How to Become a Chief Marketing Officer

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under Online Master of Business Administration

Co-workers sitting at a desk reviewing digital and paper charts and graphs.

A Master of Business Administration degree offers a wide range of opportunities to students. This is particularly true of the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business Online MBA program. Not only is this an incredibly detailed and comprehensive MBA degree, but students can also select from five career-focused specializations to ensure that their studies will best align with their future occupational goals.

One of these available specializations is marketing, which enables students to study topics and concepts like data-driven marketing, permission marketing, consumer behavior and the overall customer experience. Students will learn how marketing supports the success of the company, and its ability to properly serve its customer audience.

Currently, more than 15% of our University of Maryland MBA graduates are employed in the field of marketing or sales. One of the roles graduates may be well-suited for is chief marketing officer. However, the responsibilities involved in this role have considerably changed in recent years. It’s important for students to understand what is expected of executives in modern corporate marketing departments.

Let’s explore the chief marketing officer job description in more detail, including the tasks, research and strategy these professionals carry out, as well as the level of salary typical of the CMO role.

Chief Marketing Officer: An Overview

The chief marketing officer is an executive-level role responsible for creating, strategizing, planning and executing the company’s marketing efforts. While the marketing campaigns the CMO organizes and oversees are usually created to support the sales team, there are an array of other marketing approaches as well. These include marketing to support brand awareness, event marketing, market positioning and beyond. While supporting and enabling the sales team is a leading priority, and the CMO will work very closely with the head of the sales team, encouraging customer sales isn’t the only goal for this chief officer.

It is also up to the CMO to help define the business’s market differentiator, or the competitive advantage the company has over other similar brands or providers. This officer will also engage in industry research to better understand the positioning of the brand within its market vertical, TechTarget notes.

Because much of the focus of the CMO’s role revolves around creating collateral for the brand’s customers, this executive must also have an in-depth understanding of the needs and preferences of the audience. This might include demographic information about the company’s customers, purchase history and return data, as well as a wide range of other customer-related data points. With this detail about customer preferences, the CMO can establish marketing materials and branding that speaks to these shoppers’ needs and resonates with their interests.

In addition to understanding the company’s market competitors and customer needs, the chief marketing officer may also work collaboratively with the business’s partners and supply chain providers. Marketing efforts in this area may serve to highlight a key business partnership or support a specific product line with the help of the company’s partner organizations.

All of this research and information will help inform the business’s marketing strategy. For instance, the CMO may create a digital marketing campaign around the company’s market differentiator, and work to boost awareness of this competitive advantage among the organization’s customer audience.

Overall, the CMO is an executive who has a variety of different responsibilities. Not only do they focus on customer outreach, advertising and branding, but they must also turn their attention to the overarching market the company operates within and maintain a keen eye on supply chain partners.

Role Responsibilities

The CMO typically engages in work processes like:

  • Market research: As mentioned above, the CMO will leverage existing market and industry reports, and may also use their own traditional key performance indicator measurements or other data analysis. The goal is to get the best possible understanding of where the business stands in its market sector, who its top competitors are, and how this market position can be improved in the immediate and long-term future.
  • Target audience research: Without a clear picture of the business’ target audience, the types of customers who are included in this group and these shoppers’ top preferences, a CMO may create strategy that doesn’t resonate. This can equate to critical marketing dollars being wasted. That’s why it is up to the CMO and other members of the marketing team to build a detailed understanding of the brand’s target audience. This encompasses both current customers (namely those who spend the most, offer repeat business and are loyal to the brand) as well as other potential consumers who are similar to the company’s current top clients.
  • Set marketing goals and objectives: As PayScale points out, the chief marketing officer is also responsible for defining the business’s marketing and sales-related goals. These objectives can be related to several different areas, including sales and conversion rates, subscription or email newsletter signups, the number of engagements and impressions on social media and other digital channels, etc. In addition to setting these goals, the CMO also provides guidance to sales, marketing and other teams on the best practices and strategies required to achieve them.
  • Assist with and maintain the marketing budget: The CMO role involves certain financial skills as well. Because this is an executive-level position, the CMO will work with other executives to develop the marketing budget. It is also the CMO’s responsibility to ensure that marketing efforts are aligned with the budget, and that the marketing department doesn’t overspend.
  • Establish marketing strategy: This is a critical function of the CMO’s job. Using data gathered from market and customer research, the CMO can work with the rest of the marketing team to craft the company’s overarching marketing strategy, as well as detailed approaches depending on the campaign or marketing channel used. For instance, a business may have a specific social media strategy that is just one portion of its overall hub-and-spoke marketing strategy. These approaches serve to support the marketing goals the CMO created, and may also benefit other areas like customer outreach, brand awareness and more.
  • Guide and execute on strategy plans: Once the business’ marketing strategy has been created and the necessary steps detailed, the CMO guides the rest of the marketing and sales teams to execute this strategy.
  • Measure strategy results and ROI: After launching and completing a campaign or portion of the business’s marketing strategy, the CMO will analyze the results and overall return on investment. This measurement and ROI analysis process can include checking the results of campaigns against the company’s established marketing goals and related key performance indicators. The CMO may also look to measure elements like the number of customers who engaged with the brand over time, any increases in sales and other important marketing metrics.

