Blog post

Four Types of CMOs

By Jake Sorofman | June 24, 2014 | 6 Comments

digital marketing

A lot is said these days about the CMO’s preparedness to navigate what is, even by most conservative measures, fairly extraordinary digital change.

Today, the CMO is expected to meet the connected consumer on a self-directed buying journey with compelling, relevant and resonant offers and experiences.

That’s no small task.

Last year, I wrote “The Rise of the Digital CMO” to take a closer look at whether the CMO is ready. The conclusion? Today, there’s a conspicuous gap between expertise and authority: digital natives have the former; CMOs have the latter. The gap is often bridged with a variety of new senior roles—like the chief marketing technologist, for example.

This post led to an ongoing Gartner research series that seeks to codify what makes digital CMOs different and finding real-life exemplars to illustrate these principles put to practice.

To make sense of this evolving role, I’ve also been giving thought to CMO archetypes, a system of classification that helps identify the biases and traits of different types of marketing leadership. Here, the goal is to use classifications to guide self identification, where traits and characteristics help CMOs find their power centers, their flex zones and their areas of conspicuous weakness.

Start by reviewing Gartner’s Intelligent Brand Framework, which defines the four disciplines of the modern marketing organization:

 IBF Image

Next, look in the mirror.

If you recall, the goal of the Intelligent Brand Framework was to promote “whole-brain” thinking, encouraging a balanced view of the skills required for modern marketing organizations and counteracting the myopic tendencies that are so common in the age of shiny, bright and new.

The truth is that the Intelligent Brand Framework applies to both organizations and individuals. After all, it reasonably follows that any measure of the traits and biases of an organization probably also roughly translates to the traits and biases of the leader his or herself.

Therefore, let me propose four types of CMOs, based on this same classification:

1. Observation—this CMO is led by the voice of the customer, going to extraordinary lengths to understand their patterns and preferences. Above all else, they’re biased to believe that all truths come from this domain. This type of customer centricity can yield powerful insights and alignment with a target buyer, but it can also create a sort of myopia. Henry Ford may or may not have said* that, had he asked his customers what they wanted, they would have told him “faster horses.” It turns out that most customers aren’t all that visionary.

Find this CMO: Leading a focus group.

2. Inspiration—this CMO is a natural visionary, energized and directed by the universe of possibility that they conjure up in their own dreams (or hallucinations, as the case may be) and cultivate from crowds of customers, employees and other communities in their midst. This CMO rarely meets a challenge with a conventional solution. While continuous innovation can be a reliable source for sustainable competitive advantage, innovation for its own sake does not a profit make. Marketers must also become scale operators with an eye on the prize of repeatability.

Find this CMO: Impatiently challenging dogma.

3. Automation—this CMO is the exact opposite, focusing on operational efficiency to create a machine that drives predictable and repeatable growth. Often identified as a performance marketer, this CMO uses data and measurement as a precision weapon and automation as the robots to carry out his or her duties. This CMO is the CFOs best friend until strategies run their course. As innovations grow stale, operational excellence yields diminishing returns.  

Find this CMO: Closing the loop on marketing spend.

4. Engagement—this CMO is a natural storyteller and, at root, a highly social animal. He or she finds energy in human relationships, online and offline, in person and at scale. Here, the goal is to build affinity based on authentic dialogues that create trust and shared values. The goal, of course, is to turn this affinity into loyalty and advocacy that return appreciable business value over time. Despite the undeniable human virtues of this approach, when over played, it can be construed as pandering and it’s sometimes too abstracted from the actual goal of ringing the cash register.

Find this CMO: Tweeting at the speed of thought.

The best CMOs aspire to embody each of these classifications. But in navigating a path for personal growth, it’s useful to start with a view for where you are and what you want to become.

(*) Whether or not Henry Ford actually said this remains in dispute, but it has become important and colorful folklore for describing the fallacy of customer-led innovation.

Comments are closed


  • Nice post Jake! There is a time and place for each of these, no doubt.

    I couldn’t help but laugh at your Inspiration category:

    “This CMO is a natural visionary, energized and directed by the universe of possibility that they conjure up in their own dreams (or hallucinations, as the case may be).”

    This explains why I get funny looks sometimes when I come up with new ideas.:-) The real skill here is to know when you should push through with your crazy idea, or admit that it may be time to go back to the drawing board. Similar fortitude is required for straying from your VOC data when you truly believe that it will not lead you down the most innovative and successful path.

  • Thanks for the comments, Michael. Yes, well said. It does take real fortitude to make the leap beyond what customer data suggests.

  • Marc Rubner says:

    Actually, these are the four types of leaders every CMO NEEDS on their team! Build a marketing team with each of these, and get out of the way.

  • Interesting post and glad you shared it with us. Like all leaders, a good one is situational. Each person has their propensity- mine tends to be inspirational or at least innovation oriented. I like Marc’s comments which are spot on in that you need these types of leaders on your team. As a CMO you need to determine when each role is needed and you also have to a complement of people to fill these roles.


  • Terrific post, Jake. First-rate. Marc is surely right when he suggests that your fourfold typology can usefully be harnessed as a Myers-Briggs personality matrix for marketing, and used to build a balanced team with all four “types”. As a mix of 4. and 2. myself, you have got me thinking about how and when I can best ensure a ready supply of 1. and 3.

    I will do what I can to publicize this post Web-wide.

    Jeremy G. | @jg21

  • Thanks for the comments! @Jeremy, exactly! The goal is to developed a whole-brained approach to marketing leadership, identifying your power center(s), flex zones and areas of weakness. But ultimately to develop competency in each domain.