Attention marketers – if you want to be a chief marketing officer (or marketing director on this side of the Pond), then be warned: “the market is moving faster than the function”.
So says Jon Iwata, IBM’s senior VP of marketing and communications, who shared his thoughts in Harvard Business Review’s recent “Changing role of the CMO” webcast.
Based on the findings of an IBM Global CMO Study, he was joined by his counterparts at Yahoo – Elisa Steele – and at Schneider Electric – Aaron Davies – to examine how the most senior marketing role has changed and what the future holds.
And the kick-off point was the CMO’s job to “close the gap between [a company’s] desired corporate character and reality”. Iwata quoted no less a figure than Abraham Lincoln to make the point that “Reputation is the shadow, character is the tree.” In other words, how a business is perceived externally is only as strong as the truth underpinning what that company actually does rather that what it claims to do.
Steele highlighted that we’re living in the “age of accountability” in which the volume of conversations about brand and customer experience hit CMOs where it hurts! But the availability of data and analytics means marketers who are not exploring the “science bit” are unable to support company growth in the way they should. As Davies metaphorises, “customer data is a gift, if you unwrap it correctly”. Perhaps masochistically, he also suggests that – for the marketer – “failure is a gift as well”.
Coming, inevitably, to social media and the CMO, Iwata describes IBM’s approach as empowering people to be good and responsible with it – especially as the collective number of IBMers on LinkedIn (300,000, apparently) and their 1st order contacts constitutes a larger community than visits IBM.com every day. The combination of people and the content they create is a real opportunity, says Iwata, while Steele describes the social media-induced “collapse of the marketing funnel”. And despite the fact that social media ROI remains hazy, Steele feels that, intuitively, it’s the right thing to be doing.
Iwata acknowledges the obstacles at policy level in companies when it comes to social media, with finance heads fearing leakage or disclosure and HR balking at any online criticism of management. But, he says, “you can’t just use it [social media] for listening and co-creation but turn it off when people are criticising or saying things that make you uncomfortable”. Conversely, he sees social media as an investment that pales (in cost terms) compared to traditional marketing approaches.
But the effectiveness of using social media has “not been fully cracked”, according to Iwata, adding that “Web 2.0 is still in the mode of sending messages to individuals”.
However, traditional marketing still has its place, according to these leading marketers: Davies, despite calling digital “the wallpaper in many organisations now”, says there is “a place for everything still”, citing his experience of a 50/50 split of online and traditional marketing in China right now.
Leaving the final word to Jon Iwata, his advice for those aspiring to be future CMOs is “stretch yourself into new spaces”. After all, it’s the character of your company that’s at stake.