As PayScale points out, the CMO may also be involved in recruitment and hiring for the marketing team and will work to help assess new hires and ensure they are a good fit.

Overall, many of the responsibilities tied to the CMO role are ongoing. Market research data and customer preferences, for instance, are continually changing. Thus, a business’s marketing strategy must also shift to account for these changes in the market and new consumer tastes.

Chief Marketing Officer Salary

According to PayScale, the current average salary for the CMO role is $173,196 annually. However, the lowest 10% of earners in this role make about $88,000 per year. The highest end of the earning spectrum for CMOs is approximately $258,000 in salary annually.

The salary for this position can vary depending on the company, the region in which it is located, as well as the years of experience a candidate has. PayScale found that those with one year or less of experience typically make closer to $84,000 in salary annually, whereas those with five to nine years of experience can expect to earn $136,000 annually. In addition, CMOs working for companies in California, for example, generally make a 33% higher salary than other areas. Companies in Seattle, on the other hand, offer salaries that are 4% lower than the average.

Candidates with specific qualifications and expertise may also be rewarded with higher salaries. Skills including branding, digital marketing, marketing communication and other capabilities can help increase the potential earning power of CMOs.

CMO or Marketing VP: What’s the Difference?

While somewhat similar in a handful of ways, there are key distinctions between the role of the chief marketing officer and that of the marketing vice president.

The CMO is a part of the executive board, and thus will have closer interactions with other C-suite executives, compared to the level of interaction the vice president of marketing has with the company’s board members. In other words, while the CMO is a business leader, the marketing VP is a marketing leader, and more akin to a department superior than an executive board member, Marketo points out.

In addition, while the CMO will help create and oversee the marketing budget, this financial side of things typically isn’t something that the marketing VP engages with. The VP must defer to the CMO in the budget area and align their work with the CMO’s recommendations.

The CMO role involves additional analysis and metrics-related workloads compared to that of the marketing VP. Processes like ROI analysis, measuring the results of marketing campaigns and keeping track of other hard metrics like purchases and revenues fall to the CMO. The marketing VP, on the other hand, will still engage with soft metrics and some measurements, but not to the extent that the CMO does.

How the CMO Role has Changed

As alluded to above, the work of the chief marketing officer is often ongoing and continuously changing according to shifting customer preferences, emerging marketing trends and strategies, and other technological capabilities like social media and data analysis.

These changing elements are influencing the structure of the CMO role as well. Forbes contributor Steve Olenski pointed out in an early 2018 article that the CMO position is broadening to include more areas of expertise, namely in areas like digital content production, brand reputation management and emotional engagement with customers.

This expansion of the role’s responsibilities has also caused some organizations to completely rename the role to “chief growth officer.”

“There’s a growing realization that marketing isn’t just about ‘making things pretty’ and ‘supporting the sales process,’” Forbes Communications Council member Allen Yesilevich wrote in an article published in late 2019. “Rather, business leaders are starting to see marketing as a catalyst for creating sustainable growth fueled by a passionate focus on the end customer.”

This makes skills including ROI and campaign analysis, as well as measuring customer preferences and the customer experience, increasingly imperative for candidates. Today’s CMOs aren’t just responsible for crafting the company’s branding — they must also back their efforts with deep, data-driven insights relating to their market sector and the specific needs and demands of their target audience.

CMOs with experience or a background in technology will also have an advantage in the current job market, as the use of technological analysis platforms and emerging digital channels continue to rise.

“Today’s technology platforms provide organizations with the means to better understand and analyze our customers’ needs, while simultaneously commencing a sales cycle before a salesperson conducts their first qualifying call,” Yesilevich noted. “The various digital platforms give marketers a way to send tailored communication more frequently and deliver informational value to a prospect.”

Becoming a CMO: Requirements

The chief marketing role is consistently evolving based on new marketing trends, technology, customer demands and an array of other elements. Today’s CMOs need skills in a wider variety of areas, including technology, finance, data analysis and more.

One of the best ways to achieve these skills and experience is to take part in a comprehensive MBA program like the Online Master of Business Administration offered by the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland.

This program offers a Marketing concentration, which delves into concepts like creating the customer experience, customer equity management, data analysis and more. Students can also elect to follow a General Track within the Online MBA, which helps expose them to a wider range of MBA-related concepts in each of the program’s available specializations.

The majority of employers today require that CMO candidates hold a master’s level degree. This makes a program like the Online MBA a smart investment for students who strive to earn an executive-level marketing role.

To find out more, check out our website and connect with one of our enrollment advisors today.


Recommended Readings:

Pursuing an MBA: When you need it and why you should get it

Maryland Smith’s Online MBA Program Ranks Among Top 10



Tech Target, Chief Marketing Officer

PayScale, Chief Marketing Officer Salary

Forbes, Why A Chief Marketing Officer’s Role Is Now What It Used To Be

Forbes, The Chief Growth Officer and The Evolution of the Marketing Head

Marketo, Are you a CMO or a VP of Marketing?

Online MBA Degree | UMD Online Business Degrees

Online MBA Degree | MBA Career Options

Online MBA Curriculum | UMD Online Business Degrees