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What is keeping CMOs up at night?

by Andreas Voniatis Founder. Fractional SEO Consultant.

We asked marketing professionals to share their fears and what they wrestle with daily in their role as Chief Marketing Officers, budget handlers and epic negotiators 

Chief marketing officers or CMOs are the marketing lifeline for businesses in any sector. 

They’re usually found strategising, planning and trying to stay on top of the ever-changing marketing landscape as well as keep up with the latest trends. They’ve got their hands full trying to convince stakeholders to invest their budgets in, and sharing results from their hard work and yet they still face a range of different challenges.

With more emphasis than ever on social media activity, brand awareness online and the evolution of marketing, in general, is cutting the budgets really the best decision for brands to make when times are tough for the finances?

We spoke to different CMOs within the tech industry and asked shared some personal insights into what trends they’re watching and what keeps them up at night, as well as other concerns they have for their job and the wider marketing impact for 2023.


So, what is a CMO?

Chief marketing officers have a few key responsibilities within the company to make sure the brand is being portrayed correctly and that marketing activities are reaching new audiences. They’re also responsible for planning, developing and implementing the business marketing strategy. They work typically across teams with finance and sales to understand what’s going on with their customers and the market in general.

CMOs also conduct market research, create and/or delegate copy for communications as well as focus on advertising and the general PR for the company. That’s a lot of plates to spin for one person and often for larger companies there is more than one chief of marketing to help spread the load.

The marketing professionals we spoke to are all working within the tech industry and whilst they work for a range of companies, they all shared very similar experiences when it comes to managing expectations, and budgets as well as creating content that will land with their customers all whilst continually proving their value to the wider business.

What CMOs typically wrestle with day-to-day

As well as being responsible for the entire business’s marketing strategy, CMOs also wrestle with other elements that come with being the face and voice of a brand. We asked our interviewees to share a typical issue they have to wrestle with in their daily job to which they revealed some rather hard truths.

One of the CMOs we spoke to said one of the things she wrestles with daily is trying to get buy-in from her colleagues internally:

Educating people on a lot of the strategies. My job is spent convincing people what will work, so helping people understand marketing and research to trust what I do. And batting off criticisms and questions.” 

With so many eyes on the marketing plan, it’s no wonder that CMOs spend a lot of time convincing people their strategy will work. Another CMO we spoke to echoed that sentiment:

I feel like there is so much we could be doing. But with time spent managing expectations and circling back as well as sharing many good ideas, we’re left spending time prioritising and managing expectations.”

Another daily wrestle for many marketing professionals is choosing the right moves to make for the wider business. The marketing team is responsible for bringing in sales, raising awareness of the brand as well as future-proofing the business and planning for growth, as one of the CMOs shared with us;

“For me, it’s getting the balance right between marketing activity that delivers immediate results and those that scale.  Do we go for the next round of fundraising or get 10K customers down the line?” 

Making the right decision for the business is a lot to wrestle with and as each daily decision shapes the future of the company, being confident in your marketing activities is essential. This was shared by a fellow CMO who felt she was often expected to speed up her decision-making for the marketing strategy:

I often wrestle with too many rushed decisions without full due diligence. Necessary decisions aren’t made because of dithering. From other colleagues in other departments. I then wrestle with the question how do we ensure that we are not suffocating the staff intelligence with compromising speed to market?”

Another issue is time. We all face the problem of not having enough hours in a day, but as one CMO puts it, marketing in 2023 is always-on. That means being responsive on social media or reacting to a customer’s email at any point. Understandably, there aren’t enough hours to be able to respond 24/7 as one CMO shares

There’s simply not enough time and hours in the day. Marketing never stops.”

One way to help the issue of workload and spreading expertise across social media, SEO and OOH marketing channels is to collaborate with leading agencies who can help bring expertise to a particular marketing channel, allowing CMOs to focus on everything else.


What is keeping CMOs up at night

Making the right decision as the marketing officer is one of the recurring parts of the job that is keeping people up at night. It’s often down to the CMO to make big decisions that impact the wider business almost immediately, as one of the marketers shared with us:

“For me, it’s getting the balance right between marketing activity that delivers immediate results and those that scale.  Do we go for the next fundraise or get 10K customers down the line?”. 

