The Evolution of the CMO Role

By Salvatore Ciolfi August 20, 2020

The Evolution of the CMO Role with Vimeo’s Harris Beber – the latest in BrainStation’s Digital Leadership Event Series – took place on August 19th, and professionals around the world tuned in to hear Beber’s thoughts on the fast-changing marketing field. 

You can watch the full panel discussion here:

A Chief Marketing Offices (CMO) is someone who oversees all marketing activities within an organization. In the last few years, the CMO role has started to evolve, with professionals needing to implement new digital strategies and processes, all while overseeing business growth and user experience.

We spoke to Beber to find out more about this evolution, his career trajectory, and what skills he thinks are most important for marketers, today and in the future.

How Do You Become a CMO?

Successful CMOs today need to be versatile, with a range of expertise and skills. To develop these skills, it’s often necessary to become students, in a way, of their business and industry. Beber has adopted this approach throughout his career and believes it is essential for anyone aspiring to become a CMO.

“Don’t be afraid to take a different path…I raised my hand for every cross-functional project. I wanted to understand how the business worked because…that made me better. It’s ok to take a step to the right, to take on a different challenge that deepens and expands your knowledge because that will make you a better marketer,” he says, adding that entrepreneurial and startup experience is invaluable in a similar way. 

“When you’re two people in a basement, you don’t have a team of resources across different functions; You are that team…and by wearing so many hats, you become an operator of a business and understand what drives the business forward, which has served me as a marketer,” he says. 

How Has the CMO Role Evolved? 

Traditionally, when people think about marketing, they imagine big, fun brand campaigns. Now more than ever, though, marketers are also being held responsible for revenue and growth. 

“The blessing and the curse of marketing is everything you do is measurable. It’s very clear to see the impact of most things, and whether it’s working or not. And you’re held accountable for that,” Beber says.

“Delivering growth while also becoming profitable is no small feat, but what it instills is understanding what you need to do to succeed, what are your KPIs, and then how do you build promotions, tactics, and strategies that deliver?” he says, adding that adaptability, both individually and organizationally, is essential, as things can and will change quickly.  

“Our world is dynamic, it’s changing on a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month basis…If you’re doing your job well, as soon as you have it figured out within a matter of weeks or months it’s not figured out anymore; the world shifts. Think about what Google Search was 10 years ago and now it’s table stakes and you’re really optimizing to even make it profitable because everyone’s there,” Beber says, explaining that brands can avoid common pitfalls by adopting a data-driven approach and always remembering their purpose and how they provide value. 

“Executing on the fundamentals will give you your scale and your day-to-day, but where you can be ahead of the game, where you’re seeing trends and tapping into them, those can create opportunities for incremental growth that you’re not thinking about,” he says, 

The Flawed CMO vs. CIO Debate

Over the last few years, the lines between CMO and Chief Information Officer (CIO) roles have started to blur. While the latter is typically responsible for implementing digital solutions and processes on an organizational level, these are often directly related to marketing initiatives, which fall under the CMO’s purview. This has created a debate around who exactly should be “owning digital.”. According to Beber, though, the premise behind this debate is flawed. 

“if you answer that question, you’re doomed to fail because everyone has to own digital. The best companies that I’ve been in share accountability. At Vimeo, product has a responsibility for building products that serve a real value and deliver value. Marketing’s responsibility is to raise awareness, demonstrate that value to the target users, and drive adoption. It’s a one-two punch; it doesn’t work without both of us,” he says. 

What Marketing Skills Are Most Important Now? 

If you’re looking to break into digital marketing, there are a number of technical “hard” skills that you can develop to gain an advantage on the job market. But for Beber, the rapid pace of change in the digital space means that these are often less important than a strong work ethic, a solution-oriented mindset, and an ability to think outside the box. 

“People who know how to solve problems and think creatively about delivering solutions are the most valuable people on any team…It’s not about the function they were hired for, it’s the solutions that they can deliver for any challenge that we face as a business,” he says, explaining that these are the traits he looks for when hiring for his own team. 

“I want to have really smart people with high aptitude that look at problems and say, ‘how am I going to solve this and come up with creative solutions to tackling the problems of the future.’ Those are the people that will always have growth and a career path.”

Register now for the next BrainStation Digital Leadership event.