How Top B2C Marketers Get Their Start: Early Career Experience and Backgrounds of Top B2C VC-Backed Marketing Leaders

29 October 2021

And the implications for finding and hiring your next marketing leader

This is the fourth article in our six-part series analyzing over 100 Elite B2C Marketing Executives at high-growth, consumer-focused U.S. tech companies to better understand the skills, experience, attributes, and backgrounds that separate them from the rest. We dispel myths, share interesting findings, discuss key takeaways, and explore if predictive indicators exist to identify who will be the most successful marketers. (Our methodology can be found at the end of this article.)

Our first three articles sharing high-level findings can be found here.

Ever wonder how the country’s most elite marketing executives made it to where they are today, and what experiences propelled them along their career path?  

When analyzing the careers of over 100 Elite B2C Marketing Executives at high-growth, consumer-focused U.S. tech companies, we unpack this question and examine what early career experiences may have had an impact on these marketers’ success.  We share key findings and surprising insights into which elements are critical in an elite marketers background, and which are not.  We even dig deeper to discover if certain experiences can predict success.  Our key takeaways and detailed findings can be found below: 

1.  Marketers do NOT need to start their career in marketing to become an Elite B2C Marketer. 

Only 46% of the top 100+ B2C marketing executives at high-growth, consumer-focused U.S. tech companies actually started their careers in Marketing.  This indicates more than half, 54%, started out in something altogether different.  Of those who did not start off in Marketing, 32% started off in Banking, 20% in Strategy Consulting, and 45% started off in a variety of different fields including engineering, business development, and even law.  Marketers do not need to start out in Marketing to eventually become an elite marketing leader.

In our last article, we noted that over a third (38%) of our elite marketing executives spent more than 25% of their careers in non-marketing roles.  So marketing leaders at the top B2C companies in the country can achieve that level of success not only when starting their career outside of marketing, but also if they spent a significant time outside of marketing anytime during their career as well. 

We often get mixed opinions from our clients as to whether they value a marketer that has focused on marketing from the start or one that also has experience in other functions as well.  The data shows there are multiple paths to becoming an elite marketing executive, and less specific patterns emerged than we hypothesized.  We believe the key is to understand the goals and objectives you have for your marketing leader, and evaluate each candidate’s experiences (marketing or not) against what it will take to achieve those desired outcomes.  For marketers still early in their careers with more experience outside of marketing than within it, we urge hiring managers not to discount them as future elite marketing leaders, even if they have taken some significant detours along the way.

2.  Marketers who started at agencies or CPG brands are more likely to specialize in brand and comms, while those that started in banking or consulting often specialize in performance marketing.

Of the top marketers in our study that specialize in Brand and Communications, 47% started their careers at a marketing agency or a CPG brand. Surprisingly, none of the marketers in our study that specialize in Performance Marketing started their careers at a CPG brand, and only one began their career at a marketing agency. 

For those specializing in performance marketing, 45% started their careers in banking or consulting.  Yet only 16% of marketers that started their careers in banking or consulting ended up becoming specialists in Brand and Communications.  

So what makes these two backgrounds produce such different marketers?  While there are performance marketing agencies, many are focused predominantly on branding.  And, if you consider most CPG brands are sold through wholesalers and retailers and require marketing efforts more heavily focused on brand awareness rather than direct marketing to drive online sales, it’s not surprising so many of our brand and comms marketers (and so few of our performance marketers) come from these backgrounds.  

Since quantitative skills are paramount for both banking and consulting jobs, it’s not surprising that those that found their way to becoming marketing leaders tend to do so with a performance marketing specialty. 

For fast-growing B2C tech companies looking for a leader with one of these two types of specialized skills sets, candidate search strategies could start out with a more focused search by correlating their particular need with either a marketing agency/CPG or banking/consulting background.

3.  Fewer top marketers are coming from CPG and Agency backgrounds than ever before, and more are coming from banking and consulting.

While top marketers with a CPG or agency background make up 24% of our entire top marketer list, they only account for 13% of our younger marketers (under 15 years experience), but over-index at 36% of our older generation (with 20 years or more of experience).   As companies grow beyond a certain level of maturity and scale becomes less about turning the paid marketing dials (and more about market share or brand affinity), the deep brand expertise and customer insights gained through a CPG and agency background may become more desirable.  Perhaps we are simply seeing a mismatch of skills to growth stage, as our top marketers list in this study comes from fast-growing, VC-backed B2C companies, often still largely reliant on growth through paid channels.  

Interestingly, top marketers with a banking or consulting background (both highly quantitative functions) reflect the opposite trend, and over-index in the younger cohort at 33%.  Since we found in our third and second article that more marketers are coming from performance marketing backgrounds and graduating with quantitative degrees, we see yet another data point towards a shifting trend towards top marketers with deep quantitative backgrounds.  

