Fractional CMO services: what on earth are they?

A fractional chief marketing officer (CMO) should be a no-brainer – or, at the very least, be considered – in an unpredictable economy for startups. Especially for those with limited time to do marketing themselves but the need to scale their marketing activities tenfold.

Even though their services are retained at a fraction of the cost of a full-time CMO, they are not the kind of marketing folk that promise 1000 backlinks for $5. No, the real ones know that tricks are for the dubious Black Hat Marketeers.

There are a few layers to fractional CMO services. So perhaps, by the end of this article, you’ll know if it could be a wise investment for your company – especially if you’re in the fast-moving sustainability sector.

What is a fractional CMO?

To answer that question, let’s first take a look at what one of these part-time polymaths might say to you….

In professional respects, it could be something like:

“Marketing without data is like driving with your eyes closed.”


“Catering the sales approach and nurturing leads are like serving appetisers, entrees and desserts.”

Or, last one, I promise…

“Marketing is more of a science than an art.” 

That’s because the legit independent agents become one with the data. It’s their business to know how to measure quantifiable variables (a mouthful, I know) to track and improve performance. They might also say something straight off the shoulder like, “That’s not how the cookie crumbles” when you expect marketing to pass on fully qualified leads to sales so they can work on closing them 100% of the time. Soon you’ll be Smarketing (fun marketing lingo). Because they know aligning sales and marketing efforts is a sustainable business strategy.

Yes, a fractional CMO is as committed as their traditional counterpart. Only with a more ’arriba, arriba, andale, andale, yeehaw!’ approach. As Speedy Gonzalez would say, “There’s plenty more where that cheese comes from.”

In this case, the cheese is your ROI (return on investment).

On a serious note though.

A fractional CMO is like an in-house CMO but more flexible, affordable and scalable. They bring diverse expertise to the table that often injects fresh perspectives and innovative ideas into a marketing strategy. The idea is to navigate through the entire content lifecycle — not only one part of the process — with efficiency and determination to reach sustainable growth.

Except, your content lifecycle needs some extra TLC (tender loving care) to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage.

These days, a fractional CMO with a library of sustainability knowledge will also know that the future of marketing practices does not put growth on a pedestal, alone. Instead, the goal is to deliver a wider sense of value – especially in the shadow of sustainability and ESG.

Frank Herbert said it best…

Fractional SEO agency services - quote-min

A little more about the role…

Now, while a fractional CMO can provide cost-effective strategic direction, there are a few drawbacks.

The person might possess a good level of broad knowledge, but can often only offer expertise at a fraction of their time with limited resources and mental bandwidth. Full-service agencies, on the other hand, come equipped with a diverse team and specialised resources that offer seamless integration—an all-in-one solution, if you will. Keep in mind larger agencies might manage a higher volume of accounts which can lead to your business getting lost in the shuffle.

In a nutshell:

  • Pro – you’re getting someone who’s experienced in the role.
  • Pro – your business gets to control costs. It’s relatively low risk, with potentially high rewards.
  • Pro – you’re not losing time to lengthy executive searches.
  • Pro – you can speed up the onboarding process.
  • Pro – you’ve got access to even more knowledge, network, and resources.
  • Con – your time with the fractional CMO is limited.
  • Con – you might see less integration with other teams and department heads.
  • Con – you’re potentially losing on cultural fit if team-building opportunities aren’t there.

Why agencies are exploring fractional CMO services, too.

While fractional CMOs are traditionally freelancers – agencies are starting to develop some fractional chops, as interest in the service shoots up.

The numbers don’t lie. Source: Google Trends

This is where small-scale specialised agencies come in. They’re discovering that they too could summit the fractional CMO mountain if they could shift their framework. Make it less like an Agency and more like an Officer. However, to achieve this you need a strong figurehead to take the lead and personify the service.

Case in point, Akepa offers highly specialised services. There’s a focus on personalising the client experience in a niche field (sustainable marketing), which differentiates us from larger more generalised agencies.

We stepped in to guide The Secret Campsite through a complete online relaunch to improve search traffic, while migrating the brand’s entire digital footprint and providing sustainability marketing training. All consolidated through a single person, backed by the team. This requires a type of diligence only reserved for those who don’t just bang away at their job.

Just saying.

The idea is not to keep the client (you) hostage. It’s also about allowing you to move ahead on your own with a robust digital marketing strategy in place.

When you might need a Fractional CMO

However you choose to do it, through an agency or a freelancer, here are some tell-tale symptoms that you might need a specialist fractional CMO:

  • 💸 Your marketing budget is on the lower end of the spectrum but you need fresh insights and strategy.
  • 🧪 You want to infuse your marketing team with expertise on a short-to-medium term basis.
  • ⬇ You need to raise your search engine rankings, after they’ve gone south.
  • 🦦 You need regular training and knowledge-sharing to improve your in-house capabilities
  • ✨ You want to offer content that is actually useful to the right folks and brings you benefits.
  • 🤯 New opportunities like AI are giving you migraines and you don’t know how to take advantage.
  • 🌿 You’re grappling with all of the nuances of communicating sustainability, without the time to pin it all down.

If you’d like to chat about any of the above, then why not connect with us and give a fractional CMO service some serious contemplation. If it’s not quite the right fit we can also recommend some top freelancers in the area.

Akepa is devoted to helping brands that embrace sustainability. As a remote-first agency, we aim to hold the planet and your budget in a firm but gentle grip—as one would grasp a small bird to nurture and safely release back into the wild 🐦.

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Celesté Polley

Celesté is a content writer, creative photographer, pianist, avid birder, environmentalist at heart, and Earth wanderer from South Africa.

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