Blog Categories

    What is a Fractional CMO?
    Your Complete Guide

    The Meaning of A Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)

    A company’s Chief Marketing Officer is the lifeblood of business growth. A CMO is crucial to driving marketing success with an intimidating list of wide-scoped responsibilities:

    • Brand development and management
    • Market research and strategy
    • Sales pipeline goals, analytics, and reporting
    • Implementation and advertising
    • Lead generation and customer acquisition

    Depending on the size of your company, managing your marketing could require an entire team of professionals led by a C-level executive, or in your earlier stages, the plan of attack may not require so many hands on deck. Either way, you’ll need experienced, multi-disciplinary  marketing leadership to drive your marketing initiatives and growth strategy.

    WHAT IS A Fractional CMO?

    What is a Fractional CMO? A Fractional CMO meaning Fractional Chief Marketing Officer, does everything a regular or full-time CMO does but on a schedule that suits the needs of your specific business. They can work for multiple companies at once, depending on demand, so their services are typically either project-based or part-time. They are an experienced executive who will work with your existing marketing department and leadership to implement your marketing goals.

    A group of people deliberating

    Does a Fractional CMO work for short-term engagements?

    If your business, like Helena’s rising software company, is in need of just a short-term engagement, a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer can help you maximize your impact. Helena did not have a marketing leader in place other than herself, so she reached out for additional help for her digital marketing efforts as her expertise was needed elsewhere in the company.

    She thought to hire a Fractional CMO, and having that new marketing executive with marketing leadership experience helped her company identify its areas of focus. Their ideas for increasing the inclusivity of their software product really broadened the market they were able to reach.

    With the marketing expertise passed along and the branding strategy in place, Helena was able to continue the marketing momentum with her existing team. Having that strategic project support at the earlier stages of their development was sufficient for her business objectives, and she was a strong leader who could continue the company’s growth.

    Does a Fractional CMO work for long-term engagements?

    If your company requires something more long-term for your strategic planning process, you may still find a Fractional CMO to be the right fit for your needs. As the founder of a venture capitalist firm, Greg knew the vital importance of first impressions. He wanted to make sure his management team and sales team alike were giving off the right image to attract new business.

    Greg found a Fractional CMO with a good track record for polishing up a company’s appearance and was so pleased with the improvements to his public relations that he retained this experienced CMO long-term on a fractional basis to keep that fresh perspective.

    The Fractional CMO became an integral member of his team, helping Greg’s other C-suite executives in a fractional capacity.

    Group discussion

    What a Fractional CMO Actually Does

    The neat thing about a Fractional CMO is that they do just what a full-time CMO would do. They focus on providing leadership and guidance on marketing strategy to a business as needed. The difference is that they dedicate only as much time as needed to help your business succeed without draining your resources.

    Why hire a Fractional CMO?

    There are many advantages to hiring a Fractional CMO. No matter the stage of your company’s development, a Fractional CMO can bring your marketing to another level.

    A calculator and a pen


    A Fractional CMO is not a full-time employee. That means no long-term C-level contract, no overhead or onboarding costs, and often just generally lower costs overall. You only pay for as much as you need instead of making a larger, oftentimes unnecessary investment.


    Fractional CMOs only work as much or as long as your company needs them. Once the job is done, they can move on without continuing to drain your resources. They’re a great option regardless of whether you need someone for a short time to plug a gap in leadership or you aren’t quite ready to fully invest in an in-house CMO or marketing team.

    Three people brain storming

    Expert Level

    A Fractional CMO is an expert in the field of marketing strategy. Oftentimes Fractional CMOs work as part of a team or agency, so you may even be gaining the knowledge and resources of multiple experts when retaining the services of one. This is an experienced marketing professional who has typically worked on a number of successful campaigns for multiple companies.

    Ready to Go

    Fractional CMOs come equipped with the know-how and experience of multiple markets under their belt and are often ready to roll with new ideas right out of the gate. Hiring someone to a full-time position may involve a waiting period of valuable months as they adjust to the company, familiarize themselves with the team, and gain insight into the market they’re about to dive into.


