9 things talented chief marketing officers do well

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The average tenure of a chief marketing officer at a major brand is about 42 months — shorter than the lifespan of the average goldfish, according to a study from executive search firm Spencer Stuart.

A study of CMOs from 100 of the top U.S. ad spenders found the average tenure for chief marketers fell to 42 months in 2016, down from 44 months in 2015, according to The Wall Street Journal.

CMO job security pales in comparison to others in the C-suite. In the S&P 500, a CEO's average tenure was 7.2 years in 2016; CFOs in the Fortune 500 lasted 5.7 years on average last year.

Why is the turnover rate so much higher for CMOs versus other C-suite executives? Regardless of the industry, the rapid evolution of consumer expectations and digital technology has shaken the field and practice of marketing to the core.

"Marketing, sales, data, digital and technology now move quickly on paths that are intertwined and often erratic," David Clarke, global chief experience office and principal at PricewaterhouseCoopers, wrote in a blog post for strategy + business.

Given these new challenges, well-performing CMOs have honed certain qualities and skills to stay relevant on shifting ground. Mr. Clarke recognized nine traits in particular he believes talented and successful CMOs have in common.

  1. An understanding of the power of perspective. A successful digital marketing strategy requires input from diverse sources. "CMOs must be multilingual — able to speak the language of multiple disciplines," Mr. Clarke wrote, suggesting successful CMOs understand the importance of bringing together experts from different backgrounds to collaborate on projects.

  1. Passion. Passion can affect the quality and creativity of marketing and advertising campaigns. "CMOs must be passionate about the industry in which the business operates and know how to evangelize a marketing strategy that differentiates their company from key competitors," Mr. Clarke wrote.

  1. Willing to get their hands dirty. Employees appreciate leaders who are willing to do the grunt work as well as lead the department. "By demonstrating confidence in their own skills and showing a willingness to do the hard work, CMOs will attract teams willing to do the same," Mr. Clarke wrote.

  1. A discerning eye. In a fast-paced environment, CMOs must be able to understand what is impactful, what is trending and how consumers' preferences and desires are changing. "The head of marketing should ... consider [human] experience as a primary responsibility," Mr. Clarke wrote.

  1. The capacity to evolve. Talented CMOs are able to set a strategic course for an organization even amid industry change and upheaval. Analytics, artificial intelligence, data and connectivity are powerful tools that can help CMOs create more relevant marketing than their predecessors. "Embrace this innovation, or face extinction," Mr. Clarke wrote.

  1. A love for analytics. Data is becoming a powerful ally for marketers to develop, direct and execute more impactful ad campaigns. "Successful CMOs don't need to be data scientists, but they do need to know how to foster a data-driven culture that relies on analysis to ... evaluate strategy," Mr. Clarke wrote.

  1. The ability to build a team. Good leaders typically possess strong emotional intelligence and are skilled at connecting, nurturing and inspiring others. Besides being able to spot top talent and recruit employees with multidisciplinary backgrounds, "equally important is the ability to build a culture of collaboration ... where all people feel they are heard and empowered to be change agents."

  1. The ability to create an environment for exploration. Creativity and collaboration are essential skills in marketing. Great CMOs can cultivate a work environment that encourages employees to "look at a problem through new angles and land on solutions that may not otherwise be apparent," Mr. Clarke wrote.

  1. Willingness to advocate for customers. Marketers are moving from selling products and goods to cultivating and selling a consumer experience. "This requires ... an understanding of the fundamentals of design thinking, and a willingness to be fearless in representing the voice of the customer in the C-suite," Mr. Clarke wrote. 

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