The Marketing Expertise and Specializations of Top B2C Marketers

10 September 2021

And the implications for finding and hiring your next marketing leader

This is the third 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 two articles can be found here.

Ask any seasoned marketing executive, or check your favorite marketing industry publication, and you’re likely to find an opinion on what marketing expertise or specializations are in highest demand in the market, and which ones make up the best marketers and marketing leaders.  

But what marketing backgrounds and specialization do actually define the most talented marketers, and can we even predict those who will be successful B2C marketing leaders based on these criteria?

As part of our six-part series analyzing over 100 Elite B2C Marketing Executives at high-growth, consumer-focused U.S. tech companies, we continue our analysis and dig into the marketing experience and marketing expertise of our top marketers, to further uncover what defines a top marketing executive.  We examine their time spent in marketing vs non-marketing roles, their expertise in a certain marketing discipline (e.g. brand or product), and critical nuances that may be inferred as they relate to these criteria.  

We have summarized our top findings first with more detail and insights into their implications below.

  1. Over a third (38%) of our elite marketing executives spent 25% or more of their careers in non-marketing roles.
  2. Roughly half (49%) of the top B2C marketing leaders specialize in a specific marketing discipline, i.e., performance marketing, brand/communications, product marketing, product, CRM/retention. However, most of these specialist marketers (73%) are performance marketing or brand/comms specialists.
  3. Brand/comms specialized marketers are more likely to stay at a company longer, and performance marketers are the least likely to stick around for longer stints.
  4. Marketers who did not specialize in a particular marketing discipline are more likely to have an MBA than those who did specialize – 45% vs. 29%.
  5. The younger generation of top marketers are specializing in performance marketing, and have a more quantitative skillset than ever before.  

More on our findings in detail below.

1. Marketers don’t need to spend their entire careers in marketing to be an elite B2C marketing leader.

Over a third (38%) of our elite marketing executives spent 25% or more of their careers in non-marketing roles.  This might come as a surprise to some as it stands to reason that more marketing depth and understanding, should lead to a better marketing leader.  But, as we’ve noted in another article, some marketing leaders aren’t just great marketers, but great business and financial leaders as well. Considering that the non-marketing roles our marketers spent time in were predominantly banking and consulting positions, it is understandable how these financial and business roles could contribute to a well-rounded business and marketing leader.

It is also interesting to note that men are more likely to have spent a good portion of their careers in non-marketing roles than women, 43% of men vs 33% of women.   MBAs provide general business and financial know-how much like a hands-on role in banking or consulting, so it’s interesting to note that 43% of women in our study earned an MBA vs. 30% of the men.  Perhaps these experiences balance each other out. But keep in mind we learned in our first article that marketers do not need an MBA to be an elite marketer.  Nor do they need experience in banking or consulting.  

Some companies want their marketing leader to have lived and breathed marketing since the start of their careers.  From our experience working with some of the most exciting tech companies in the world, extensive experience in marketing is indeed important.  But as our experience tells us and the data supports, time outside of marketing can also be beneficial.  So, while B2C tech companies should always ensure their marketing leader has extensive marketing chops, they should not discount a candidate that has spent time in other roles.  They should welcome the additional relevant experience other roles can bring.

2. Marketers can have a specialty and still become an elite overall marketing leader, and the vast majority of these are performance marketing and brand/communications specialists.

About half of the elite marketers in our study (49%) specialized in a specific discipline of marketing including product, product marketing, brand/comm marketing, CRM/retention, or performance marketing, for much of their marketing careers.  This proves that just because a marketer is specialized in a certain subset of marketing, does not mean that they can’t become the overall marketing leader for a fast-growing B2C organization.  

But the particular area they specialized in matters.  A shocking 73% of top marketers who specialized in a specific marketing discipline come from one of only two areas: performance marketing or brand/communications.  Conversely, only 1 of our top 100 elite B2C marketers comes from a predominantly CRM/retention background.  Does brand/comms or performance marketing experience make you more capable as a marketing leader than experience in other marketing disciplines?  In our experiences working with high growth, VC-backed B2C tech companies, a company’s success (or next phase of growth) often comes on the shoulders of a strong brand/comms presence, or highly effective performance marketing channels – so in some ways, that answer is yes.  

As a whole, the top marketers in our study are split almost evenly (49% and 51%) between those that spent much of their careers focused on a single marketing discipline, and those whose marketing experience was more general.  We encourage every company to align their unique business model and requirements to the particular expertise and experience of any marketing leader they are evaluating.  The data suggests that starting this evaluation by focusing on your Brand/Comms and Performance marketing needs first, however, may yield the best results.  After all, these are typically the most important disciplines a fast-growing start-up could use in their leader, but don’t discount other disciplines including CRM/retention experts.  After all, every company relies on its own model for success, and if CRM is the backbone, then a CRM-focused leader may be the best choice.

