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Don’t Hire Your CMO for Their Digital Skills

Innovative. Disruptive. Digital. Analytical. Personalized. Tech-savvy. Social.

These buzzwords are frequently associated with marketing strategies in both large and small companies, across countless industries. Many “veteran” companies founded prior to the digital revolution now feel intense pressure to “keep pace” with constantly evolving marketing trends. The challenges to survival are intimidating – disruption is seemingly ingrained in the DNA of digitally native companies, traditional marketing strategies no longer suffice with today’s consumers, and the landscape only continues to increase with competition. But, the attributes of a successful CMO are not what you might think.

Veteran companies have long understood the advantages of shifting their marketing strategies, however, putting theory into practice has been a headscratcher. According to the Wall Street Journal, the average tenure of CMOs fell to 42 months in 2016, down from 44 months in 2015. The cause of this decline can be attributed to hostile business conditions and shareholders’ heightening expectations for improvement. As a result of failing traditional marketing campaigns, companies have begun to diversify their selection pools and re-evaluate the optimal skill-set of today’s CMO.

As their market shares continue to shrink, many large companies notice the encroaching successes of specialized, tech-savvy up-starts. Often, the conclusion is that veteran companies need to be more “digitally-oriented” in order to compete. Because of this, hiring a forward-thinking CMO with a background in digital technology and social media makes sense.

Not so fast.

The abilities that companies should seek in a CMO may not necessarily be “digital” at all. In fact, the attributes of a successful marketer go far deeper than affinity for technology or knowledge of digital strategy. The best CMO will approach complex problems with a dynamic, refined strategy that intersects various, seemingly extraneous, methodologies.

Psychology: Getting Inside the Mind of the Consumer

In a world where consumers can have essentially any product transported to their doorsteps, knowing personalized preferences and habits has become more crucial than ever for marketing. Before thinking about ROI, market size, or even digitization, an ideal CMO thinks about leveraging psychology to truly understand people. CMOs that aim to uncover new ways of triggering positive emotions in consumers will be better able to craft strategies surrounding such behavior. Psychology, the study of the human mind and its functions, can allow marketers to predict how consumers may act in certain demographics and contexts. The best CMOs will focus not only on segmenting customers, but on segmenting their complex experiences and using their findings to predict economic decision-making.

Science: Diagnosing Consumer Motivations with Experimentation

Today’s CMO is a scientist whose strategy is analogous to an ongoing experiment. The ability to diagnose holes and ailments in a consumer’s experience requires concrete testing and the accumulation of actionable evidence. Often, A/B testing, surveys, and interviews can provide the concrete data required to support marketing action. While data analysis is often perceived as a core skill of a modern CMO, the scientific awareness to perform relevant consumer experiments and acquire quality data is equally important. Medical researchers perform countless trials on test subjects to determine whether or not treatments have statistically significant effects on patients – the process of confirming what exactly motivates consumers is strikingly similar.

Matt Taylor, CMO of Hello Fresh, a disruptive online grocery delivery service, leveraged a scientific “trials” approach to build out hypotheses around conversion rates. He specifically notes the importance of staying close to the data and acquiring statistical proof to back up the company’s more creative marketing campaigns.

Entrepreneurism: Designing, Implementing, and Running a Strategy

Marketing begins with discovering a consumer’s unmet need, but often, mobilizing to meet the need in a new way can be challenging. After using the scientific approach to understand a problem, CMOs must be entrepreneurial and active in implementing a lean strategy. At this point, an ideal CMO will organize the correct “team” to carry out a strategy and assess the results. Depending on the nature of the strategy, the CMO may require certain technologies, software engineers, and graphic designers to bring the idea to fruition. At the same time, an ideal CMO understands that, like a startup’s value proposition, the marketing strategy is never set-in-stone and must be compared with the consumer’s needs on an ongoing basis. CMOs with entrepreneurial and innovative backgrounds can pivot their strategies rapidly to minimize wasteful expenses and maximize KPIs.

Jared Cluff, CMO of Blue Apron, the revolutionary meal-kit service, cites his entrepreneurial background as a major influence in the company’s  self-disruptive marketing strategy. One of his major steps in designing Blue Apron’s marketing strategy was assessing, through numerical and empirical means, the effectiveness of various tactics from bill-boards, to subway advertisements, to online catalog tracking. To better understand the consumers’ experiences with a service like cooking, the key for Cluff was rapid iteration on all levels.

Story-Telling: Envisioning and Creating a Compelling Narrative

Lastly, aside from being a psychologist, scientist, and entrepreneur, the ideal CMO must also be an engaging storyteller. Ultimately, consumers are swayed not by the technical features of a product but by their memories, experiences, and associations with it – at the end of the day, they trust brands with stories that they can relate to. In a global marketplace, a CMO must have the creativity and vision to weave a detailed, evocative story around a product, such that consumers can experience it in a truly authentic way, all over the world. With a flair for story-telling, a CMO can take grip of their consumer’s full attention and make their experience unforgettable. To an ideal CMO, new technologies like virtual reality and social media are not challenges to stay on top of but tools to deepen the immersive effect of story-telling.

Former Sephora CMO and current Stitch Fix COO, Julie Bornstein stresses the power of “teaching” in storytelling, how better experiences will organically attract customers. In this video from Marketing Technology Today, Bornstein discusses the best tactics for compelling marketing and emphasizes how her success has much to do with envisioning marketing not as an acquisition vehicle, but as an entire customer story.

Attributes of the Successful CMO: The Total Package

A CMO that leverages scientific methodologies, entrepreneurial strategies, and storytelling can strike at the heart of the consumer experience and reinvigorate a company. In the past, technologies like trains, radios, and automobiles were considering cutting edge. Today, mobile technologies, social media, and eCommerce dominate. Sooner rather than later, however, something new and improved will also exploit and supplant the digital revolution, but a CMO with the true optimal skillset and approach will be able to navigate any changes.

How does your company segment customer experiences? How is your marketing team structured to achieve its function? What types of qualities do you seek in a CMO? If you’d like to chat about or discuss anything related to marketing, strategy, and talent selection feel free to contact me, Steve Rosenstock, below.

Email Steve Rosenstock

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Co-author and contributions by Adam Kershner.

Tags: Digital Engagement, Holistic Marketing Alignment, Organizational Health
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