Powerful marketing strategies are no longer limited to large companies. Historically, the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) was an expensive role that only large companies could afford. So, a fractional chief marketing officer is a good alternative.
What is a fractional CMO? A fractional chief marketing officer is a marketing expert that sets the marketing strategy for the company. They bring the insights of a full time CMO without the costs.
Core Responsibilities of the Chief Marketing Officer
The chief marketing officer is responsible for the marketing strategy. Above all, that is their greatest value.
It is easy to confuse marketing initiatives with marketing strategy. Marketing efforts without a strategic planning process accomplish little. The marketing strategy isn’t about choosing Facebook or Google. The marketing strategy drives what is said on those platforms.
The marketing strategy begins with the branding strategy. And the branding strategy is much more than fonts, logos, and colors. The brand is the emotional response the ideal customer has when they think about your company.
The classic phrase, “clothes maketh the man” is not true. Dressing Pee-wee Herman in a James Bond suite doesn’t make him Bond. Bond is a complex persona. And it is the full complexity of that persona that creates the brand of Bond.
The fonts, logos, and colors are akin to the Bond suit. In a similar way your brand needs to be the man in the Bond suit… not just the suit.
Because this is complex, you need an experienced CMO to set your marketing strategy.
Understanding Strategic Marketing Guidance vs. Tactical Guidance
People are easily confused by the difference between strategy and tactics. This is nothing new. During WWII, General Patton had the same struggle. So, he explained it this way:
Use steamroller strategy; that is, make up your mind on course and direction of action, and stick to it. But in tactics, do not steamroller. Attack weakness. Hold them by the nose and kick them in the pants.” – General George S. Patton
Strategy is always the long game. It doesn’t care about the latest thing Google or TikTok are doing.
Marketing campaigns, marketing operations, content marketing, email marketing, and other marketing efforts are all tactics. Selecting one ad platform over another is not a strategy. That’s a tactic. The strategy drives what you say on the ad platform regardless of the platform you choose.
A marketing executive will be focused first on the strategy before they think about the marketing efforts.
Full-Time vs Fractional CMO Costs – what’s the difference?
According to Glassdoor, the average salary of a chief marketing officer in Austin in 2023 is $314,000. That is out of reach for many businesses. But a fractional chief marketing officer is within reach.
The costs of fractional CMOs varies based on how much you have them do. One fractional CMO may only do strategy. Another may provide the marketing strategy as well as oversee the marketing initiatives. Yet another fractional CMO may have their own marketing team to do the execution on the marketing strategies they develop for your company.
So, what is a fractional CMO? And what do they cost? It’s hard to answer because it depends on your needs and what the fractional CMO provides. On the low end, expect to pay an up-front fee for the strategy, and then several thousand dollars per month for ongoing guidance. On the high-end, expect the monthly retainer to be 10’s of thousands per month.
Fractional CMOs are experienced marketing professionals, so their fees may seem high. But they bring the marketing leadership to help move you to the next level in achieving your goal.
What is a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer in Action?
When you bring a fractional CMO into your business, they will start working on the fundamentals.
Marketing Strategy Fundamental #1: Clarity
Who do you serve and how do you serve them? You will not achieve significant business growth until you can answer those two questions.
Many folks try to answer with what they do or how they do it. But that is an answer from your perspective. A seasoned marketing executive will not move forward until everyone has clarity on who you serve and how you serve them.
Marketing Strategy Fundamental #2: Business Objectives
A fractional CMO will work with you to create a clear statement of your business objectives. It’s too easy to get busy doing different things without understanding how they tie back into the business objectives. Often you discover that you’re doing marketing activities with no clear objectives. Fractional CMOs help identify and eliminate that waste and misdirection.
Marketing Strategy Fundamental #3: The Brand Identity
Once there’s clarity on the ideal customer, how you serve them, and the business objectives, the fractional CMO can start working on the core strategy. That is rooted in the brand identity. Again, that is more than fonts, logos, and colors. It’s about understanding the affinities and objections of the ideal client and crafting a band that speaks to those unique qualities.
Marketing Strategy Fundamental #4: Oversight
Marketing teams can drift from the strategy. It is not a bad reflection on them. It’s just reality. The fractional CMO provides ongoing marketing leadership to keep the marketing team on track. This is much like a head coach maintains the big picture for the team. That’s why your fractional CMO should be tightly integrated with the management team as well as the marketing department.
