Article | 15 Nov 2022

The Changing Role of the CMO: 3 Insights Into its Impact on Start-Ups & Scale Ups

Posted in Business, Marketing, Startups, Client,

The expansion of digitalisation has shifted how businesses operate their marketing. Brands are driven to provide curated customer experiences, integrated marketing and complex sequences are in more demand, and many businesses are realising the benefits of well-defined strategies.

So it's no wonder that the role of the CMO has changed too. Smaller, and rapidly scaling businesses are unlocking the benefits, proving how critical CMOs are to business' marketing success.

We've summarised our top three insights from our recent webinar, all about the CMO and its changing role in start-ups and scale ups.

Watch the full webinar here. Featuring Quentin Poiraud, CMO at Betao AB, Jadis Tillery, Interim CMO, and Sophia Ahrel, Marketing and Brand Strategist. Chaired by Madeleine Weightman, Co-Founder of The Work Crowd.

Insight #1: The CMO is still a visionary

…but the vision is different. When we consider the traditional CMO, we might equate the role with someone charismatic, a bold leader with 'big picture' ideas. We might also equate it with more traditional marketing, such as TV ads and newspaper spots.

Now, the way a CMO operates within a business is different. CMOs are well-integrated into the marketing team and aligned to other department leads. Big picture thinking is still relevant, but it's now paired with an in-depth understanding of a business' objectives, customer behaviours, and the market.

"The biggest change we've seen is how the CMO is now a necessity. It's now much more closely tied to business needs and deliverables - not just beautiful, award-winning ad campaigns."

- Jadis Tillery, Interim CMO

This has also played a role in establishing marketing tactics and more so, holistic strategies as business critical. What was once considered a 'nice-to-have', marketing has risen through the ranks to become an imperative for businesses regardless of size or sector, and one that directly impacts the company's bottom line.

Key Takeaway: Start-ups and scale ups should aim to move fast

For start-ups and scale ups, speed is key. Be swift to source a great CMO, to conduct relevant research and determine action, to spot errors and rectify them. Launching and expanding a business can be complex and costly, but locking in your strategic approach to marketing enables you to set a path, and build and refine it as you progress.

Insight #2: Creativity vs. data? There's a time and a place for both 

One of the most common discussions - and disagreements - in marketing is whether your strategy should lean on creativity as a primary steer, or data. While both are crucial in tandem, the real bottom line is: it depends on your company's lifecycle stage and current trajectory.

Start-ups, for example, should consider prioritising data. Done right, this informed approach will enable you to reach target demographics at a time when you're still building your outreach and your understanding of their behaviour. More established businesses, such as scale ups, might consider exercising greater creativity to reach a wider audience type, and in support of their PR activity.

"Investors want to see results and are often interested in creating scientifically-led marketing. But if you're not innovative in your product development, go to market strategy, positioning and so on, you won't be successful."

- Sophia Ahrel, Interim CMO

This is the importance of determining your benchmark for success, and correlating marketing activity with the end outcome. Directors at start-ups will be driven by growth - in customers, sales, visits. At scale ups, these are most certainly priorities. But there could also be emphasis on brand awareness and perception, and expanding the types of audiences a brand is reaching.

Key Takeaway: Select your priority, but don't exclude the other

It's reasonable to want creativity and data to work equally, in tandem. At start-ups and scale ups, this could be 'biting off more than you can chew'. To optimise resources, consider selecting a primary focus, then work to include the other. If your strategy is led by data, including seemingly small creative details (i.e. in your brand or positioning) can have significant impact on its market engagement and success. Likewise, if you've experimented with a creative campaign, closely track and analyse performance to create greater market understanding, and enhance future activity. 

Insight #3: CMO success is all about synchronicity in experience and communication

There are a number of pathways a start-up or scale up can travel down to find a great CMO. Hiring an agency or consultancy to plug into the business, or hiring a fractional CMO on a short-term basis, but the experience of a CMO should always match the projected goals of the business. A start-up looking to establish unicorn status, for example, will need a CMO with the relevant functional, domain and sector experience.

That doesn't mean that what's on a CMO's CV is everything. A vast amount of the success rests on the shoulders of good communication from all ends - communication that's honest, constructive, productive, and importantly, sets expectations.

"Having open communication between the CMO and other key leaders is critical. A CMO is there to analyse, consult, and lead - and needs the freedom to do that. But must also be realistic about what the business can expect from them in the time and resources they're provided."

- Quentin Poiraud, CMO at Betao AB

This is particularly true for start-ups and scale ups who are often facing demanding objectives on a demanding timescale, and will be looking for an individual to play a vital role in achieving these.

Key Takeaway: Fractional CMOs are a great option for start-ups and scale ups

For a number of reasons. Namely, you'll have an objective view on your current marketing activity, and overall business operations. You'll gain insights and market knowledge, with the potential to upskill your team. It's also a resource-effective way to enhance your marketing activity and provide critical direction. With more and more fractional CMOs in the market, it's simple enough to source the right one for your business.

Final thoughts

Marketing has evolved so radically in recent years, and continues to do so at a rapid pace. Naturally, the people at its helm must adapt too.

This is never more true than for start-ups and scale ups, where enhancing and building marketing efforts is intrinsically linked with growth, market survival, and thriving in its sector. Just like any other brand, start-ups and scale ups are driven to provide curated customer experiences, set up integrated marketing, and realise the benefits of well-defined strategies.

The right CMO will help you achieve this. They'll look holistically at any business' operations and trajectory, and provide hands-on consultation for end-goal success, regardless of whether they're agency-based or a fractional CMO, and regardless of where you are as a company - and where you want to be.