    Ready to Grow

    You can hire out for Fractional CMO services at any point on the road. Small and mid-sized companies can benefit from a quick injection of high-level expertise and often find the ball is rolling so hard they don’t later need to bring their marketing in-house. Fractional CMO services can grow with your company as needs and opportunities arise.

    Replacing the need for a Full-Time CMO

    Just like with Greg and his venture capitalist firm, you may start with a fractional or part-time CMO and find the key differences and executive experience they bring to the day-to-day operations to be so valuable that you keep them on longer than you originally intended. They are able to follow your company’s rapid growth and continue their strategic objectives on a fractional basis.

    Team meeting

    Do Fractional CMOs typically work in-person or virtually?

    One of the major advantages of hiring a Fractional CMO is, as listed above, flexibility. If needed you can hire a fractional CMO service in your area to allow for someone to guide your business face-to-face or in a hybrid setting. Otherwise, you can benefit from a broader market of marketing professionals who are able to work virtually.

    Hesitant about the virtual aspect?

    In this case, it really is dependent on what will work best for the culture of your business. Since they’ll be working part-time or on a project basis, having your Fractional CMO work virtually may actually allow them to dive deeper into your brand and marketing strategy instead of wasting time commuting. They may also be able to respond to your questions more quickly in a digital environment.

    How Does Hiring a Fractional CMO Compare to Other Marketing Options?

    There are so many options for both in-house and outsourced marketing, so which is the best fit? How does a Fractional CMO compare to the other common options out there?

    Fractional CMO vs. Marketing Agency

    The major differences between a Fractional CMO and a Marketing Agency are the level of involvement and offered services.

    A Marketing Agency will give you a broad overview of marketing strategies and may offer a wider array of services. They act as more of a third-party team to help with services and execution support.

    A Fractional CMO will work directly with the business executive team to develop more personal strategic marketing guidance. They will give you a higher level of expertise and guidance and typically are able to gain a deeper understanding of your business goals.

    A man looking through a sheet

    Fractional CMO vs. Consultant

    A Fractional CMO and Consultant will differ in their scope of work and often in their areas of expertise.

    A Consultant will provide guidance and at-a-glance recommendations. They often have a specific area of focus, so their recommendations can be beneficial for specific issues. This can be good if you have already identified where your marketing strategy could use improvement.

    A Fractional CMO will be involved in the actual execution and implementation of marketing campaigns. They also provide a more comprehensive approach, working with the leadership team for development and support. They are better able to identify strategy shortcomings as they have a broader scope of work.

    Fractional CMO vs. Full-Time CMO

    The main differences between a Fractional CMO and a full-time CMO are time and expense. They will have the same responsibilities; it’s just a matter of which is a better fit for your business.

    A full-time CMO becomes part of your executive team for a significant time. They are a long-term investment that can lead to long-term success if you find the right fit. They can take a lot of time to gain momentum or build a team and will cost significantly more than a Fractional CMO, but many companies need the full-time attention or proximity an in-house Chief Marketing Officer provides.

    A Fractional CMO, being more temporary in nature, can focus on providing leadership and marketing guidance to your existing team. They come with their own momentum and team built up and are able to hit the ground running. If your company jives with this level of flexibility, a Fractional CMO comes at a fraction of the cost. They also have the added benefit of not disrupting leadership or bringing out unwanted office politics.

    Group discussion

    Benefiting from a team behind the scenes

    A Fractional CMO is a marketing expert in their own right, but they also come with a large network of talent that your business will be able to benefit from. Need a designer for your newest brand idea? They’ve got you covered. From web developers to experts in implementation and advertising, you will have access to an incredible team of specialists.

    When Do I Need a Fractional CMO?

    It can be hard to know when to add another cook to the kitchen, but with any marketing initiative, there’s no such thing as bad timing for increasing your efforts.

    I don’t have a marketing strategy

    My business has been going well, but I’m not sure what my highest priorities should be. I’ve done all the marketing my team and I can think of, but some guidance from a seasoned professional could really give us the insights we need to push our campaign to a higher level.

