shutterstock_285431879Profiling what works in the C-suite — and placing optimal talent there — is all in a day’s work for Richard Sanderson and Norm Yustin, co-leads of the marketing officers practice of Russell Reynolds Associates. They shared their insight and the findings of a new study with a highly engaged audience at the April 14 Business Marketing Association luncheon. In this study, by going “inside the mind of the chief marketing officer,” Russell Reynolds Associates found that a unique, strong personality type must sit in the C-suite’s transforming marketing role. They also shared a cautionary perspective, warning that some key traits making CMOs successful can also prevent them from becoming CEOs.

According to Norm, the marketplace is moving so fast that the modern buyer’s behavior is evolving faster than companies can change to keep up. Business models and cultures are moving at a slower pace, and yet the need to transform requires a special kind of leader. It’s a precarious position to be in when so much is expected of the marketing leader. They must bring the fuel for change, as well as the structure and “glue” to keep everyone together on the journey. That’s a tall order.

Four key themes are shaping the future role of the CMO: personalization, participation, proliferation and persuasion. If this sounds like a new set of P’s for marketers, you’d be right.

  • Personalization: This is not just about “Hi [name].” Consumers expect that their preferences are known in terms of content, offers and even method of delivery.
  • Participation: Engagement is the new marketing. Getting clients to want to act is not the issue — they expect you to give them the means (and the reason) to do it.
  • Proliferation: “Omnichannel” is a fancy word for “a lot of marketing channels.” Gone is the simpler world of media outlets you could count on one hand. And now they all must be integrated and optimized, too.
  • Persuasion: To unify efforts across all functions in the company, partnership and influence are key.

This leadership requirement is unique in the C-suite, and taking it on requires a special type of executive profile.

The CMO role is evolving to include lead growth, innovation and digital transformation, so depending on what the company requires, the focus may be on any one of these. The position may require a different title — chief growth officer, chief innovation officer or even chief digital officer. Sometimes these roles coexist with a CMO, which can cause some turbulence.

Research Highlights

Interestingly, CMOs are statistically different from their C-suite peers on 17 of 60 psychometric attributes. Compare that to CEOs, who only differ on four. No other C-suite role has more points of difference. The CMO scores particularly high on imagination: almost 50% higher than the average of other executives.

On the plus side, CMOs are innovative and pioneering, are more imaginative, enjoy brainstorming, don’t like to be bound by rules or conform, and work well in matrixed organizations. This makes them well suited to leading the transformation mentioned earlier. But there are two sides to every coin, and as a result, CMOs can be perceived as not tactical enough (offering big ideas but no follow-through) or as prioritizing strategy over execution. Their bold style may not unify everyone who needs to come along on the transformative journey they have been tasked with leading.

The CMO personality profile is very consistent across industries, however. As a matter of fact, Russell Reynolds Associates found no statistical differences based on industry. The traits are the foundation, and industry specifics can be learned. This runs counter to the prevailing notion that industry experience is important when hiring a CMO.

Put Your Personality Profile to Work

So how can a CMO make this unique personality profile work in their favor? Know your allies: Connect with other change agents, such as the chief digital officer and the CIO. Know that the change enablers are the CEO and COO, and understand that the CFO and general counsel can help manage risk. Learn from CDOs about how to manage accountability as well — they are wired for results and reporting.

Richard and Norm ended their talk with some great advice for marketers aspiring to be CMOs. Know the core personality traits, they advised, and work hard to ensure that your strengths don’t become weaknesses. Realize that title and position are not enough, and the focus should always be on providing value. Be aware of your own personal gaps, and don’t hide from them — it’s OK to keep building skills throughout your career, and learning industry insights takes time.

And remember: Your resume gets you in the door, but you must convince the hiring team that you have what it takes to be a trusted, cohesive member of the team. The entire package matters.