As CMO for Frito-Lay North America, Ram Krishnan oversees some of the biggest brands in the snack-food business, including Lay's and Doritos. With those brands aggressively targeting millennials, Mr. Krishnan must stay on top of the latest digital trends, which is why he considers himself a "marketing technologist."
But he warns against chasing the trend du jour: "We can't let technology get in the way of humanizing what a brand stands for, or else we risk adding no value to consumers."
So how does he do it? Ad Age recently caught up with him in an email interview in advance of his appearance at the upcoming Ad Age Digital Conference.
Advertising Age: What level of tech/digital expertise is required of a CMO these days?
Ram Krishnan: Today's CMOs need to be invested in becoming technology thought leaders at the highest level. The consumer landscape has dramatically changed -- millennials, our bread and butter, are entering parenthood, they view the world differently than previous generations and they are unique in how they engage brands. The explosion in use of personal devices has unlocked granular-level data that helps us understand who consumers are, where they shop, what they like. And the technology of today and tomorrow offers a level of interaction with consumers we never imagined -- from geo-targeting to 24/7 connectivity to content consumption across multiple platforms. The convergence of these three conditions requires us to not just be marketers, but marketing technologists.
Ad Age: How do you stay on top of tech trends?
Mr. Krishnan: A variety of ways. We bring outside experts into our marketing leadership meetings every month to provide insights on the latest trends, emerging technologies and ideas to consider. We've created our own internal Digital Disruption newsletter that is aggregated every week from our own associates and what they are observing or using in their personal lives. We've also created a reverse mentorship program that pairs our leadership -- including myself -- with a millennial team member that is a digital native to educate us on new platforms and how they are using technology in their lives. I am able to get quick exposure to many ideas and opportunities this way and it keeps us looking forward.
Ad Age: What is the No. 1 one digital trend that you are tracking right now?
Mr. Krishnan: The idea of everyone's unique "you-niverse," where consumers are in complete control of anything and everything that engages with them. People are cutting off their cable because they can pick and choose the entertainment that will stream directly to them. The Internet of Things has become mainstream. People can access content they want through multiple devices that are interconnected through various experiences. This trend is especially important for marketing in that it significantly impacts how we reach our consumers and it makes flexibility and responsiveness even more critical.
Ad Age: When hiring, what tech skills do you look for?
Mr. Krishnan: Digital nativity is important, as well as understanding the dynamics of the environment we work and live in, but more importantly I am looking for content creators. I want marketers that are able to drive content creation independently and not have to rely entirely on external subject-matter experts. This allows us to move more quickly and foster a culture of experimentation.
Ad Age: What is an overrated tech/digital trend?
Mr. Krishnan: What is overrated is chasing the latest technology trend. Our focus should be on creating immersive, engaging experiences for our consumers that leverage the technology available so that people can touch and feel the purpose of our brands. We can't let technology get in the way of humanizing what a brand stands for, or else we risk adding no value to consumers.
This conversation has been lightly edited.
To hear from Ram Krishnan on CMOs as guardians of the customer experience, come to the Ad Age Digital Conference on April 14 and 15 in New York.