Without being able to predict the future of the business, CMOs have to make decisions that will help grow the business. It’s a lot of pressure for one person to deal with, as another CMO shares their own concerns about a rapidly growing business:

We’re a complex business growing quickly, so what is the future of our marketing strategy? How can marketing support the business to achieve its goals in terms of team roles and structure? I’m personally doing absolutely everything  I can but how can I evolve the team to do these most effectively– do we build more generalists or specialists? The last thing we want to do is ‘hire then fire’.”

Being at the forefront of growth is a double-edged sword as many startups have ‘growing pains’ which CMOs often feel first.

As marketers are often judged by the results they deliver, another common fear keeping CMOs up is hitting their targets and sticking to the KPIs they’ve set for themselves and the wider business. One CMO shared with us the thing that keeps her awake

It’s hitting my numbers and the qualified leads I have to deliver.” 

It can be a lot of pressure for just one team and one person heading up the team to be responsible for budgets and delegating to the right people to maximise the marketing collateral, as one of our CMOs shares:

“How to make the budget work. Resourcing is tight, and operations are contracting yet we still have pressure to grow.  I’m often left asking myself ‘Can we leverage content more effectively? How do we ensure content resonates and is visible? What content should we produce? Having all these questions but knowing how to make sense of it, and often in the middle of the night!”

As well as internal budgets, CMOs and marketing professionals are worried about the general economic climate currently around the world. Recovering from a global pandemic and working through a recession means there is less money to spend on consumer goods, as one CMO shared:

I’m currently kept awake by the economy which is hard if your audience has no budget to bring on new tech.” 

The concern for the wider financial climate is echoed by another CMO we spoke to who shared:

We have a multitude of headwinds cost of living, covid, economic crisis, and war affecting campaign performance. So understanding that change correctly is keeping me awake”.

The extra concerns CMOs share come with the love and passion they have for the job and indicate a deeper understanding of their own audiences and their own issues, outside of being a customer or engaging with a brand. Having compassion for your audiences and an understanding of the economic landscape is a necessary evil of working closely with people but also shows CMOs are much more than the people who run social media campaigns.


And the best part of being a CMO?

Whilst it may feel like doom and despair amongst our creative marketers, it isn’t all bad news! We also asked all the CMOs we spoke to, to share their best parts- the things that make them jump out of bed in the morning! And as we suspected, they are definitely passionate and dedicated to their job.

One CMO shared that her favourite part of the job was:

“The power we have in marketing to change people’s perception of the brand we’re creating is the best part, for me. People always think we’re much bigger than we are which is great. It helps that I really enjoy the company I work for.”

We’ve touched on, a big part of a CMO’s role is to get buy-in from other teams so it’s no surprise when one CMO shared that her favourite part of her job was when:

marketing is respected and there have been a few opportunities to show wins.  I’m always excited to share smaller wins too. So we have monthly all-hands sessions to give marketing that showcase.  I also love thinking outside the box. We have an element to unleash that creativity to connect with our student audiences. It’s exciting to see creative ideas, and see where we can do some exciting things with resources.”

As well as having a great rapport with customers and the audiences you’re reaching, one essential part of marketing is sales. Arguably, CMOs have the tough job of focusing on both sales and marketing activities, understanding the positive impact one has on the other. It comes as no surprise then that one of the CMOs mentioned his favourite part of the job:

Sales, I love closing the sale that comes from cold outreach. A warm introduction is the best lead but a cold lead that turns into business is the most exciting part of my job”.

Of course, one of the best parts of their job is the freedom to be creative and market the brand to the best of its capability (in an ideal world!) which is something a creative CMO told us she loved about her job:

“the freedom to unleash creativity to do what you want and put ideas into motion, which is exciting.”

And who’s to argue with that? One of the best parts of being the Chief Marketing Officer is having autonomy over the brand and being able to reach new customers with creative campaigns and content that has real meaning to them. Putting users at the heart of marketing is helping shape the industry and position brands as being helpful and consumer-led, instead of more traditional marketing efforts that tried to speak to everyone. 

This is supported by a fellow CMO who told us their favourite part of the job is being user-focused:

better use of data for personalisation and automation to provide the best UX. There’s so much untapped potential and opportunity to make something fun and not fraught.”

There is much more to the role of ‘CMO’ which we will be exploring as part of a series throughout 2023. Whilst these are just some challenges that tech CMOs are facing currently, there is also a lot to get excited about as the marketing industry continues to evolve and adapt to the rapidly changing consumer landscape.

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