Four Attributes of an Exceptional Chief Marketing Officer

 Four Attributes of an Exceptional Chief Marketing Officer


By Michelle Boggs

Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) is considered one of the most dangerous titles, according to a 2015 Forbes article. Because CMOs play such a large role in increasing both brand recognition and sales, hiring the right CMO is crucial to the overall success of any business.

As the definition of marketing continues to expand, so does the skill set CMOs are required to possess. An effective CMO can no longer solely concentrate on one component of marketing—they must have multi-dimensional marketing and business acumen and experience.

When searching for a CMO, consider these four attributes before making a decision.

Business Focus

Creativity and innovation are not the only character traits that go into a successful CMO. A good CMO must understand all the moving parts of an organization, and be able to effectively communicate the organization’s marketing activities between them.

According to a 2014 Harvard Business Review study, “Companies with excellent marketing capabilities outperform the market with two to three times greater revenue growth.” This trend indicates that, particularly where marketing departments are concerned, organizations have an incentive to react quickly and respond with urgency.

To achieve this, companies are looking to hire CMOs with business development and sales backgrounds because they have experience staying in-tune with their customer’s needs and behaviors. CMOs with business knowledge also understand the signs of a changing market and are aware of how frequently the “voice” of the customer evolves. Failure to recognize and address this shift can cost companies millions in revenue and negatively impact their reputation and client base.


Digital marketing has revolutionized the way customers interact with goods and services and made making a data-driven CMO instrumental to a company’s success.

McKinsey’s DataMatics 2013 survey illustrates companies using customer analytics extensively are more than twice as likely to generate above-average profits as those that do not. They also surpass their peers across the entire customer lifecycle, are nine times more likely to enjoy superior customer loyalty, and a remarkable 23 times more likely to outperform less analytical peers on new-customer acquisition.

It is important to point out that digital marketing tactics require more than data-driven expertise to make them effective. CMOs must also be able to visualize each marketing initiative from a design and technical standpoint.


A company’s tone and culture are set from the top, so any executive, regardless of title, needs to have strong leadership capabilities. While CMOs are typically high-energy, creative, and fast-paced individuals, they must also be able to lead a team. Their job requires them to motivate and encourage team members, and help other leaders grow.

CMOs like Apple’s Phil Schiller; Ralph Lauren’s David Lauren; General Motors’s Tim Mahoney; Ford’s Jim Farley; and Hasbro’s John Frascotti didn’t just make Forbes’s 50 most influential CMOs list for having outstanding technical and execution capabilities, they made the list because their opinions have meaning and create reactions both inside and outside their respective companies. Likewise, these CMOs understand their job titles aren’t what make them great leaders.

While a majority of CMOs will not land on Forbes’s coveted list, they can still serve as influential figures within their own organization by creating a clear communication channel. CMOs need to share their ideas and practice transparency not only with the executive team or marketing department, but also with all employees, in order to earn credibility and respect. CMOs today are expected to take an active role in contributing to the company’s overall culture and vision.

Personality Traits

It is not enough to be a marketing guru, business-focused, and have stellar leadership skills. The aforementioned traits are nothing without the X-factor, the intangible personality traits present in all great CMOs. Yes, effective CMOs are visionary, confident, and inspiring. However, those aren’t the only traits that make a suitable leader. When conducting interviews for your next CMO, executives should evaluate a candidate’s emotional intelligence, their EQ. By definition, EQ is the ability to recognize the emotions of others as well as your own, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior. The correlation between EQ and performance is so strong that 90 percent of top performers are also high in EQ (TalentSmart).

Although difficult to quantify, EQ can be seen by addressing these questions:

  • How curious are they to learn about others?
  • How do they communicate their emotions?
  • How do they deal with change?
  • How well do they understand their strengths and weaknesses?

Highly emotional, intelligent people are curious in nature, can communicate their emotions clearly, are flexible to change, and embrace their strengths and weaknesses.

While there are many variables that go into finding the best CMO for an organization, including these four key attributes in the search will provide a strong foundation for hiring a successful CMO.

As McKinley Marketing Partners’ co-founder and first employee, Michelle now serves as the company’s President and CEO. Her leadership, courage, and instinct for optimizing business processes and procedures have driven McKinley’s growth and solidified its reputation for consistently providing high-quality marketing talent. McKinley Marketing Partners is a WBENC-Certified Women’s Business Enterprise with offices in Dallas & Houston.


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