How to Connect in the Age of 'Fake' News
Dan Marks just wrapped a very successful 2016 as the CMO of Hancock and Whitney Bank. He has a lot to be happy about: the company's financials were healthy and its stock was up. But Marks seems pleased more by something else too -- his team's cohesiveness. "Seeing the team come together and raise their game was so far my proudest accomplishment," he says. "That gives me great confidence that we can continue to put up even more remarkable accomplishments in the future."
Hearing this, it should be no surprise that Marks is a connector. He believes strongly in the power of connecting for success -- connecting with his staff, but also with consumers, other industries and his peers. This sincere belief in connection gives away his natural leadership tendencies, which The CMO Club recognized with one of its most coveted accolades, the President's Circle Award, an honor bestowed on the best networkers of the bunch.
But connecting in today's world is tricky. How can a brand reach consumers through all of the noise? How can a CMO effect change among cynicism? How can marketers know whose advice to trust? Read Marks's thoughts below.
Connecting 101: Have a purpose
Every marketer knows that there's an art to connecting with consumers. There's a science to it, too, driven by research and data, which rightfully is commanding more and more of our budgets and time. But you'll never fulfill your marketing goals by focusing on just one or the other, Marks says. Instead, focus on your company's purpose, and the rest will follow. "The critical part to a balance is to remember that we are ultimately serving people," he says. "People respond to purpose, whether or not that's B2B or B2C or our associates."
With your team: Lead with a roadmap
Having a purpose serves a brand well, and it certainly doesn't hurt to have a purpose when you're approaching your executives with a proposal to fundamentally change your marketing department. Something else that helps? A roadmap. When Marks arrived at Hancock and Whitney in 2015, he sought to drive the acquisition of a new marketing automation platform. While the company's other executives were open to taking a new approach, Marks and his team had to build their case for change. "We had to prove it, so there were incremental steps," he says. "You can't start with perfection, so start with a piece and work [on it] over time, based on a vision and a roadmap."
This is where the science of marketing -- and the power of data -- becomes important in connecting with your executives. "If you're embarking on a marketing transformation and you don't have 100% buy-in, that's a good place to start with the credibility of the metrics," Marks says. Six months of slowly building empirical evidence for the new platform, and a campaign was up and running. Marks's persistence paid off: thanks to this new set of tools, his marketing team's productivity per dollar spent increased by double digits during 2015.
With customers: Be credible
Now for the hard part: the internet. When a consumer comes in contact with a brand, especially via search, he or she is looking for concrete, credible information about that company. This is an opportunity to connect meaningfully. While the story the brand tells itself might satisfy some of their questions, the story its customers tell is even more valuable. "The story is more and more told by the client, so you have to harness that and equip them with social," Marks says. "The power of social media amplifies the good and the bad stuff."
In an era where online credibility is constantly in question, it's important that your story and your service are airtight. "The story has to be an authentic value proposition, because it's never a good idea to try to fool consumers," Marks says. "I think the whole issue of credibility is really interesting right now. How do you know what's credible online or in the real world? It's going to be interesting to see how that plays out."
With peers: Listen
Like his fellow CMOs, Marks is always learning, and encourages his colleagues to do the same. "We don't just compare ourselves to other banks or other financial service providers. We look at what's happening with people in other categories," he says. "There's a few examples of where that thinking has led to unexpected insights that have paid off from a business perspective." For a healthy exchange of ideas, Marks recommends reading, networking and spending time with groups like The CMO Club. "Talking to other marketers, reading what's going on, that innate sense of curiosity. What's happening in other industries, and how can we be inspired by that?" he says. "What can we learn about how other people are connecting?"