CMO Stress: 6 CMO Problems No One Wants to Talk About



It’s not uncommon for today’s chief marketing officer to be involved in public relations, communication, content strategy, product design, sales, market research, tech development, and more. 

While this level of involvement makes for an exciting and dynamic career, many CMOs feel like they are struggling to keep up. Saddled with an unclear job description, unrealistic expectations, and shifting media landscape, it’s understandable why a CMO may be at sixes and sevens with their line of work. 

To better understand the CMO’s unique situation, it can help to identify the distinct issues they face. From there, we can explore potential solutions that can help the CMO succeed. 

Role ambiguity

The scope of marketing is constantly expanding. From managing data and analytics to telling a brand’s story, marketing encompasses both the general and specific, the scientific and imaginative. As a result, the CMO’s role is in a constant state of flux, rendering their job description unclear or, in some cases, nonexistent. 

When a CMO’s professional responsibilities are unclear, they’re not the only one left confused—colleagues and even customers likely feel disconcerted too. It can feel nearly impossible to create logical outcomes when the duties at the top are undefined. 

Organizations that are clear on who is responsible for what encourage company-wide communication, accountability, and creativity. Defining the CMO’s roles and responsibilities should happen at the get-go of any collaboration. A CMO can help shape the C-suite’s expectations by communicating their value upfront. 

This is also a good opportunity to show C-suites examples of past successful campaigns and marketing tactics to emulate, providing a roadmap to success.  

Sky-high expectations

Role confusion often leads to unrealistic expectations. When a CMO’s responsibilities are up in the air, C-suite executives can wonder why there isn’t more happening faster. It’s easy to equate marketing tools with marketing results; if technology accelerates work, why isn’t it expediting results? The truth is that long-term results take time. They are also often not immediately apparent.

It’s in everyone’s best interest for C-suites to commit to educating themselves on marketing practices and what can realistically be achieved in a given amount of time. CMOs should know their limits, avoid overpromising, and communicate openly with C-suites. It is always better to be upfront and transparent from the initial discussion, rather than disappointing colleagues and clients alike with a less-than-stellar end game.  


It is not uncommon for CMOs and non-marketing execs to have different marketing plans in mind. A CMO may want to focus on customer acquisition while the rest of the C-suite is more concerned with driving sales

It’s imperative for marketing and non-marketing executives to determine their key marketing objectives for the year together. From there, the CMO can better leverage creative solutions to solve their company’s most pressing issues. Again, this is where open communication is a must. Everyone can contribute to a work culture that honors mutual accountability. 

Information overload

The age of information has a downside: there’s simply too much to process. According to Columbia Business School Professor, Sheena Iyengar, today’s worker processes around 174 newspapers of information everyday. With so many voices asserting their authority on a subject, it can be difficult to figure out who and what to listen to. Marketing is especially populated with specialists and guidance. 

The good news is, a CMO is presumably aware of this phenomenon, and already understands the importance of being discerning and selective. That being said, effective marketers make an effort to anticipate trends. To combat information overload while staying ahead of the curve, CMOs can set time limits on information gathering. 

Social listening is a great way to stay informed while focusing on one’s company. By following one’s organization on social media, you can see what consumers are saying about your brand in real time. Hashtags will reveal relevant content and provide analytics to see which social platforms are performing well and with which demographics. 

In sum: always come back to your company’s unique strategy; this should always be the ultimate start and finish goal. 

Insufficient metrics 

Despite all of marketing’s advancement, the industry still lacks established, agreed-upon methods to measure a campaign’s effectiveness. The work of a CMO is hard to quantify. This makes it difficult for the CMO to solicit additional resources from non-marketing execs. 

One way a CMO can work around this is to employ market research methods. Conducting focus groups and customer interviews, for example, can help fill in the gaps.  

KPIs can help CMOs better understand the effectiveness of their marketing. The geographic location of website visitors, unique visits on a site, mobile viewership, bounce rates, page views, comments on social media, and more are a wealth of information. 

Chairman and CEO of Tallwave Jeff Pruit asserts, “Marketers have to advocate for clean, accurate and current data. It will be the only way to tie customer experience to innovation, drive the alignment you need to execute on your goals, and demonstrate the return on your efforts.”  

Dauntingly high turnover rate

Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal reported that the average tenure of a CMO is 41 months. Some known reasons for this: when a CMO fails to meet a C-suite’s expectations, or an alignment isn’t reached, the marketing exec is replaced. Of course, this turnover rate further delays the C-suite’s marketing objectives, too. 

CMOs can extend their tenure by delegating. As Keith Ferrazzi wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “If you are a modern CMO, your ‘team’ may include the chief product officer, the head of sales and sales support, the chief strategy officer, those responsible for data and analytics, and the most creative people in the company who have a sense of the brand.” CMOs need a multi-disciplinary team they can rely on. 

Tips for CMOs

Leverage network and invest in self

2020 has been a big lesson in the importance of working together. Now is the time for chief marketing officers to explore CMO associations, virtual conferences, and other resources made for creative professionals. By connecting with other CMOs, chief marketing officers can invest in themselves and their careers. 

Don’t lose sight of the common goal  

The CMO has a rewarding, elusive, and complex job. From handling all aspects of marketing to taking on product development, today’s chief marketing officer has their fingers in many pies. The difficulty of the job is evident in high-turnover rates and frequent burnout.  However, by acknowledging the issues CMOs face head-on, an organization can unlock marketing’s full potential.

Today’s modern workplace involves collaboration across functions and disciplines. Both marketing and non-marketing professionals should keep in mind that ultimately, regardless of the marketing road taken, they are working to amplify the customer’s experience. 


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