previously drove marketing outreach.  Largely a result of headcount reductions due to COVID, automation has become a valuable tool for marketers who need to be well versed in bringing messages to market quickly and cost-effectively.

Those who understand how to get the most out of the software and tools available to them are at a competitive advantage.

“Hiring companies shouldn’t underestimate the value of the operational side of marketing,” noted Wilkens. “It may not be as sexy as the creative part of the job, but the best marketers know how to use these tools to their advantage.”


“Many times, executive leadership teams hiring a new CMO are not even sure how to prioritize automation and martech into their list of priorities for their next CMO – but the understanding of how to utilize automation and streamline it quickly within the marketing organization is paramount for an incoming CMO.”

CMOs’ Willingness to Learn and Grow is Key


“Particularly in situations where a client has a long roster of skills they need from a CMO, we often seek out candidates who are collaborative, inquisitive, and who demonstrate a willingness to learn, grow and develop, notes Robey. “I love seeing marketers who raise their hands for special projects if they’re not able to take on more functional responsibilities in their current organization.”


“Helping with international expansion, picking up a small product line for an ecommerce business that’s been underserved, getting involved in a culture initiative like DEI…there are tremendous opportunities for marketers to venture outside their comfort zone and gain broader access to functions – and it’s a great way to demonstrate to a potential employer that they can accomplish new goals.


When I speak with young marketers about their career path, I encourage them to be thoughtful and strategic about how they learn and to raise their hands and volunteer to broaden their exposure and responsibility.”

No senior executive is required to adapt more quickly and demonstrate an understanding of a constantly expanding list of channels and tools than a chief marketer. If they don’t, they risk becoming irrelevant in this ever-changing marketplace.

Download Here

{Want more of the NEXT series? Check out volume 1 exploring the evolution of the supply chain leader, volume 2 showcasing the progression of the chief revenue officer, and volume 3 analyzing the demand for ESG leadership.}

About ON Partners

Since 2006, ON Partners is the only pure-play executive search firm building diverse C-level and board leadership teams. We rebuilt the institution of executive search for the way you work. Our approach includes present partners who engage with their clients from the first brief to the final decision, individually crafted solutions that are unique to each client, and an easier experience all around. Named by Forbes as one of America’s Best Executive Recruiting Firms and to the Inc. 500/5000 Lists nine times, ON Partners is consistently ranked among the top 20 retained executive search firms in the U.S.

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