Note that roughly half of the elite marketing leaders in our study come from a non-specialized, general marketing background, and these marketers make up roughly half of our younger generation of elite marketers with under 15 years of experience as well.  They are also becoming increasingly focused on performance and quantitative approaches.  

4.  Takeaway for Aspiring Marketing Leaders: As Consulting and Banking experience becomes more prominent in top B2C marketers, an elite education seems to be the first step.

A surprising 85% of top marketers who started out in banking or consulting went to one of the top 25 universities in the United States (72% of those starting in banking, and 91% of top marketers who started in Consulting).  Compare this to only 49% of our entire list of elite marketing leaders, and an elite education for this unique subset of marketers emerges as an important element to starting on this uber-successful career path.

We’ve noted that marketers who started in consulting or business follow the trend of being more quantitative, are becoming more prominent in our younger generation of leaders, and are even more likely to end up at a unicorn.  As young aspiring leaders begin the first leg of their journey by determining where to get an education, if they want to someday be part of this elite group of top marketers, an education at a top 25 school statistically helps considerably and perhaps is where they should start.

While we always encourage B2C business leaders, hiring managers, and recruiters to assess the core objectives you want your marketing leader to achieve, and map them to the unique experience and skill set that will result in the highest likelihood of success, we can’t ignore the changing overall trends we continue to uncover in our top B2C marketing leader study.  Marketing as part of their skillset will always remain critical, but early experiences outside of marketing, and a tendency towards performance and quantitative approaches are becoming ever more prominent (and thus likely effective) in our most elite marketing leaders.

As hiring managers assess the experience and needs of their next marketing leader, they should be giving equal or more consideration to those that fit this “new” profile.  While in our last article we note that each company is different and therefore may have different priority needs, for companies who need branding or product marketing most to uplevel their efforts, their new hire should reflect those same skill sets.  But in these situations consider the supporting senior-level talent on your team, and ensure you also have your performance, quantitative and business-focused bases covered.

We continue to hope the insights and trends uncovered in our analysis will help hiring managers to understand the skills, experience, attributes, and backgrounds of the top marketing leaders in tech – and how to find their next great marketing leader.  We will continue to deep dive into the subject next reviewing women vs men top marketers.  You can view our previous articles below: 

  1. Key High Level Findings
  2. The Formal Education of Top Marketers
  3. The Marketing Expertise and Specializations of Top B2C Marketers
  4. Career Experiences of Top Marketers
  5. Women vs. Men as Top Marketers
  6. Series Wrap Up Including Highlights and Implications

If you are interested in our next articles in this series, please follow RevelOne on LinkedIn.


We identified the most senior marketing leaders at over 100 of the highest growth tech companies in the US.

How we determined the companies:  The fastest growing tech startups included in our study had to meet several key requirements.  Companies had to be funded by a top tier VC (see list below), be a consumer focused business, have an employee count between 100 and 5000, and have been identified as a “unicorn” ($1 billion or greater valuation) or be a “successful, high growth company” in one of the following publications: CB Insights and Fast Company 50 Future Unicorns, CNBC Disruptor 50 Companies, Forbes 25: Next Billion Dollar Startups, Forbes Midas List, or raised $50 million or more in funding within the last 3 years per Crunchbase.

How we identified the marketing leader:  The most senior marketing leader within each company was identified based on title. They had to be in a marketing role, must be located in the US, and must have a CMO, VP, SVP, EVP, Head of, Sr Director, or Director title.

How we conducted the analysis:  Crunchbase was utilized for public company status, funding VCs and funding amounts.  Company and marketers’ linkedin profiles were analyzed to determine company employee count, consumer focus, most senior marketers in an organization, location, titles, education, gender, work experience, years of experience, current role details, and career focus.  

List of Top Tier VCs:  Accel, Andreessen Horowitz, Benchmark, Index Ventures, Sequoia Capital, Bessemer V Partners, Founders Fund, GGV Capital, Institutional Venture Partners, Greylock Partners, Battery Ventures, Union Square Ventures, Founders Fund, General Catalyst, Khosla Ventures, New Enterprise Associates, Norwest Venture Partners, Menlo Ventures, Redpoint Ventures, Spark Capital, Lightspeed Venture partners

List of Top 28 Universities:  Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, University of Chicago, MIT, Duke, UPenn, Wharton, Brown, UC Berkeley, Georgetown, Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern, Cornell, Cal Tech, Johns Hopkins, UVA, Dartmouth, NYU, Amherst, Williams, Middlebury, Swarthmore, Vanderbilt, Wash University, Michigan. 

About RevelOne

RevelOne is a leading marketing advisory and recruiting firm.  We do 300+ searches a year in Marketing and Go-to-Market roles from C-level on down for some of the most recognized names in tech.  For custom org design, role scoping, and retained search, contact us.

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