Four Burning Issues on the Minds of CMOs

Even If You Think You Have It All Figured Out, Tomorrow Everything Changes

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I recently invited a group of CMOs to dinner to start a dialogue about marketing trends and what keeps them up at night. The ensuing conversation was both eye-opening and predictable.

We talked about many of the topics clients and agencies of all sizes grapple with every day -- issues that reflect a rapidly changing approach to building brands and growing revenues. At the end of the night, everyone around the dinner table acknowledged the same conclusions -- that not even the smartest CMOs have all of the answers, and that even if you do believe you have it all figured out, tomorrow everything changes. So you have to stay one step ahead of the changes by keeping your finger on the pulse of what's next in communications, data, technology and talent.

Here are some of the topics that were priorities for the CMOs:

1. Content vs. advertising. Where does one end and the other begin? How do you really determine which is which? How do you effectively convey brand benefits without diluting entertainment value, since the consumer is largely in control of seeing the message? The group of seers believes that -- like most disciplines today -- the lines are clearly blurring between content and advertising.

Content is dynamic, comes in a garden of varieties, is often earned, and the need is insatiable for many companies. Advertising is paid, delivered on countless new channels, multiple screens, and so spread out that it is hard to determine if it is working. The optics of advertising have morphed to a degree where it is now often difficult to determine which is earned and which is paid. Regarding staying front and center of the consumer, great thinking, well executed, is still the standard bearer for genuine stickiness.

2. Data, data data. Some of the marketers around the table have immersed themselves and their companies in a data ecosystem that informs most of their decisions. Gut decision-making is largely gone for these CMOs. All agreed that the right data enables digital ads to be most effective when they are personalized and better targeted.

3 .Ideas. There remains a growing thirst for bigger ideas, executed in a more timely manner, that are easily digested. And if the ideas are on a social platform, there is a keen desire for spreadable ideas, acknowledging that is a fairly common desire these days. The CMOs didn't care who created the ideas, a clear sign that creativity can come from anywhere and anyone.

4 .Measurement. A CMO gathering would not be complete if we didn't talk about results. And I say this with all due respect and support, evidenced by my previous columns in Ad Age and elsewhere. Measuring results is key to proving that you have the right strategy, the best ideas and the strongest execution. The tools continue to change, and there was some offline exchange about which measurement tools were the most effective, but no general consensus.

Our CMO luminaries had fascinating insights, and were not afraid to admit they didn't have all of the answers. That is why they showed up to hear what their peers had to say. I'm reminded of the regular feature in one of the weekly pop culture magazines that says "Stars -- they're just like us." In this case, "CMOs --they worry about the same things as we all do."

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