For CMOs of the Future, Agility Is Key to Success

Marketers Will Need Not Just Digital Dexterity but Firmer Grasp of Overall Business

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NEW YORK ( -- Once, chief marketing officers built brands. Now, their primary duty is communicating what the brand means for the financial well-being of the firm -- and they are going to need to be increasingly skilled at that going forward.

Sony CMO Mike Fasulo
Sony CMO Mike Fasulo
Marketers of the future "are going to have to speak the language of the rest of the organization," said David Reibstein, professor of marketing at the Wharton School. "Historically, CMOs have been very good about building brands and a lot of the types of measures that one would look at within marketing, but that's no longer going to cut it."

That means they will need to have a much firmer grasp of their overall businesses and how marketing affects the bottom line. This has gotten much lip service in recent years, but for marketers of the future, what used to be "a differentiator in the past will be a requirement in the future," said Sony CMO Mike Fasulo.

"The marketer of the future needs to understand how his or her actions fit within the total company's priorities," said John Costello,

John Costello, chief global customer and marketing officer at Dunkin' Brands
John Costello, chief global customer and marketing officer at Dunkin' Brands
With this general-manager perspective, "the CMO needs to effectively partner with the field franchisees and other functional areas within a company to develop the best plans." In Dunkin's case, that means tailoring marketing plans to individual markets.

But in all cases, it adds up to one word: agile. Marketers will "need to be able to run organizations that are "very flexible and adaptive, especially in how you measure," said Mark Jeffery, director of technology initiatives and a senior lecturer at the Center for Research in Technology and Innovation at the Kellogg School of Management. It used to be that a brand was set apart by its creative -- compelling copy, TV ads, slick print media. But now "the creative is not the differentiator," he said. "The differentiator is how you manage the process of marketing."

And, of course, prove its worth. And for that, digital marketing is a boardroom blessing. "It gives you instant ROI, and it gives marketing greater credibility when sitting down with the financial guys in the company because it's so easy to measure direct returns far quicker," said John Wallis, global head of marketing and brand strategy at Hyatt Hotels Corp. "We can be far more adaptable as we see things working to continue to go after that market."

'Learn quickly'
Agility -- forced by an increasingly digital world that demands faster feedback and faster measurement -- is what will enable CMOs and other marketing leaders to excel in a world where the only constant is change. The CMO of the future has got to be able to learn quickly," said Mr. Reibstein, "because today it's social media, and tomorrow it's something we don't even yet know."

Marisa Thalberg, VP-global digital marketing for Estée Lauder Cos., knows well. "Two or three years ago, MySpace was more of a consideration, Twitter wasn't, and the best way to market in Facebook was through third-party applications, so we were seeing this and creating innovative programs at the time through apps like Top Friends and Superpoke," said Ms. Thalberg. "However, what was right just that short time ago is entirely different today. And it will be different again tomorrow. This is why agility, paired with constant education, has to be the way marketers operate going forward."

Sometimes agility means throwing out the rulebook. Mr. Wallis made a decision in October 2008 to no longer look at all of his company's previous customer data because he realized it had become irrelevant. "Our world changed in 2008 and so did our customer base," he said. "We had to figure out very quickly who was the customer and who was going to stay with us so that we could capture 100% of their wallet."

In Hyatt's case, success required full coordination between marketing and operations. "We told the general managers in our hotels that the most important thing they could do is make sure every guest leaves happy," Mr. Wallis said. "Then we were very targeted in our marketing to those customers to make sure they'd come back again. And in 2009, we had more customers who stayed with us five times or more than we did in 2008."

That's not to say that agile means impetuous. Agile marketing is "a very structured activity, and it's planned," Mr. Jeffery said. The best internal marketing management, in fact, is rooted in rapid test-and-learn approaches, he said. "The idea is, 'Let's measure as the campaign is running and if it is not working, let's change it and/or stop."

Test-and-learn approach
That test-and-learn approach "is the kind of a new standard that's going to continue," said Mr. Fasulo, citing an example from Sony. "When we launched our 'Panel of Experts' ad campaign this year with Justin Timberlake and Peyton Manning, we tapped in to Timberlake's social network by asking him to post the commercials on his website and Facebook page," Mr. Fasulo said. "The immediate feedback we received from his fans helped us determine which of the several spots we aired resonated best."

The other quality for the CMO of the future is to recognize and hire talent that has the skills they don't. "I'm surrounding myself with as many smart people as I can who are teaching me," Hyatt's Mr. Wallis said. "I'm already trying to bring in people from other industries" to see how other industries handle the economic, marketplace and technological challenges.

What does he look for in new hires? "A lot of it is interpersonal [skills]. Because working in an increasingly matrixed organization, you can no longer work in silos. So you've therefore got to have a great group of people with an extremely good understanding of what we're trying to achieve and how we're trying to get there." The person who runs Hyatt's loyalty program came from Google, he said, while the person running the e-commerce program came from United Airlines and the person overseeing analytics came from the casino industry. "Together as a team, they're dynamite," Mr. Wallis said.

And that's what Mr. Wallis wants behind him, for his own longevity's sake. "At the CMO level, your success will be determined more by the accomplishments of your team than anything you do personally," Dunkin Brands' Mr. Costello said.

That's a reality that's here to stay. Whether it's a marketing team or a media mix, future CMOs must get comfortable with new definitions. "Embrace change; it's the only constant," Mr. Fasulo said. "And don't take for granted that what's working today will work tomorrow."

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