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10 CMO Insights From The Conference Circuit

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10 CMO Insights From The Conference Circuit

As many of the industries that marketers work in become disrupted, the need to break free from comfort zones to learn and grow is ever more critical to earning a place in the future.

One way to do so is to better understand how Chief Marketing Officer’s are bracing for the changes ahead. Over the last few years we have had the pleasure of interviewing over 20+ CMO’s to better understand how they are preparing for the future of marketing.

In addition to these one-on-one interviews, we also collect insights by engaging in excellent thought leadership forums and conferences that bring together marketing leaders. From that recent journey, here are the top 10 insights we gathered from CMO’s and marketing leaders who took the stage.

1. If  You Do Nothing Else, Find A Way To Make Your Brand Relevant.

One of the recurring themes I witnessed is the importance of making your brand more relevant in a world where we are all more distracted than ever before.

Bill Neff from Yeti suggests that as marketers, we might be overly obsessed with measuring awareness. He explained how “awareness is a derivative of relevance” and that if you focus on being relevant to your consumers, awareness will eventually follow.

Yeti runs an event once every 5 days, not with the goal of “building awareness”, but instead to connect with consumers on a personal level to understand how to be more relevant to them.

2. Start With Brand Purpose And Create Ways To Help People Feel Connected.

Most of the brands celebrated at marketing conferences today have created relevance for their consumers by uncovering a powerful brand purpose.

People around the world are becoming more individualistic over time and by focusing on themselves rather than others, loneliness is pervasive. It is no surprise that many brands have purposes of helping people feel connected.

Mindy Hamilton from Marvel Entertainment shared how her brand’s secret to success is “epic storytelling imbued with human spirit”, addressing the fact that we all want to be connected to something.

Doug Atkin, recently Airbnb’s Head of Community, explained the power of community and how people don’t join communities to create a new identity, but to finally be allowed to be themselves around others that accept them and make them feel connected.

3. If You Thought Discovering Your Brand Purpose Was Hard, Sticking To It Might Be Harder.

Doug Atkin shared several Airbnb stories to demonstrate how important it is to have brand purpose guiding your brand strategy and execution, which is consistent with many other brands that are well positioned for a bigger future.

He shared evidence from a Harvard Business Review article and Simon Sinek’s research to reinforce the idea that “why we work, determines how well work”.

He also went on to suggest that while uncovering your brand purpose might be hard, executing it consistently might be even harder. This was illustrated through a powerful example where Airbnb made a tough decision to stand up to a very powerful entity, the New York attorney general, for something that was intrinsic to its purpose.

As this happened in their early years, the decision could have bankrupted the company, but ultimately, they chose to allow their brand purpose to guide their decision.

In addition to business decisions, Airbnb also uses their brand purpose to hire and progress their talent. Doug explained that how well aligned employees are to Airbnb’s brand purpose is just as an important as their skill levels are.

4. Don’t Ask, Don’t Get. The Magic Of Not Knowing What You’ll Get If You Ask.

Brian Scudamore, CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? & O2E Brands, reinforced the concept that if you want something, you usually have nothing to lose by asking.

He shared a powerful story of asking the Nasdaq if there was any way they could re-run his out of home ad and take a picture of him in it, and sure enough, they did.

He shared several other stories that reflected this principle not knowing what you’ll get if you just ask for something you really want.

His point is powerful from the perspective that if you don’t ask, the answer is always No.

5. Find What You LOVE Doing And Find Ways To Do More Of It.

This concept has been brought to life by several speakers. Keynote speaker and famous professional skateboarder, Tony Hawk, shared his life story and journey into fame.

He demonstrated how he often prioritized his love for skateboarding above all else, even in making some difficult trade-offs, which put the business itself at risk. This was yet another example of how purpose overcame fear and influenced tough business decisions.

Jennifer Saenz, CMO of Frito-Lay North America, shared how even after her 13-year journey from intern to CMO, she loves where she works because of how much she continues to learn.

