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If you’re leading growth at a potentially high growth business you’re in for a hard time. But with an understanding of these key areas you’re well on your way to getting to grips with it, before it gets to grips with you!

The role encompasses a range of skills, from hard technical skills to soft personal skills. There is a lot of pressure to get it right, provide oversight as to what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what the results are. There is a very high churn rate of those leading growth, so this post outlines what you need to focus on as a Chief Marketing Officer (aka CMOs), also sometimes known as a Head of Growth.

What is a CMO?

CMO - chief marketing officer

For purposes of this post, Head of Growth can be used interchangeably with CMO, but not all Heads of Growth are CMOs. Incidentally, as you get bigger a CMO is NOT the Head of Growth.

The role of CMO in a challenger scaleup business or startup is one of the most complex and potentially stressful in the rat race of growing a business. All roles are equally important, but there is something about this role that makes it only for the mentally tough.

As a CMO you need to to manage a process of finding growth, building and motivating the right team to deliver, analyse data, manage agencies, implement and manage a growth testing framework, report to the board and that’s just the beginning.

As the digital world continues to grow, bringing with it countless new innovations, platforms, and customer expectations, positioning a brand in the mind of the user and convincing them your product/service is better than all those others out there is hard work.

It’s fast and requires you to roll up your sleeves and get shit done whilst thinking strategically – all whilst ensuring you’re reading and learning to maintain your position as a leader and not getting left behind. This is why old school ‘brand’ CMO’s are not the ones to lead the marketing charge in a challenger scaleup business; but mind you, neither are growth hackers. The way I think about it is growth hackers are the strikers on the pitch and CMOs are the managers. And it’s the managers that win league after league, as they have found the process for success.

I am going to talk more specifically about the startup and scaleup business world here, seeing as I have far more experience in this area (although the same principles can be applied to larger corporate organisations).
Challenger, fast growth businesses are, by their very nature, really different to corporations. They are in that “exciting, melting pot of ideas” phase, deep in the emergent strategy process, as Clayton Christensen so aptly describes in his awesome book the The Innovator’s Solution. It’s the role of the CMO to find, define and implement that strategy. So how the hell do you go about this?

High Tempo Testing Framework

experiment neon sign on a brick wall

You have to leverage experimentation! Building, communicating and managing a process of experiments across an array of channels and product phases is a given for anyone in this role. Although you must do so with a very systematic and rigorous approach. If you don’t then you are very likely not going to lead growth effectively.

What exactly does an experimentation process look like? We can go over the details of this in another post, but in short it’s about defining a hypothesis (or set of assumptions on which the business idea is built) and testing to validate or falsify that idea using the Scientific Method, as made famous by Francis Bacon.

Failure is important in this process. Without it you cannot learn. So embrace failure, and ensure you try and understand why this failure has happened. Perhaps this will lead to another hypothesis you can test. Don’t berate those that fail, instead encourage them to communicate the failure across the team because there is no point in the learning achieved from failure being siloed into an individual. Remember, you’re testing to learn as a team. So communicate like one!

Agile Marketing as a process

flexible ladies

Another process that will make or break you is agile marketing! Scott Brinker (one of my heros) writes some great posts on agile marketing that you can find on his blog here. Although it’s seriously cliche, it’s about failing fast and being able to change strategic direction based on real time learning. It’s a process or methodology more than anything else. The irony is that you have to remain rigid in the method of agile marketing to remain agile.

Be A T-Shaped Marketer

There is something brutal about growing businesses… there’s no hiding. Everyone needs to pull their weight. A really open and transparent approach to performance management should be implemented (we use a combination of scorecards, objectives and key results). And yes, the CMO should be on that scorecard too.

CMO’s have to be technical to a point. They should have at least one area of expertise and deep knowledge whilst showing an empathy for others’ skills and perspectives.

