Strategy shift: How CMOs are leading data-driven marketing (part 2)


As technology has changed the way people communicate, do business and generally lead their lives, CMOs have shifted their strategies to lead data-driven marketing in ways that maximize new opportunities and mitigate new risks.One panel discussion at this executive event focused on the changing role of the CMO. As the second in a two-part blog post, I’m sharing the recurring themes I’ve taken away from the most recent Argyle Executive Forums CMO Leadership Forum in Philadelphia.

Just as leading marketing executives have:

  • Started with a desired vision of the company in the mind of the customer,
  • Focused on being informative, and not annoying or creepy, and
  • Re-thought metrics, the questions being asked and adopted techniques like data visualization.

They’ve also led data-driven marketing in ways that meet internal pressures to show ROI and external pressures to be relevant. Some of the other recurring themes in the panel discussions and in the conversations during breaks included these:

Recast the dynamics in the C-suite
SAS’s own Hillary Ashton has seen the dynamic change across industries where marketing now has a “seat at the table” in the C-suite. As marketing has changed from being a cost center to a profit center, more CMOs are coming from a data-driven background, enabling the accountability and ROI focus that drives conversations and decisions in the C-suite.

  • Heather Neary, CMO at AuntieAnne’s shared that before any initiative gets off the ground, she gains alignment with the CFO, CIO and the franchise partners by laying out a plan to test, measure and improve – all based on data.
  • Donna MacFarland , CMO, Retirement Plan Services at Lincoln Financial added her experience that creating transparency about marketing processes helps the CMO establish credibility among peers.
  • Mark Conces, SVP and Head of Marketing Analytics at RBSCitizens Financial pointed out that it isn’t just data-driven marketing, it’s about understanding the numbers that drive the business, so finance skills are now critical to marketing.

Be more efficient and agile
For marketers just about everywhere, the 2008-2009 recession constrained marketing dollars, so it accelerated the need for efficiency. Since then, best practices have emerged in applying analytics to marketing with documented results.

  • RBSCitizens’ Conces shared that for them, marketing is now less about volume and more about getting the right customers, and data-driven marketing helps allocate scarce resources better.
  • At Lincoln Financial, increased agility has come with a change to quarterly planning from annual planning. In addition, MacFarland added that marketing often can seem like running in parallel – meeting current demands while also building a foundation for the future. As a result, hiring and skills acquisition is critical to preserve the agility.
  • SAS’s Ashton added that customers are expecting us to become more agile and responsive, so the next era of marketing is about executing flawlessly - a nod to the increasingly important role of marketing operations management.

Create a framework for receptivity to new and changing technologies
Since the technology adoption by our customers is what’s driving so many changes, it behooves marketing leaders to prepare their teams to embrace the same technologies and adapt to them.

  • At Lincoln, as a service provider to companies that provide retirement plans, those customers are the ones asking for data so they can plan and strategize. Since the needs are customer-driven, showing the impact on sales is very effective in the dialogue with IT about technology, MacFarland added.
  • SAS’s Ashton shared that the most effective approach to technology is to focus on the business problem you’re trying to solve. For a grocery company – it might be how to solve a couponing challenge, i.e. no Coke and Pepsi in the same offer. And it goes from there. You can’t boil the ocean, but you can start by looking at it problem by problem.
  • At Auntie Anne’s, Neary emphasized  the need to show how the technology builds the business and that it’s not technology for technology’s sake.

Make content individually meaningful
There’s a growing recognition that storytelling and engaging the audience on an emotional level as individuals is both powerful for marketing and meaningful for customers. That theme emerged on a panel discussion convened to explore content marketing.

  • As Courtney Pierce, Senior Director of Demand Generation at Brightcove put it so succinctly and eloquently:
    Facts tell but emotions sell.
  • Neary at AuntieAnne’s shared that their marketing focus has shifted away from selling the brand or specific products and more toward making emotional connections with consumers.
  • Jean Wiskowski , Prudential Group Insurance’s CMO, shared two great examples on ways they engage their customers in a dialogue that's customer-centered and emotional at the same time - their Bring Your Challenges campaign (focused on five major challenges that sound financial planning can address) and their Day One Stories campaign (focused on the first day of retirement and what it takes to get there).

Update how you develop and use content.
Closely related to the quality of your content, is the way you develop and deploy it. As in all areas of marketing, the key is to make sure you're matching the needs of your audience.

  • For Brightcove’s Pierce, the right approach to content accounts for the value placed on time of their prospects, so meeting their needs and the cadence of how they operate is important. As a result, making content accessible, consumable and meaningful are all key to its success.
  • Sagar Dalal, Citigroup’s VP of Internet & Mobile Marketing shared Citi's focus on balancing the need to be seen as serious, while also being approachable. And as we “put themselves out there” (in social channels), we need to be prepared to deal with potentially negative feedback. The proliferation of channels and channel preferences has meant that format and delivery are both considerations with regards to content.
  • At Prudential, Wiskowski said that thought leadership papers are still important in their mix, but they also look for ways to repurpose content in different formats. The advantage of digital channels, she added, is that they can test and improve in shorter timeframes.
  • Finally, I thought the approach to YouTube at Citigroup that Dalal shared makes a lot of sense – they see it a great way to test advertisements before they’re deployed on more expensive paid channels, such as television.

I found these insights timely as we’re well into 2014 planning, so hopefully they’re helpful for you as well. I’d love to hear about any other trends you see, or best practices you’ve come across. As always, thank you for following!


About Author

John Balla

Principal Marketing Strategist

Hi, I'm John Balla - a Digital Marketing Principal here at SAS focused on Content Strategy. I co-founded the SAS Customer Intelligence blog and served as Editor for five years. I like to find and share content and experiences that open doors, answer questions and maybe even challenge assumptions so better questions can be asked. Outside of work I stay busy with my wife and I keeping up with my 2 awesome college-age kids, volunteering for the Boy Scouts, keeping my garden green, striving for green living, expressing myself with puns, and making my own café con leche every morning. I’ve lived and worked on 3 contents and can communicate fluently in Spanish, Portuguese, Hungarian and passable English. Prior to SAS, my experience in marketing ranges from Fortune 100 companies to co-founding two start ups. I studied economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and got an MBA from Georgetown. Follow me on Twitter. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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