    I’m not ready for a full-time CMO

    I have a small to mid-sized business, and I’m ready to go whole-hog on my marketing campaign, but I really don’t have the funds or the need for a full-time CMO. I have enough funds to fully invest in marketing but not in a new long-term C-level executive or team of employees.

    I need more time to hire a good full-time CMO

    My last CMO hire didn’t work out. I need someone to help us maintain our marketing momentum while I find the right fit and get them up to speed. Some collaboration and leadership guidance would be useful as well.

    My current marketing team needs a boost

    I have a marketing team that does amazing work, but we’ve hit a rough patch with an unexpected change in the market. Having some new blood with fresh ideas could really revitalize and rejuvenate our team and campaign.

    I want to stay on top of current marketing strategies

    I’ve been in this business for a while, but I want to make sure I don’t get too comfortable – that’s a great way to miss out on new opportunities or become outdated. I want to grow with the trends, and having someone with a fresher, broader perspective could be just the thing to keep the wheels turning.

    A man in his workspace

    Where to look for a Fractional CMO

    There are many agencies that recruit experienced marketing executives. Some marketing agencies may have Fractional CMOs as well as their third-party marketing teams, or they may know someone they can recommend.

    Finding a company that specializes in Fractional CMO is a lot simpler than you may think in the current digital marketplace. A company with a larger network of CMOs, including virtual, hybrid, and in-person, will be most likely to have someone that suits your needs.

    What makes a good Fractional CMO?

    The best Fractional CMO will be from an agency you’ve heard of – they are marketing professionals, after all. You may have received a personal referral or recommendation from someone else in the business, or you may find out about their services online or at industry events. However, here are a few of the qualities to look for in a good Fractional CMO:

    • Leadership and communication skills
    • Industry knowledge and expertise
    • Strategic planning processes
    • Analytical skills
    • Execution skills

    Full-Time vs. Fractional CMO Costs – what’s the difference?

    Costs of a Full-Time CMO

    Hiring a full-time CMO, or any C-level executive, comes with a mountain of work. The interviewing and hiring process alone could take months before the onboarding can even begin. You’re not just hiring a full-time employee but a high-level executive with an appropriate salary, benefits, equity, etc.

    In the current market, full-time CMOs tend to last an average of under 2 years, which after an investment and buildup of months, can lead to barely breaking even, if not a loss. Then you get to start the whole process over.

    Costs of a Fractional CMO

    A Fractional CMO doesn’t require the same costs as a full-time executive. Lower general cost, lack of overhead, and cutting out the typical onboarding process can save hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not to mention the time you save by getting your marketing initiatives going earlier in the process.

    A man pointing a graph

    When should a startup bring in a Fractional CMO?

    There is no point in the process where it wouldn’t be beneficial to bring in a Fractional CMO, but the sooner you’re able to get the ball rolling on your marketing strategy, the faster you’ll see results.

    Fractional CMOs are able to make a significant impact on your marketing function. They have experience with influencer marketing, general marketing tactics, digital marketing, and so many of the things a company needs to jumpstart its growth.

    Do I need a fractional CMO?

    Any company at any point in its growth can benefit from a Fractional CMO. The hubris of believing there is nothing left to learn is what leads to the downfall of great companies, institutions, and even countries. Who would not benefit from additional expertise in their field? Every Sherlock needs their Watson.

    Whether your company needs basic guidance to build your marketing strategy from the ground up or you just need to give your current strategy a little kick, fractional CMO services can do revolutionary things to your business potential.

    Lou Hughes
    Fractional CMO and CEO of Moving Minds
    Lou Hughes is CEO of Moving Minds and serves as a Fractional CMO to a diverse group of clients ranging from early stage start-ups to mid-cap companies. In this role, Lou leads mission-critical strategic marketing engagements and digital marketing initiatives that consistently increase market valuation, revenue and demand.
    Schedule a

      Yes, I would like to 'opt in' to receive communications from Moving Minds.