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CMOs weigh in on the marketing role going fractional

CMOs weigh in on the marketing role going fractional

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Earlier this week we explored the role of the fractional CMO – FMCO – which has been gaining prominence in the marketing industry. The term, akin to titles such as marketing consultants or on-demand CMOs, seems to have the market split on the benefits and pitfalls.

Some say the rise of fractional CMOs indicates the complexity and diversity of modern-day marketing and business practices. Today, more and more organisations are looking at flexible solutions that can be quickly adapted to keep up with the fast-evolving nature of the digital-first world.

According to Keith Wong, country director of Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore at HR and recruitment company Links International, the fractional model isn’t isolated to the marketing function alone, but finance and legal teams are also being introduced to such structures.

Don't miss: Are fractional CMOs the marketing world's latest fad?

Some of the benefits of this structure, he added, include being able to hire an experienced candidate without having to commit to a full-time salary, and attracting a professional who might come from another industry to bring fresh ideas to the table.

“From a candidate perspective, it offers them wider exposure to work on different projects without committing to a full-time job and greater work-life balance. It also allows them to gain an understanding of different business models in various industries," Wong said.

But while the jury’s out on the permanency of the latest model in town, and the value it brings to the organisational food chain, most CMOs MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to remain unfazed by the role. The majority also agree that the role would be one better suited to SMEs rather than large-scale organisations and MNCs.

Alvin Neo, chief customer and marketing officer at Fairprice Group, is of the view that the overall trend towards fractional CMO roles reflects the growing acknowledgement that traditional full-time hires may not always be the most practical or cost-effective solution for every business.

"Depending on their size and life stage, some companies are turning to fractional CMOs to provide specialised expertise, flexibility, and strategic guidance on a part-time basis in specific areas where the company has ascertained they need help while keeping overall manpower cost under control," he said.

That being said, it is the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), dealing with tight budgets but with big dreams, that stand to gain, added Marcus Loh, director of Temus. This model offers a path in the middle for many of the SMEs who can better embrace marketing and figure out what they need without jumping the gun and making a full-time hire.

For SMEs, this model of a CMO-on-call provides a 'golden ticket' and can open doors to tried-and-tested marketing tools and connections without breaking the bank.

“These FCMOs can help SMEs navigate the complex world of marketing, from choosing the right stack to the appropriate agency partner for specialist advice and project management to bringing those campaigns to life," he added.

Echoing similar sentiments, the CMO of Zenyum, Bassam Abdel-Rahman said the model would be most attractive for companies between seed to series B funding, whose CEO, CFO or CPO are missing a marketing counterpart that can help them "unlock the next stage of growth but might not be able to afford a full-time CMO on their payroll."

“From series C onwards, I would advise having a full-time CMO or VP of marketing that can own the marketing budget allocation and ROAS," he said.

Incidentally, he added that a fractional engagement could be a cool way to test out in the early company life stages before going full-time later. He added:

Moreover, if scoped correctly, fractional CMOs could be the much-needed fresh pair of eyes with extra brain-space for the in-house CMO as well.

“They can dive deep into the data (unburdened by any legacy assumption or biases), fully understand the problem, extract insights and develop data-backed, creative solutions. The flexibility of fractional means that any company that is lacking a senior marketing strategy resource can engage fractional CMOs for however long or short they need,” he said.

Serious about customer centric growth?

Given their temporary nature, industry players MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to said that they may not be able to delve as deeply into data analysis and integration as a permanent CMO would. Moreover, with their divided attention, FCMOs might just be less accountable to an organisation than permanent ones, argue industry players.

"A CEO who is serious about customer-centric growth beyond the current financial year will need someone who can identify and connect the dots between the gaps and opportunities, both internally and externally,” argued Goh Shufen, co-founder and principal at R3.

She added that in today's competitive world, every organisation needs someone able to view problems through the customer's lens, and that’s the job of the CMO.

The role of a chief marketing officer cannot be a part-time position if a company is serious about marketing as a growth driver.

"Let's not overlook the importance of the CMO role in driving business growth," said Abdul Sani, CMO of RHB Bank. “Without growth, there's no prospect to manage. So why not invest in a permanent CMO, akin to the indispensable role of a CFO? It's essential for businesses to assess their priorities carefully,” he said.

While fractional CMOs offer a novel approach to accessing top-tier marketing talent, Sani argued that it is crucial to weigh the benefits against the potential challenges and ensure alignment with the company's strategic objectives.

The need for integration and accountability

Meanwhile, long-term brand impact is also a key point of consideration, said Linda Hassan, group chief marketing officer of Domino's Pizza Malaysia and Singapore. Often, the decisions made by CMOs shape the brand, and an effective CMO today would have the right influence over major aspects of the business.

“Any wrong move may affect the positive short term with a long-term adverse effect such as losing customer frequency, a possible outcome of a fractional CMO,” she added.

Hassan added that large enterprises and brands also usually demand undivided attention and unwavering focus. As such, fractional CMOs, who often juggle multiple clients simultaneously, may struggle to provide the level of availability and attention necessary to meet our specific needs.

“It is crucial to carefully assess these factors to make an informed decision that aligns with one’s brand's goals and objectives,” she added.

Fairprice Group's Neo added that, unlike full-time employees, fractional CMOs may not have the same level of long-term commitment or investment in the success of the company. This could affect their motivation or willingness to go above and beyond for the organisation.

Another key challenge lies in knowledge transfer and continuity, particularly if they are only working with the company for a limited time. 

This could result in a loss of institutional knowledge and hinder long-term marketing strategy and execution.

"Given the transient nature fractional CMOs may struggle to fully integrate into the company's culture and processes, which can lead to challenges in alignment with other departments and stakeholders, potentially impacting the effectiveness of marketing initiatives," he said.

He added that often communication can be more challenging with fractional CMOs, especially if they are not physically present in the office on a regular basis. This can lead to misunderstandings, delays, or inefficiencies in decision-making and collaboration.

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