1. It’s been a year. What’s the piece of advice you’ve given to CMOs most this year?
Many CMOs are tempted to throw away their plans during such a turbulent time, but I counsel CMOs that now is a more important time than ever to have a solid, agile marketing plan. An agile plan is an integrated system of assumptions, business goals, targets, and campaigns that can easily be adjusted to accommodate changes in any of the factors in the plan. Best practice agile planning includes various performance scenarios and allows for rapid adjustment of the parameters in the plan.
When a major disruption like a pandemic occurs, you need to change the assumptions in your plan and flow those changes all the way through your campaign activities. For example, some marketing teams struggled because they planned to do a bunch of physical events without understanding how they related to their overall business goals. When the events were canceled, they didn’t understand the business impact of the cancellation, and didn’t have a clear idea for replacement activities. Those CMOs who had agile plans in place could rapidly assess the business impact of the cancellation and make an informed decision about how, if at all, they should replace the activity.
2. How are marketing leaders adjusting to these circumstances? What are the top 3 changes you are seeing?
There is a broad range of change happening in marketing, but the most evolved CMOs are driving change in a few key areas, including:
Shifting away from physical events. With physical events being canceled, many marketers found themselves forced to make rapid changes in their event plans. Some simply canceled events without a replacement strategy. Others shifted to digital versions of their existing events. But some of the most innovative marketers rethought their approaches and came up with completely new strategies. For example, if you were planning to attend an industry event for networking opportunities, replacing the event with a digital trade show is not always the best approach. Instead, you might consider building a community platform to facilitate networking throughout the year.
Accelerating digital transformation. It has been exciting to see how creative some marketers have become as they adapted their approach in the pandemic. Small retailers who were working with paper-based systems quickly implemented e-commerce with touchless, curbside delivery to save their businesses. B2B marketers who were spending 10-15% of their budget on digital made rapid shifts in their media plans, and invested in their digital infrastructure to accommodate the changes.
Evaluating their marketing strategy. When enough change happens, it is time to assess your overall marketing strategy to make sure it is still relevant given the times. We have seen many marketers embrace a content marketing strategy for the first time to leverage the assets that they have inside their businesses already, embracing blogging, vlogging, and podcasting in a way they never had before. Marketers who relied on relationship marketing and hospitality are thinking about alternative approaches to sponsored golf-tournaments and customer dinners.
3. How are results being impacted? What companies are winning in this environment?
The companies that are embracing agile planning appear to be outpacing their peers. Some companies have been negatively affected by the pandemic, like companies who depend on travel, while others have seen huge growth, including companies that support remote collaboration. If you can adapt faster than your competitors and you are in a travel-related industry, you will likely do less-worse than your peers. And if you are in a high growth segment, you can certainly drive much more growth if you have the ability to adjust your plans and lean into the growth.
4. How should CMOs be thinking about social change? What is the role of business in these times?
Businesses can play a role in facilitating social change, as long as they are thoughtful about how to handle their role. For example, businesses should allow for a diversity of opinion among their employees and customers and should accommodate different religious and political views. But it is perfectly appropriate to reject hateful ideas like racism and homophobia, and it is appropriate to encourage people to vote, as long as you don’t tell people who to vote for.
There are some really important social movements that shouldn’t be controversial, even though they have been politicized, including climate change and Black Lives Matter. I personally believe that you shouldn’t shy away from those important issues, although you should be prepared to handle some negative feedback from a segment of the population.
5. Do you think greed is good?
Greed implies selfishness, which is not good. That does not mean that it is bad to be motivated by financial success. To the contrary, financial incentives can drive innovation and the promise of a reward for hard work has improved the lives of billions of people. But you need to think beyond yourself and understand how your business or activities affect others. Greedy people don’t care about that part.
6. What if anything do you feel marketers have a wake-up call on? What is our collective responsibility to society as professional communicators and persuaders?
The best marketing is about honesty. Your job as a marketer is to connect needs and desires with products and services. If you are honest with your target audience, you will reap great benefits over time.
7. What do you say to people who say marketing can seem trivial at a time like this? Are people looking for more meaning in their careers? What are the consequences?
People who think that marketing is trivial don’t understand the scope of the field. A marketer is in the business of connecting needs and wants with solutions. Sometimes the job of a marketer is to develop engaging, fun, and seemingly trivial messages to attract attention. But marketing also includes researching needs of businesses and consumers to understand their problems. Marketing also includes the packaging of solutions in a way that makes those offers understandable to the buyer to help them solve the problem.
B2B marketers are responsible for identifying opportunities to create business value for the customers in the markets they serve. Marketing software to help radiologists identify cancerous tumors earlier certainly doesn’t seem trivial to me.
The key to satisfaction for a B2B marketer is to find products and customers that they can be passionate about. Solving customer problems by helping them find innovative solutions can be an extremely rewarding career.
8. Do the changes overall increase or decrease the influence of the CMO?
The role of the CMO has expanded greatly over the years as marketing has evolved. An operationally excellent CMO needs to be a great marketer, but also needs to understand products, finance, operations, technology, and much more.
During this unprecedented time of change in the world, the most successful CMOs will be those executives who can help companies navigate difficult times and thrive.
About Peter Mahoney:
Peter Mahoney is the founder and CEO of Plannuh, a venture-backed software company providing the first AI-driven platform to automate marketing leadership. Before founding Plannuh, Mahoney spent more than 30 years as a marketing and product executive with experience as a CMO for startups through multi-billion-dollar public companies, including AI leader Nuance Communications. He is also an active board member, angel investor, advisor, sought-after public speaker host of The Next CMO Podcast and co-author of “The Next CMO – A Guide to Operational Marketing Excellence.”
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