What is a Fractional CMO – Other Considerations
Fractional CMOs bring value beyond what’s listed above. In the most simple sense, fractional CMOs “have been there – done that.” They bring industry knowledge and experience that provide quick insights to common situations. They’re a marketing expert that can save time, money, and avoid some common mistakes.
A fractional CMO is a marketing leader that looks at the world through a different lens. They see opportunity when others see crisis. An example of that comes from Christmas of 2023. Spirit Airlines flew an unaccompanied minor on the wrong airplane to the wrong city. An 8-year-old boy landed in Orlando which his grandmother was waiting for him at the airport in Fort Meyers. Something failed in the marketing function at Spirit. Their response was an apology and future free flights for the boy. This was not a good response.
They needed a marketing leader to step up and say that was wrong and to propose a better solution. It was wrong because their remedy only amplified the fear of that young boy’s parents and grandmother. The marketing team lacked the empathy to realize the fear of putting the boy back on the airline that lost him in the first place. I’m sure Spirit has a full-time CMO. He should have stepped up and asked the CEO to personally pick-up the boy in his private jet and get him to grandma. Then he should have offered to personally fly the boy home on the back-end of the trip.
This response would have generated hundreds of thousands of dollars of positive press coverage for Spirit… something they desperately need. Good marketing leadership recognizes these opportunities and capitalizes off them. You will face similar crisis-opportunity moments in your business. Make sure you have a fractional CMO as a part of your leadership team to navigate these moments.
What is a Fractional CMO? – A Leader, not an Executor
Don’t expect fractional CMOs to run the day-to-day operations. View them as a member of your leadership team. They will oversee the marketing efforts and provide guidance. But you should have an existing marketing team that will focus on the execution.
Depending on the fractional CMO, they may have an execution team that can compliment your in-house team. Of if you don’t have an in-house team, they may be your team. In the case of allies4me, we are a marketing agency that also provides fractional CMO services. This is not the case with every marketing agency. Some agencies are focused exclusively on execution. So, if you want to hire a fractional CMO, clearly define who will handle various parts of the marketing function.
How Does Hiring a Fractional CMO Compare to Other Marketing Options?
Hiring a fractional CMO means a part-time executive to compliment your management team. Marketing agencies are often more focused on tactical execution. So, you really need to identify what your needs are when you explore your options. If you need a strategy, you need a chief marketing officer. They can be a fractional CMO or a full-time CMO.
If you describe your strategy in terms of things you do, then that is not a strategy. Facebook, or LinkedIn, or YouTube is not a strategy. Those are tactics.
The strategy begins with describing who you are and how you’ll communicate that in any tactic you use. A strategy speaks in the language of business goals, not the actions of the marketing department. A strategy talks about strategic objectives, not the latest thing that’s working for Fred down the street.
Few small and mid-sized businesses have a strategy. They have actions that have given them revenue growth. They may even have marketing plans and rapid growth. But to get to the next level, they need a marketing strategy. That’s when they need to hire a fractional CMO.
Do Fractional CMOs typically work in-person or virtually?
Fractional CMOs often work virtually. But there is no hard-fast rule. Obviously, you’d expect a full-time marketing executive to be onsite. But that’s not the typical role of fractional CMOs.
From an integration standpoint, they should have a working relationship with your in-house team. That may mean an occasional in-person meeting. Your team needs to view them as the experienced marketing professional that is bringing marketing leadership to the company. How that’s accomplished varies from company-to-company.
What is a Fractional CMO and Do I Need One?
Hopefully this gives you an idea of what a fractional CMO is. You can learn more in our article, The Benefits Of Hiring A Fractional CMO (And How To Choose One).
If you’re struggling hitting the business growth and revenue growth you’re looking for, then you should at least start the conversation. We are often too close to our own problem to have an objective view. An outside perspective can help you answer many questions.
At allies4me, we begin every engagement with a mini-project that has no follow-on commitment. We do that for a few reasons. First, we’re not a fit for everyone. Nor is everyone a fit for us. We consider the mini-project to be a coffee date to see if it makes sense to move forward. During this mini-project, we identify what you have in place, and what is missing. Then we propose a plan to fill the gaps. At the end of that, there’s no commitment for anyone. If it makes sense to everyone to engage further, then we do. If not, then it ends there.
Please reach out if you want to explore this further. Good luck as you chart your course for sustained growth.