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The habits startup CMOs confess to having in 2023

by Andreas Voniatis Founder. Fractional SEO Consultant.

As part of our series focusing on CMOs and their essential role within a business, we share some candid interviews with marketing professionals in various types of businesses from start-ups to established tech companies and everything in between.

With so much emphasis on growing the business and keeping within budgets, CMOs are often stuck between trying to please other stakeholders in the business and justifying their marketing spend on the channels they choose. Whilst they’re experienced marketers and often very qualified individuals, they’re also human and can pick up ‘bad marketing habits’ to help them reach those all-important business targets.

In this piece, we share the ‘habits’ they admit to doing to keep the marketing ball rolling within their business as well as some other rather shocking secrets they share about their daily job.


The more common habits CMOs admit to

Within any role, there is the space to develop habits or cut corners that may help deliver quick results but can create bigger issues further down the line. For a CMO, these could be things like overlooking organic online growth, short-cutting code in the development phase, or setting high expectations for KPIs. Anything that saves time and delivers results is far more tempting than waiting to see or learning through trial and error.

When we asked the CMOs about the risks they saw within the business that their colleagues weren’t able to see and their answers often revealed some recurring bad habits they themselves had fallen into to please others.

One of the CMOs admitted that “What we thought we knew about our customer behaviour is out the window. It now requires more analysis but we just don’t have the time”. They went on to share “It’s become harder to understand how purchasing behaviour changes over time and what the customers do month on month changes which risks building top heavy funnel internally and ultimately leads to favouring quick win metrics”. 


Chasing ‘quick-wins’ 

Instead of being given the space to understand their customers and changing behaviours in the buying patterns, the ‘quick win’ chase becomes the only focus from other teams who are fixed on budgets and sales. This is a common bad habit for any marketer who wants to deliver good results from their activity and it can feel like the easier option than more analysis or research.

Identifying the need for further in-depth analysis is an important part of any great CMO’s role but when they’re being restrained by a business that doesn’t recognize the importance that customer analysis has for business growth, it can lead to choosing the easier option- quick-win metrics.


Skipping the test and learn phase

Another of the CMOs we spoke to shared that as someone who was fairly new to their role and the company, their ‘bad habit’ was striking the balance between testing and learning from campaigns; “I’m new in the firm so the focus on my work is huge. One of the challenges is figuring out the balance of test/learn from campaigns as the team grows. Giving adequate effort towards campaigns ie.. balancing speed vs focus. It can be easier to follow the stats”.

Working with two key challenges; a growing team and time constraints, it’s easy to understand why marketing professionals would opt to chase the figures instead of running more tests to understand their customer’s behaviours. Working in a new role too can bring its own pressures such as setting a good example to new team members, so when the business moves too quickly and has high expectations, it leaves space for habits to creep in.


Balancing input from the leadership teams

Another of the CMOs shared that their habits stemmed from not having enough time to execute the ‘best practices’ they were teaching or being trusted to make decisions on the creative messaging; “I still struggle with the balance between setting good foundations and executing. Battling with content creation, extracting angles and incorporating the wider business point of view. There is a real content gap at the thought leadership level.”

As part of their role, CMOs need to have buy-in from the leadership team as they work towards growing the business together. There also needs to be an understanding that CMOs are the experts in marketing and therefore need to be in control of content, not trying to bend their creativity to suit the leadership team.


The ‘shock’ SEO confessions

Some CMOs we spoke to admitted they were guilty of overlooking some key elements of their marketing strategy namely SEO and organic growth. Whilst it’s easy for an SEO professional to recognise the importance of investing in an online presence and making sure a website is optimised for search, it can also be shortsighted for a marketing professional to disregard it too. 

Some of the responses were they weren’t looking to collaborate with SEO agencies or weren’t sure where to start on measuring SEO and ROIs related to organic growth which is fine if your business relies more on sales but if you’re running the marketing department for a large tech firm, it matters. One of the marketing professionals shared his view with us; “It’s the balance between short and long-term activities. SEO is harder to predict so the internal appetite isn’t as high as it should be.”

As SEO is a longer-term marketing channel, it’s often dismissed as something ‘nice to have’. Wider teams don’t understand why it takes so long, it’s more complex than most marketers will admit– we could go on. The value of working on organic presence should outweigh these concerns but as many have shared, it just isn’t considered important enough by other decision-makers in the business. It’s one of the many challenges CMOs face in their daily role and a recurring theme that cropped up in our discussions. 


How do CMOs incorporate SEO into their marketing plans

If ignoring the need for SEO wasn’t enough of a ‘bad’ habit to admit to, throughout our discussions we asked each of the marketing professionals we spoke to the question; “How do you measure SEO” and their responses highlighted some wider issues with organic marketing.

One of the CMOs we spoke to admitted to skipping any sort of SEO or paid media efforts completely due to price; “We don’t do SEO or Paid Search because it costs money however, we’re growing so we have some marketing support.” Working in a digital-first space, it can feel like a bit of an own goal missing out on investing in both of these areas. It’s also where CMOs have to make bigger decisions about collaborating with agencies or freelancers to help bridge the gap. 

The CMO who shared this went on to say; “Truthfully, we don’t know this area, to make SEO work we need to make an effort but I’m not sure we have the capacity.” Being able to see the gaps is an essential part of being a CMO but bridging them is just as important. It might be another thing to add to the to-do list but finding and hiring a vetted SEO professional can really help businesses grow and marketers meet their ever-growing KPIs.

For many of the CMOs we spoke to, SEO is a luxury they either can’t afford or get buy-in to start exploring it. This then means they develop the habit of leaving it out of their marketing plans for the reasons we’ve shared above and likely many more. It’s an issue many marketing professionals face particularly when working in a start-up environment or within a smaller business with stringent budgets. 


How to break bad habits with SEO

Needing to get a quicker return on investment is essential for businesses that have tight budgets and SEO is a longer-term growth plan, not ideal. As with any role within a business, CMOs have to strike a balance between pleasing stakeholders and trying to grow a business whilst being creative with their marketing messages. 

It’s a lot for one person to deal with so it’s no surprise that when opportunities arise that can ‘cut corners’ or create bad habits, they have a lot of pressure on them to make businesses thrive. 

So, how can a CMO avoid creating bad habits with SEO in the first place? Working with a professional SEO who can pick up the slack and help provide the right results that will keep the leadership team happy and the business growing online. If you’re struggling to get your SEO off the ground or need a reliable expert to audit and advise your team, get in touch with Artios today.

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