We all have the ability to thrive by exploiting our unique talents and ambitions.

6. Vaccinate Against Short-Termism.

There are several examples of brands that have done a great job of building short-term conversion while also building powerful brands in the long-term.

Scott Baker, from Porsche Cars North America, talked about how measuring return is very different from measuring revenue. Revenue is immediate, whereas ‘return’ has a more long-term focus.

Return builds and reinforces memory structures and associations that built consistently over time can lead to a purchases years into the future.

Scott went on to explain how Porsche takes the long game of building those associations early in consumers’ lives to build aspirations that one day might lead to conversion years into the future.

7. To Improve Your Advertising Effectiveness, Look Beyond Your Core Targets.

Nils Weigelt, Global Brand Director of M&M’s at Mars, shared several insights on how to apply the ‘Laws of Growth’ from ‘How Brands Grow‘ to your marketing.

One application of this had to do with advertising effectiveness. In many cases, brands speak to their core targets when testing their advertising, but the reality is that in order to grow, you need to focus on reach and penetration, which means that you need to think beyond your core target.

If your ad can work with the consumers that have less associations with your brand, it will likely be more successful at driving penetration. On the other hand, if you only test it with your core audience, there is a bias from the strong awareness and memory structures you have already built with those consumers.

Extend your reach and drive penetration was the lesson I took away from this.

8. Use “Borrowed Memory Structures” To Be More Relevant.

Distinctive brands build and reinforce memory structures, but Nils from Mars shared several examples of how brands can get closer to what’s most relevant to consumers. The key is to find ways to build associations between your brand and what is most relevant to consumers, in essence creating ‘borrowed memory structures”.

One of several examples he used was how M&M’s has borrowed memory structures by creating an ad integration with Stars Wars and Darth Vader to link to what was relevant to a broad set of its consumers at the time of the ad.

Nils also advised that you should look for sweet spots where you can tie into existing behaviors without creating new ones to once again create borrowed memory structures.

One example included how a new packaging format for gum leaned into the behavior of already placing your coffee in coffee cup holders in cars and made it easier for consumers to adopt the new behavior to start placing gum into their coffee holders.

9. Use A Portfolio Strategy To Expand Relevancy And Drive Penetration.

Mindy Hamilton, SVP of Global Partnerships and Marketing at Marvel Entertainment, explained how Marvel has over 8000 characters and each one has the ability to bring consumers into the Marvel franchise.

Nils pointed to the same idea, as M&M’s have several distinct personalities that can appeal to the differing needs and personality types of a broader audience.

Jennifer Saenz of Frito-Lay shared how the different brands within their snacking portfolio have a complimentary set of consumer benefits and can thus use a portfolio approach to driving consumer relevancy and engagement.

10. The Key To Success In Business And Marketing Is PEOPLE.

This principle was reinforced by several conference speakers. It seems like such an obvious insight, but is something that is so easy to forget when we are in the thick of things.

Brian Scudamore from 1-800-GOT-JUNK? stated that brands are only as good as the people that run them. He explained that in his business, one of the most important elements is the people who take care of their customers, which ultimately leads their customers to take care of the brand.

Jennifer Saenz shared the advice of getting to know each one of your team members on a personal level first before discussing business issues so that you have a better understanding of what matters to them. Not only will this improve your team’s dynamics, but it will likely make everyone’s work more fulfilling.

Perhaps Tim Harris of the L.A. Lakers said it best when he stated, “we’re just in the business of people, played by people, sold by people, and consumed by people, so be good to your people”.

He went on to share how he has gotten upset at employees for missing their kids little league games or dance recitals to do something for work that wasn’t a crisis and reminded us that we need to make sure we are looking after our people.

What have you learned on the marketing conference circuit? Please share your conference notes with us.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Jonathan La Greca, Hotspex, VP Strategic Growth

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