Ad Age assembled some of the smartest marketers in the business at its inaugural CMO Strategy Summit last week in Chicago. The event brought the pages of our CMO Strategy section to life, addressing the big issues facing marketers, from tight budgets to big data to agency relationships. Speakers from innovative brands such as Virgin Mobile, Dollar Shave Club and Ikea shared their secrets to success. The event also marked the launch of The Leadership Collective, a group of industry veterans who, in partnership with Ad Age , are leading professional-development workshops on how to foster and use creative thinking in business. Below are some top takeaways:
Agencies, Challenge Your Clients
Leontyne Green Sykes, CMO at Ikea, noted that some of the strongest agency-client relationships are ones in which agencies challenge a client's "internal thinking," prompting marketers to examine their strategies and make sure they've been taking the best approach.
Think Like a Child
Everyone is inherently creative, said Leadership Collective mastermind and former managing director of VCU BrandCenter Rick Boyko, but true creativity is put on the back burner for many of us, in part because it is educated out of us. Show a child a circle and they'll see just about everything but a circle -- an animal's nose, perhaps -- while most adults just see a circle, added Paul Lavoie, co-founder of Taxi.
Hire a Comedy Troupe
Or at least head down to the local comedy club when you're looking for inspiration. Michael Dubin, founder of Dollar Shave Club, says his eight years studying improv with the Upright Citizens Brigade was formative. "I would encourage you ... to hire some comedy writers. Go down to the local comedy club and bring them into your marketing brainstorm," he said. "I always thought they were missing a big opportunity, which was to start their own agency."
Read the National Enquirer
How does Cabot Creamery CMO Roberta MacDonald keep track of consumer trends? Well, one thing she does is read the National Enquirer once a month. Yes, that National Enquirer. "They make most of the celeb stuff up," she said. "But the little articles in the back give you a sense of what's on people's minds about health and wellness."
Get to Know Your Chief Information Officer
That's the advice from Teresa Kroll, CMO of Build-A-Bear Workshop, which runs more than 400 make-your-own-stuffed-animal stores worldwide. Or, as she and CIO Dave Finnegan, put it, "coll-a-bear-ate." The pair even interviews each other's job candidates, collecting feedback "so we are all aligned," Ms. Kroll said. "There are times we agree and there are times when we don't."
Experiment With Failure
Instead of spending $50,000 on research, take a chance on two $25,000 experiments and just see what happens. That advice comes from Help Remedies co-founder Richard Fine, who is no stranger to failure. As he explained in a candid presentation that highlighted the health-care brand's failures as well as a few successes, it's impossible to predict what will take off.
Think Like a Politician
Treat your brand like a political campaign, urged Virgin Mobile's Ron Faris. Figure out what the message is , then develop the propaganda around it. "Cast a villain," Mr. Faris said.
Local, Local, Local
Grocery giant Supervalu operates grocery stores across the country. But CMO Michael Moore said the chain is making a push to connect "directly to the neighborhood," including using store associates in ads instead of actors. Cabot's Ms. MacDonald said "we connected to the community before "community' was cool." For instance: "We put T-shirts on our farmers, armed them with cheddar cheese and took "em to the ski slopes and lobbed cheddar at the travelers to Vermont. And we did that for years, and we still do it." Now that 's local.