The Average CMO Tenure is at its Lowest Level in More Than a Decade: What Should Retail and CPG Brands Know?

Data from Statista shows that the average tenure of chief marketing officers (CMOs) at the leading 100 advertisers in the United States reached 39.6 months – or 3.3 years. Before the pandemic, the average stood above 40 months.

This is the lowest level in more than a decade. What is going wrong?

The Failing Security of Traditional Demographic Indicators

The high turnover of CMOs isn’t just a statistic; it’s a loud wake-up call. Executives in this role are caught in a whirlwind of balancing investments with rapidly evolving consumer touch points, staying afloat amidst a sea of trends, strategies and tactics. The once clear-cut demographics have blurred into a kaleidoscope of consumer behaviors, where emotional ties weigh more than conventional indicators like consumer age, home region, etc.

In today’s market, communication is no longer a one-way street; it’s a relentless, multi-lane highway of dialogues, demanding CMOs to be omnipresent by using the right channel at the right time. The pace and complexity are why many CMOs are finding their roles untenable. Adapting to this frenetic environment requires not just a change in tactics but a radical shift in mindset.


Managing Bottom-Line Expectations, a Balancing Act for CMOs

It’s no secret that CMOs are often in a challenging spot internally as well. Often a CMO’s (and their agency’s) way of achieving a goal might take longer or stem from a different, more creative approach than that of a CEO. Knowing the value of candid creativity and the importance of taking risks, CMOs are oftentimes between a rock and a hard place when communicating these tactics to traditional CEOs and CFOs, whose entire focus is the bottom line. It is a difficult space in which to manage expectations, drive transformational change and get internal alignment.

The tension is palpable: on one side, there’s the pressing demand for tangible short-term financial results; on the other, the strategic necessity of nurturing brand equity and customer relationships with benefits that often materialize over a more extended period. This balance puts CMOs in a rough spot, requiring them to not only champion and articulate the long-term value of their marketing strategies but also exert pressure to get internal alignment on decisions that need to be made quickly.

The Value of Authenticity and Vulnerability

Moreover, in today’s landscape, the value of authenticity and the human touch cannot be overstated. Gone are the days of an overly polished executive making a statement that sticks. A Catalyst survey of over 12,000 global employees revealed that workers are more trusting and willing to go the extra mile when their manager shows vulnerability and is open with their team. The most successful CMOs understand the power of vulnerability. Leadership is not about projecting an image of perfection but about staying true to oneself and being transparent when things don’t go as planned.

Authenticity resonates with teams and consumers alike. People are intuitively drawn to leaders who are genuine and honest about their journey, including their missteps. Embracing one’s vulnerability while maintaining a strong vision can create a profound and lasting impact, helping CMOs to gain trust internally with company stakeholders and build a better brand overall.

Looking Ahead — the New Journey for a CMO

The decreasing tenure of CMOs reflects the turbulent, transformative nature of our times. For startups and CPG brands, charting a path forward involves carefully selecting a CMO who embodies not just the skills of a marketer but the qualities of a visionary, authentic leader. This leader must excel in team-building, demonstrate agility amidst change and, most importantly, possess a genuine, authentic approach to leadership and communication. In an age marked by continuous disruption, such a comprehensive, human-centered approach is not just preferable — it’s a smart approach for brands aiming to thrive in a competitive landscape.

Brent Marmo is the Co-founder of Agency Squid. His work crosses industries and includes packaging and collateral for Estee Lauder, updating and refocusing of The Perry Ellis International corporate identity and overall visual image and presentation, as well as creating, planning, designing and producing the yearly magazine for the French Government Tourist Office and Marshall Field’s/ Dayton’s Department Store Division. His work includes corporate and consumer marketing/communications for clients such as Infiniti Automobiles (a Division of Nissan Corporation), KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, The New England Journal of Medicine, Polaroid Corporation, The Banque Indosuez, Bank of Montserrat, and the Sheraton Corporation.

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