The Impact of Chief Marketing Officer Role Variance on Marketing Capability

Kimberly A. Whitler, Neil A. Morgan, and Lopo L. Rego, 2020, 20-112

There is growing evidence that CEOs are struggling to get the CMO role right, and academic research has been of limited help in addressing this challenge. One reason is a lack of knowledge regarding how CMO role design choices may vary across firms and whether this affects job performance outcomes.

Here, Kimberly Whitler, Neil Morgan, and Lopo Rego identify critical CMO role characteristics that may affect CMO effectiveness and empirically examine their impact on firm-level outcomes. They employ a multi-method approach to develop and empirically test a conceptual model comprising: qualitative insight from interviews with CMOs, CEOs, and executive recruiters, secondary data compiled from CMO job specifications, and primary data collected from CMO surveys at two points in time.

Their results indicate that three key CMO role characteristics interact to affect firms’ marketing capability and performance: the responsibilities assigned to the position, the individual CMO’s type of marketing experience, and the status afforded to the CMO position. They show that different types of CMO experience fit better with different responsibility sets, and that CMO role status amplifies the outcome of this fit.

Further, they identify a new mechanism through which CMOs impact firm-level outcomes—by contributing to firm-level marketing capability. Specifically, they find that on average, the greater the level of responsibility of a CMO for a wider set of marketing tasks, the stronger the firm’s marketing capabilities and resulting firm performance. Key person- and position-based moderators can enhance or even reverse this relationship.

Put into Practice

This research provides new insights into how to design and staff the CMO role to achieve CMO success and better firm-level outcomes.

For CEOs, understanding the ways in which CMO roles vary sheds light on how to better design and staff the CMO role. Further, executive recruiters can use this insight to help CEOs architect the CMO role to achieve better marketing capability outcomes.

For CMOs, the results suggest that CMO candidates should push to understand the responsibilities assigned to the position and question how well these fit their own primary experience. Interestingly, of the 24% of CMOs in the fieldwork who believed that their scope of responsibility was “optimal,” almost all said that they had negotiated these responsibilities with their boss before accepting a job offer. This suggests that the CMO can—and should—help design their own role.


  • Corporate: FREE
  • Academic: FREE
  • Subscribers: FREE
  • Public: $18.00



Employees of MSI Member Companies enjoy the benefits of complete online access to content, member conferences and networking with the MSI community.



Qualified academics benefit from a relationship with MSI through access to, conferences and research opportunities.



The public is invited to enjoy partial access to content, a free e-newsletter, selected reports and more.




Learn more about becoming a member of the institute

Read More

Stay Informed

The MSI Mailing List

Subscribe to our email list to stay informed about upcoming events, news, etc.

Social Media