CMO Salary Data Suggests Declining CMO Influence?

What does a CMO’s (chief marketing officer) salary have to do with their influence? It’s an interesting question. Logically, we think the higher the salary, the greater the influence on a company.

While marketing remains a critical aspect of business growth, CMOs are losing ground in the realm of influence. But that doesn’t mean marketing doesn’t matter. It’s evolving, and so must the role of the CMO.

Quick Takeaways:

  • There has been a decline in CMO salaries since 2000, while technology roles earn much more.
  • Salary often relates to influence, leading many to think CMOs are losing their place among leadership.
  • Marketing and technology actually have synergies, so companies should really invest in both.

What the Data Says

The report on c-suite salaries comes from a Harvard Business Review study. It was published in response to pushback from an earlier report on the assertion that marketing is becoming less important. HBR published an analysis indicating that advertising dropped from 1% of total expenditures in 1975 to 0.8% in 2017.

But advertising spend isn’t a clear indicator of all marketing initiatives. Advertising spend really has little to do with content marketing. Content marketing is the focus of most growth mindset companies. They understand that consistently publishing relevant, interesting content attracts and converts buyers. So, of course, they are spending less on traditional advertising channels.

It does not mean marketing is dying. It means it’s evolving. Just like any discipline, change was inevitable.

But Salaries Are Declining

To support the first study, HBR looked further into a new data set. They aggregated data from the top S&P 1500 firms, looking at the salary data of the c-suite.

The findings? A dramatic nosedive for CMO salaries. They shrank by 35%. Their peers in technology and finance, however, saw salary increases. The chart below shows the substantial differences.

CMO compensation

But is the salary of a CMO a realistic gauge for marketing influence in a company? Does the salary gap mean marketing is heading toward extinction?

HBR Provides Explanations for the Trend

The authors go on to explain the possible reasons for the downward trend, tying the reduction in salary with the decreased investment in advertising. Let’s look at these explanations and why they may or may not be signs of waning authority.

Tech Brands Are Flourishing, Others Aren’t

The authors make assumptions that since tech brands are growing, c-suite technology leaders have more prominence. They also assert that retail and manufacturing are declining, and those industries rely on traditional advertising. That’s an overly broad generalization.

The argument has some holes. The rise of the tech industry is certainly true. However, tech companies embrace content marketing. A LinkedIn report found that 78% of IT buyers seek information when looking for a provider. The same study reported that 67% of those buyers are more likely to purchase from a company that educates them.

Further, retail and manufacturing look to content marketing to appeal to buyers. They still make ads, but it’s taking up less of their spending.

Marketing Is Changing—Lines Between Marketing and Technology Are Blurring

The second point HBR makes is that marketing is changing, which content marketers understand. That shift includes decreasing the emphasis on outbound marketing principles and focusing more on inbound marketing.

Around 70% of marketers are investing in content marketing. That investment includes a large part of their budget—approximately 46%.

As companies in all industries adjust to a content marketing mindset, the lines between marketing and technology are blurring. That’s because content marketing relies on marketing automation and Big Data. These are both tech-related, but not solely the responsibility of that department.

Marketing Automation

Many tasks or activities within content marketing work well with automation. Some of this marketing automation is fairly simple, like posting and scheduling blogs, social media, and email.

That’s just the beginning. Marketing automation has the potential to do much more to support quality content. Things like dynamic content and personalization, A/B testing, customer experience mapping, and more. These advanced components are critical to making content marketing more efficient and effective.

These are fundamentals of content marketing now, all heavily depending on technology. Thus, those leading these initiatives require hybrid leadership. Marketers must be technologically adept. Many CMOs may not necessarily fit this new role.

Really what’s happening is that the role of the CMO is changing, hence the salary decreases. There are other content and tech-focused positions that are usurping traditional CMO positions.

If you look at in-demand marketing jobs today, you’ll find more diverse roles. According to marketing talent experts, the most sought-after positions relate to growth marketing, data science, customer experience, and machine learning. These jobs exemplify the hybrid marketing and tech roles.

These roles also have a lot to do with content marketing. Growth marketers need content to generate leads. Data scientists and machine learning engineers look for patterns and trends to inspire content marketers. The customer experience depends greatly on content.

Big Data

Most brands understand the power of their data. It provides incredible insights into buyer behavior and content performance. The generation of data is increasing every day for companies.

This Big Data requires an assessment and evaluation in order to answer big questions. For example, eCommerce companies collect a large amount of data on searches, preferences, and buying behaviors.

They can then use this data to understand the motivations of buyers. From this, they’ll know what content is valuable and interesting to their customers. It allows them to make certain topics more prominent.

The role that Big Data plays in content marketing will only mature. So, that changes the needs of a marketing department. It requires those with skills in both marketing and technology.

You could even surmise that marketing is more important than it’s ever been before. Only now, the focus is different. It’s not about commercials or disruptive ads in digital formats. It’s about content—content that’s meaningful and valuable. The narrative shifts. Ads are all about a brand. Content marketing is all about your customers and their needs. Technology helps make this happen by targeting the right people in the right place with the right content.

Does Technology Not Recognize the Value of Marketing?

This point is another explanation of the downturn of CMO salaries. The authors suggest that tech companies don’t appreciate or invest in marketing. Of the top tech organizations—Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook—only Microsoft has a CMO.

But to make such a broad statement based on if they have a CMO or not is a disservice to the conversation. All four of these companies are certainly adopters of content marketing. Each develops a large amount of content, mainly in the B2B realm. They want B2B buyers to use their platforms and, in some cases, use them as a means to deploy content marketing.

It would seem to be a fallacy to say that tech doesn’t get marketing. Besides the software and tech innovations that built these companies, marketing was always playing a huge part in their success.

Acquisitions Overshadow Organic Development in Brand Growth

Last, the authors correlate the results of the acquisition trend. Instead of building a brand organically, many companies acquire an existing one. We’ve seen this with huge acquisitions, such as Facebook acquiring Instagram or Microsoft buying LinkedIn.

The authors hypothesize that this trend is fueling CFO salaries’ growth, as they are critical in mergers and acquisitions. It doesn’t, however, indicate that companies involved in acquisitions don’t need marketing support.

In fact, an acquisition is a critical time for content marketing. Rolling in a new brand requires a content marketing plan for announcements and integrating the brand into the fold. While a conventional CMO wouldn’t need to “build” a brand, the importance of content in such a project is critical.

Marketing and Tech Should Be Collaborators

What’s clear from this data is that CMOs need a revamp. What was essential years ago in marketing, which leaned on outbound, isn’t what’s necessary today.

The connection between marketing and tech is only becoming more substantial. It requires both to deliver a return on investment (ROI) for efforts. No longer should they be in silos. They should be collaborating at every step.

In this collaboration, they can expect to power their content marketing strategy. There are needs from both groups in every aspect of content marketing, including targeting, segmenting, distribution, task automation, and trend insights.

For a company to command growth in their industry, they must rely on both to truly leverage the opportunity of content marketing.

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Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula" and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.