They should be a ‘T’ Person as described by Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO. I agree with his sentiment but think that the single largest attribute of early phase business CMOs is that they need to have a real aptitude for learning. They have to be addicted to it. Brand CMOs are important later in the business lifecycle, but early on there is no brand without traction and growth!

Build your data and analytics stack – from day 1

analytics and word cloud

We all hear about big data! Ironically I believe you should be sweating the little data early on. It’s the little data that counts, and much like a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) accounts for every penny in and out of the business, a CMO needs to get to know about all users in and out of the product or service. A great mantra here for all scaleup CMO’s is ‘KISS’ – Keep it SUPER simple.
Build a basic analytics stack as your foundation, and go from there.

  1. Map out your 5 basic KPIs down your product funnel using Google Sheets/Microsoft Excel
  2. Build your events using Google Tag Manager
  3. Configure your events to push into Google Analytics
  4. BOOM, you have an analytics stack!

If this is above your head, don’t panic, read this fantastic post from Paul Boyce over at PopCorn to understand how to get this done in only 12 minutes! This post does take you into a little more detail than required for round 1. I would suggest to simply get your events firing and go from there.

Much like an agile product your analytics stack needs to be dynamic and agile so you can always build it out in the future.

You need to identify your key metrics across a range of sources and build a reporting framework that empowers you to take action. Without actionable insight it’s just data! Turn it into information. Start this off with manual input, and over time you can auto-populate data, leverage APIs, build internal SQL stacks and a whole lot of fun stuff.

Over communicate, then communicate some more

man holding a megaphone gif

Another key requisite of CMO’s is communication. This could be the single largest learning over my career in business – if you cannot tell a story both internally and externally you ain’t going to make a great CMO.

You have to learn to tell a story highly relevant to your potential customers (it’s not about you and your life story) whilst being able to shape a compelling narrative with your team. You have to lead them in the same direction, sell them the sizzle – the vision. Be a leader!


  • Build regular opportunities to showcase what you are doing, and why.
  • Learn to take feedback and feed that back into the process of storytelling.
  • Remain humble! Learn to take critique, and use that feedback to inform your ongoing processes.

As an example of the last point, I was once told that I could not think strategically; so I took this on board, did a deep dive on strategic communication and here I am running a business focussed on strategic growth marketing for businesses!

Storytelling is also a great way to explain data. Here at Rebelhack we use both qualitative and quantitative data to help us build a narrative about the customer to give us some context and paint that all important picture of what is going on with the users.

Growth Strategies are emergent

So why is the role of CMO so misunderstood? Well, CMOs are to blame – partly. We have been pretty bad at being able to articulate the emergent nature of the role. CEO’s want black and white. One of my previous co-founders and CEO’s used to drill me on strategy, and I would not articulate why I didn’t have one. I was unable to explain the emergent nature of a strategy in a high-growth world.

It’s also important to note a lot of this kind of work just did not exist a few years back. It’s not a skills gap, more the space of growth marketing is moving faster than any other business function and those at the edge are effectively learning on the job (remember I said you have to be good at learning!).

Successful challenger, scaleup and startup CMO’s are able to take changing environments, customer expectations and ever evolving digital channels and manage that changing interface between the customer and the company. It’s more about change management than marketing and although positioned in a place with inherent friction, for the right person it is deeply satisfying.

One of the best quotes I have ever heard is

“Tactics are for amateurs, operations are for pro’s”. #quote #growth #marketing Click To Tweet

Focus on managing the process of change and you’re going to win big time.

So, what do great CMOs need?

Great CMOs can:

  • blend together many moving parts
  • think strategically
  • build processes for finding growth
  • understand how to leverage data
  • lead teams and optimise for organisational and personal learning…

All whilst telling a story. If that sounds like your cup of tea… Go Get It!

If you’re looking for a CMO or Head of Growth but are having problems why not get in touch with us here at Rebelhack. We might be able to help you, as we have all these points covered and you can simply buy it off the shelf.