3. Elite Marketers who specialized in brand/comms during their careers stay longer at companies than any other type of marketer.  Performance marketers are the least likely to ‘stick around’.

Only a quarter (25%) of our B2C marketing leaders have been at three or more companies for more than 4 years.  However, a significantly higher 42% of our elite marketers who specialized specifically in brand/comms during their careers have been at three or more companies for more than 4 years, and 63% of brand/comms specialists have never been at a company for less than 18 months (compared to only 34% of all other marketers).  The data implies that brand/comms specialized marketers are uniquely more likely to remain at companies for longer stints.

Consider then that performance marketers are 2x more likely than any other marketers to have been at 3 or more companies for less than 18 months each, and we begin to see a differentiating longevity pattern emerge among our elite B2C marketers.

Perhaps it is the relationship-focused nature of a brand/comms specialist or the work itself that increases their likelihood to stay in roles longer.  A brand can take time to develop, and its reputation can take years to build.  Brand/comms marketers are also typically good at building relationships, the specialty itself requires building rapport across departments, media and analyst relations, and connecting with both clients/customers and internal stakeholders on a deeper level – which takes time.  

While brand/comms specialized marketing leaders may, in general, be more inclined to ‘stick around,’ every marketer is different and this nuance should not be generalized to all.  Growing B2C companies should evaluate each candidate’s loyalty level based on their unique career backgrounds, and companies will be best served choosing a marketing leader with the specialty, or generalization, that aligns best with their business.  But, if it happens to be a brand/comms specialist, you might rest a little easier that they will likely still be there after the dust settles.

4. Marketers who did not specialize in a particular marketing discipline are more likely to have an MBA than those who did specialize.

While 38% of all the top marketers in our study have an MBA, marketers who did not specialize in a specific marketing discipline like brand/comms, product, or performance, are the most likely to have an MBA at 45%.  Perhaps this group is already predisposed to view marketing from a more general or even business-focused perspective, making an MBA a likely extension of their more varied interests.  

Of the marketers who did specialize in a specific marketing discipline like brand/comms, product or performance marketing, only 29% have an MBA (compared to the 45% for generalist marketers noted above).  Our marketers who focused on brand/comms have one of the lowest rates of having an MBA at 26%, and surprisingly performance marketing specialists at only 28%.  

We note from our first article that a marketer does not need to have an MBA in order to be an elite marketing leader.  While we encourage companies to consider the data, many still have a preference for their marketing leaders to have a business degree.  In these cases, they can expect general marketers who did not specialize in a specific marketing discipline to be more likely to fit their requirements

5. The younger generation of top marketers are coming from performance marketing backgrounds more than ever before. 

Top marketers who specialize in performance marketing make up more than half of our youngest generation of elite marketers – they are a whopping 3X more likely than any other group to have less than 10 years of total experience.  Consider the top marketers who specialize in product or product marketing are almost twice as likely to have more than 21 years of total experience (62% vs 37% respectively) and we begin to see a difference in marketing skillsets between our younger and older generations of marketing leaders.

In our second article, we noted that more elite marketing leaders are graduating with a quantitative degree than ever before – 37% of all of the elite marketers in our study had a quantitative degree, while a surprising 55% of all elite marketers with under 11 years of experience have one.  As performance marketers typically focus on the quantitative side of marketing, the data continues to support the idea that our youngest, upcoming generation of marketing leaders are bringing with them a more quantitative skillset than ever before.

Doing over 300 successful marketing and Go-To-Market searches a year, we have seen firsthand this shift towards performance/quantitative focus when it comes to talent.  While a brand/comms or product marketing-focused leader may be the best fit for a company’s growth model and thus marketing leadership, we strongly encourage hiring managers and recruiters to thoroughly vet the overall business and quantitative skills and experience of all of their potential leaders.

Because every company’s road to success is different, we encourage B2C business leaders, hiring managers and recruiters to align the requirements and specialties of their potential marketing leaders with the unique requirements and nuances of their business.  For example, one B2C ecommerce company might be a large marketplace where huge SKU counts require innovative, technical and automated solutions, making a product specialist or performance marketer an ideal fit.  While another may be trying to break into an already congested market and need a strong brand/comms presence to rise above the pack.  

We work with our clients to truly understand their unique business needs and challenges, and develop a marketing leader profile that will best help them grow.  The findings in this article should help refine the nuances of that hiring strategy, dispel myths about what marketing specialties are required or undesired, and keep companies ahead of the curve regarding the types of marketers (and skills) that may be the future of our most elite B2C marketing leaders.  

In our next article, we explore the career experiences of our elite B2C marketing leaders. 

Our full article series includes:

  1. Key High Level Findings
  2. The Formal Education of Top Marketers
  3. The Marketing Expertise and Specialization of Top 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: Crunchbased 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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