CMO is the World’s Hardest Job


The Frustrated CMO – Illustration by Elin Jonsson

“CMO is the World’s Hardest Job” said a smart person over lunch recently.

Why is that so? Well, new tools and best practices are published all the time, and thus new demands from management/board of directors arise. Today the number of communication channels has exploded, and everyone works differently. As such, marketing efforts are expected to be measurable, but brands and attitudes are exceedingly difficult to measure.

The Harvard Business Review article, “The Trouble with CMOs” suggests that the CMO position can be divided by focus: strategy roles, commercialization roles, enterprise-wide P&L roles. What is a CMO to do? We here at Weld have questioned several CMOs about their Sisyphean tasks, and here is that they have had to say.

Johan Kristiansson, Cecilia Hjertzell, Oskar Kalmaru, Felix Langlet, Philip Otter, Birgitta Edberg

Johan Kristiansson

Johan Kristiansson, Head of Ericsson’s Digital Marketing Development, says, “The ongoing transformation of the CMO role makes the job extra difficult right now. Up until now, the most difficult and important task of a marketing manager has probably been to produce creative, strong advertising, such as TV spots. The skills required for these tasks have defined the role. However, now suddenly the hardest and most important task is to orchestrate the entire digital ecosystem: with website, social media presence, search advertising, marketing automation systems, etc. Hence, the role now requires a completely different set of skills, which takes quite a long time to acquire. Overall I think this ongoing shift makes the CMO position extra difficult to handle right now.”

“Now suddenly the hardest and most important task is to orchestrate the entire digital ecosystem”
– Johan Kristiansson, Ericsson

Today the expanding scope of marketing and a CMO’s broadening set of responsibilities have revealed an urgency for CMOs to fill in their knowledge gaps and adapt to the changing landscape.

Birgitta Edberg

Birgitta Edberg, CMO of Privasee, explains, “The role of a marketing manager is, similar to other C-level executives, changing. We live in a fast-paced world with hypermarket competition, and customer expectations run high. Shared customer experiences affect the business more than purchased advertising. Building relevant strategies and KPI’s require an understanding of the new business landscape rather than all new tools. If the management team/board lacks competence, it may be tough to be marketing manager.”

“We live in a fast-paced world with hypermarket competition, and customer expectations run high.”
– Birgitta Edberg, Privasee

Birgitta continues: “I experienced a similar situation in 2007 when Facebook arrived and I expanded the marketing mix with blog ambassadors. The management’s total lack of understanding of the new business landscape drove me to write the book Social Business Development in the Network Economy: Social Media, New Business Logic (Swedish only).  The book is a pedagogical review of the old and new market logic based on research.”

CMOs do not exist in a silo. Management and board of directors as a whole must stay abreast of the changing business landscape to avoid lagging behind savvier competitors.

CMOs do not exist in a silo – upper management needs to be on board, too.

Philip Otter

Philip Otter, partner at JobAssigner, suggests, “CMO is the world’s most developing job. Certainly, it can be a hard job as well, but if you are curious and want to learn new processes and tools, there is an opportunity to replenish new knowledge every day. To me, life is about constant learning because that is when we feel good and develop. One should really understand the challenges that exist and constantly struggle with them, but also think about all the great possibilities that outweigh the challenges. For example, with regards to measuring, it was previously incredibly difficult to measure the results of a newspaper ad or outdoor advertisement. Today, A/B testing can examine what we do and perform what is best and then optimize based on those results. Today’s technology is extremely exciting and makes it possible to place the budget on the right things. As a CMO, I believe that today we need to create a strong network of nice, reliable and talented people who can provide tips that assist you and whom can help you when you lack the time or skills.”

“Is CMO an extremely difficult job? Yes, but that should not deter today’s marketing managers from making the best of their situation and taking advantage of the wealth of technology currently available.”
– Philip Otter, JobAssigner

Cecilia Hjertzell

Cecilia Hjertzell, Co-founder of CMO Goes Tech, professes, “Digitization means the CMO role is becoming infinitely more exciting. Starting from a customer poses completely different requirements for the entire organization, but I think the CMO can play an important role as a bridge between sales and IT, which is still often organized in silos. With marketing technology, there are so many new and amazing opportunities albeit making it more difficult to prioritize. In particular, leadership news to handle completely new types of teams and these entities may require different types of leadership and governance. In sum, the role is much more complex now, but it poses a rather stimulating challenge. It was due to this that I and Gül Heper founded the CMO Goes Tech network, which is open to anyone who thinks these questions are exciting and would like to meet.”

“Digitization means the CMO role is becoming infinitely more exciting.”
– Cecilia Hjertzell, CMO Goes Tech

With a proliferation of marketing channels in a world that has become increasingly more complex, a modern CMO can tackle this situation by being a bridge between sales and IT as well as an asset to top management.

Oskar Kalmaru

Oskar Kalmaru, CEO of Aevy and former CMO of Narrative, posits that “Marketing is expected to be measured and evaluated as all other features; however, brand development, attitude change, awareness and much more can often be difficult or impossible to measure correctly. On paper the possibilities are better and more extensive than ever with regard to available channels – but to exploit them effectively, knowledge of all channels is needed, which few individuals and rarely even entire marketing departments possess. Marketing in collaboration, symbiosis with customers and community are, in my opinion, necessary for all brands – but the field is new and extremely changeable, thus making it difficult to know if you are on the right path and what your activities lead to in short- and long term.”

Collaboration may contain the key

The challenge of measurability requires today’s leading CMOs to develop a level of data science and technological dexterity that is nearly impossible; however, collaboration may contain the key.

Felix Langlet

Felix Langlet, Head of Marketing at Triggerbee, asserts “Certainly, new tools are always released, but the leading question is the tool worth using rather than should we implement new best practices hux flux (rough translation). With regard to tools, it’s important that everyone can use all the tools you purchase – no matter which team uses them. Otherwise, it is easy to isolate all teams, which is rarely good.”

Felix continues: “Many talk about omnichannel, multichannel, seen everywhere; it is easy to lose oneself in ‘channelness’. But something that is important to keep in mind is that the building blocks of marketing have remained unchanged for thousands of years. The only difference from now and then is actually the media and accessibility. An offer must be appealing, and whether the offer is conveyed over a campfire in a cave, on a sheet of paper or via a Facebook advertisement, it’s still the offer – not the medium itself – that’s attractive. Marketing is a bit like surfing: it is important to know which waves you can handle, and the result depends almost always on how you use the board – not the location. Measuring data is extremely important, but it’s even more important to actually use the data you collect.”

“Marketing is a bit like surfing: it is important to know which waves you can handle, and the result depends almost always on how you use the board.”
– Felix Langlet, Triggerbee


Today’s CMO is engulfed in data. Digital media and technology have created pressure on brands to transform and have added complexity to marketing. It comes as no surprise then that CMOs have the highest turnover in the C-suite. The CMOs’ new role now includes technical skills such as marketing automation, artificial intelligence and digital transformation.

With new technologies and a vast array of digital channels at their disposal, the role of CMO has expanded in recent years as well as the expectations tied to it. However, as the above marketing gurus suggest, the job can be highly rewarding, manageable and exciting.