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Close-up with Mark Gambill, VP-CMO, CDW

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Mark Gambill is VP-CMO at CDW. BtoB's recently spoke to Gambill, one of our Top Marketers of 2008, about the technology reseller's latest campaign, use of social media and approach to metrics.

BtoB: What is CDW's major marketing objective for the remainder of the year?

Gambill: Because of the nature of how the economy has turned over the last nine months or so, we really shifted our focus. For the remainder of this year, our efforts are heavily concentrated around demand generation. So when we would look at the purchase funnel, we'd say, “OK, what are we trying to do to stimulate awareness or consideration?” We've shifted our focus to concentrate on what type of marketing vehicle and activities will stimulate more demand, both with existing customers and potential customers.

BtoB: Earlier this year, you launched the “Look at Technology Differently” campaign in partnership with the PGA Tour. What is the goal of that campaign?

Gambill: It was born out of a lot of feedback that we were receiving from our customers and, just in general, surveys about where the most credibility is in terms of hearing about technology, and services and value. CIOs or decision-makers around technology want to hear from their peers about what they are doing, what are the types of technology they're using. We went to the head of IT for the PGA Tour and said, “Hey, we'd like to use you in a commercial.”

BtoB: “Peer-to-peer” would suggest social media, which we'll talk about in a second. But let's start with traditional media. CDW is still running TV spots and print ads. What is the role of traditional media?

Gambill: It's evolving. There will always be a place [for traditional media] just because of the scale of certain types of media properties. What's going to change, from our perspective, is how much we use them and the percentage of investment geared toward them versus something that's more digital.

BtoB: Technology publishers have taken it hard on the chin in the recession. Have you seen any of your media partners go out of business, and what have you done?

Gambill: They have all been very proactive in communicating with us. Where we've really seen a lot of change has been some of the vertical or IT-specific magazines. [They] have closed the publications and gone solely online. When we've had instances like that, we've adjusted accordingly. That's where we've seen it most. The rest of the vehicles we work with have been pretty stable.

BtoB: What is CDW doing with social media?

Gambill: Several years ago, we created our own social media site called ConduIT—“IT” at the end there—we thought it was a cute play on words. We wanted to create an environment where we could facilitate conversation. And we felt that it worked very well, but we also realized that we are not a social media company; and, instead of trying to create these vehicles, we should just identify those that are already out there that are successful and try to understand how we could be relevant in those conversations.

What you're seeing from us, on a strategic level, is looking at properties and activities that we can do on a mass basis, a more generalized basis, and also how we can engage our co-workers—specifically our salespeople, people in marketing, our technology specialists—and have them be part of conversations our there that are taking place. Because you would be amazed there are subgroups talking about the most arcane pieces of technology you could ever imagine, but for them, that's their life; and that's very important. So we want to understand, as it relates to our business, how we can be a part of those conversations.

BtoB: You've been a very strong advocate of marketing metrics. So let's talk about this migration in the context of social media. Can you measure social media's utility at this point?

Gambill: That's a great question. This is a new frontier in many ways, [and] I think that's going to be the big challenge for organizations. What typically happens, at least from my perspective, when something new comes along, everybody feels like they have to do it, they're just not sure how. And I think there's a little bit of that going on with social media. We've had very specific conversations with our advertising agencies about using social media in harmony with other digital activities, so we can make it very relevant but measure it. To give you an example: If we did something like an online banner ad, we'd want to make that ad like an assessment: “Hey, come here and take this assessment.” So maybe people go, take the assessment and get a case study from it. Then they can tweet about the case study or something like that. So that's how we're thinking about social media. Trying to tie it to other activities that we do, such that we can get some semblance of measurement around it.

BtoB: More broadly, can you speak briefly about how metrics changed in your time at CDW?

Gambill: When you're growing at 15% to 20%, metrics can be a little bit more fuzzy. What's changed is we have to be very exacting with our investments and try to understand, as much as we can quantify it, what the ROI is that we're realizing from our various activities. Now as you know, we do a lot of things in combination. So the big opportunity and challenge for us now is making sure we're able to articulate how we're using the different investments in media and media properties and what that's going to return to us, either in terms of tangible revenue or another purpose.

The CEOs of the world today, certainly my CEO, [are] looking for a good sense of understanding why we're making the investments we're making, what are the outcomes and what insights we gain. [And] we're able to adjust and be very flexible and facile with our investments.

BtoB: For the marketer who isn't as sophisticated about this measurement discipline that you've embedded at CDW, do you have pointers on where to begin?

Gambill: Start with your data. Make sure you have clean customer data. Because what happens—certainly has happened to me, and to many companies—companies are very good at collecting data, but the ability to aggregate data in an easy-to-use manner and to gain relevant insights from it is the big challenge. A lot of the problem is disparate databases or not a disciplined process for changing customer data, so then you have dirty information.

So my recommendation would be to really make sure you have your hands around your customer data and make sure it's clean, and that you can access it and understand it and start to get insights from it.

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