Kim Whitler
October 8, 2019

6 B2B CMOs Discuss All Things Marketing

Guest: Kim Whitler - Asst. Professor of Business Administration, Darden School of Business Administration

On last week’s RTU episode 155, Kim Whitler and Drew dove into a wide range of marketing topics, including exploring the CMO/CEO relationship in detail. Given the subject matter, it was only appropriate that the episode was recorded in the presence of 6 B2B marketing leaders. Now, in the second part of the interview, those marketing leaders start guiding the discussion.

Tune in to hear their questions on the subjects of branding vs. demand budgets, how CMOs should engage with other C-suite members, and whether modern CMOs should skew towards a quant-mindset or a creative mindset.

Today’s guest audience:

Full Transcript Drew Neisser in conversation with Kim Whitler

Drew Neisser: Hello Renegade Thinkers. This is part 2 of my extensive interview with Kim Whitler, Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Darden School of Business. But what makes this episode special besides the fact that it’s under 30 minutes is that I don’t ask most of the questions. The CMOs in the audience get to and it’s fascinating where they go. They want to know who they should befriend in the C-Suite; they want to know where to spend more on-demand or brand; they want to know who succeeds more—the quant oriented CMO or the creative oriented CMO. The results might surprise you, they certainly surprised me and delighted me. I think you’re really going to enjoy this episode, thanks for listening as always.

Drew Neisser: We’ve got these wonderful CMOs who have been listening patiently. I’m excited to get your questions. Who’s ready? Raise your hands and I’ll introduce you and make sure you’re not on mute. Norman Guadagno, who is the new CMO of a company called Acoustic. Acoustic is the marketing technology, a newly formed, huge company spun out of IMB. Norman, what’s your question?

Norman Guadagno: Great. Thanks, Drew and Kim. Terrific discussion so far. I really love this discussion around brand and demand. I have found much the same thing. I often refer to them as two sides of the same coin, brand and demand, you can’t have one without the other to be successful. What’s interesting though is, how often do you see a CMO or a company that is overinvesting in brand and not enough in demand? I haven’t actually seen that too often, but I have seen a few instances where they just don’t get that you can’t only do brand, you actually have to do some real demand creation as well. I’m wondering, Kim, how you think about that?

Kim Whitler: I’m trying to think of, other than anecdotes if I have any evidence. I don’t think I have—in my research I haven’t specifically explored that. That’s really interesting. Can you tell me a little bit more about the circumstances when you find them overinvesting in one side? What drives them?

Norman Guadagno: Without picking on any specific brand, I’ve seen examples where there’s a lot of brand investment, a lot of brand awareness, and yet finding the way to complete the deal or you’ve walked away from that brand advertisement hoping that it’s going to show up in demand because of your target audience and not seeing that follow through. Or, seeing demand but not getting the necessary follow up. Demand is never the 1st touch, it’s always the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th touch that plays off. I’ve seen this in some startups, and I’ve seen this in some larger companies where they maybe feel that the customers are going to come to them vs. having to go to the customers. I think that in today’s competitive market, it’s not sufficient only to have that brand.

Kim Whitler: I totally agree with you. I think what that suggests is, it sounds like you’re arguing, and I would support it—it seems like there’s a lack of competency on the demand side. This is somebody who’s had a historical strength on perhaps TV advertising, or some sort of general awareness building competency and they don’t have competency on the demand side. Or it could be a company—this happens a lot in retail in particular—where they have these historical comps. They used to do TV advertising so every year it’s hard to erode what the historical norm was in the company to shift funding fast enough to where it needs to go, and so they are overinvesting in what I would call historically strong channels and they’re underinvesting in the contemporary ways of driving consumer behavior closer down the funnel. So they spend a lot on upper-funnel stuff and less on lower-funnel stuff. I think it makes sense. But what would you say drives it? Is it CMOs competency? Is it something about the company that’s driving this?

Norman Guadagno: It may be all of the above, but it may be, as you were talking about earlier—the CMO may be more creatively driven and hasn’t fully invested in a strong, quantitative team underneath them. If you’re not that hybrid CMO, you really want to have the strongest possible quantitative person and give them the ability to execute in parallel with your creatively driven execution.

Drew Neisser: I want to give a change to a couple of the other folks who are listening. Who else would like to ask a question? Dave Bornmann from Naylor Association Solutions. How are you?

Dave Bornmann: I’m good, Drew, thanks. I’ve got a question around customer experience and where you’re seeing that fall within the organization. Are you seeing CMOs increasingly having responsibility for the customer experience or not? If that’s it’s on C-level person within the organization. Just curious if there’s any movement in that area.

Kim Whitler: Here’s one of the interesting challenges when I’ve been looking at responsibilities. There are some general guiding thoughts on what happens. The smaller the company the broader the responsibility. The super large companies, they splinter everything. They have a chief customer experience officer, they have a chief analytics officer, they have a chief marketing communications officer, they have all these different positions where they take what some of us would think of as a marketing role and splinter it into 5 pieces. It’s the nature of the size of the business. That’s a generality that suggests that as companies get larger, they splinter the roles. Who manages the customer experience, I think, is somewhat driven by industry and norms in the industry, isomorphism in the industry.

It’s also somewhat driven by the size of the company. At some companies, you have chief experience offers, at some you don’t, and it’s managed more by a chief marketing officer or someone managing the direct customer experience and retailing (like operations). I think there are a lot of experiments going on with no clarity around where the best place is for this to sit. Some might argue that it’s its own role, reporting into the CEO. Some might suggest that it fits underneath somebody else and combined with other activities. But I think right now we’re in a period of experimentation where we’re trying to figure out what the role should be, how it’s different from what marketers used to do, what’s the unique need for it other than as companies get larger they need to splinter the roles because otherwise, they get too big to manage. I don’t know if there’s any real clarity around where that’s going.

Drew Neisser: Well, I will tell you, of the 350 CMOs I’ve interviewed, only two have been responsible for customer experience. In both cases, they identified the problem and they said, “Hey, we’re doing this great marketing, we’re driving people in there, they’re having a lousy experience so we’re winning here and then falling off of the back of the truck.” And because they raised the problem and had the data, they got back, “Okay, smart person. Go fix it.” One of them is Manny Rodriguez who is the CMO of UC Health. I just noticed recently he got another responsibility. I sent him a little note on LinkedIn and said, “I should congratulate you, I think?” because at some point the issue becomes, how can one person really do all these jobs and have the expertise to do it?

I think one of the issues that CMOs face is, it’s hard enough to be a great marketer today with the need to be both a creative and an analytics person at the same time. When you add customer experiences and the nuances and the expertise, the only thing I would say it, “Be really careful.” If you can’t succeed without taking charge of it, maybe you embrace it but you better hire somebody who knows how to tackle this problem. Otherwise, there will be too many people saying, “Hey, not only is the marketing bologna, but the CX stuff is bologna too.” That’s my thought.

Kim Whitler: This is a conversation with some CEOs. They’ll say, “I need somebody who is 29 years old to be the CMO,” (I’m exaggerating), “because they’re very digital savvy.” I explained to them that my mother is extremely shopping savvy. She knows how to shop at Walmart and other places but doesn’t make for the best marketer at Walmart. And so because young people are very good about using Twitter or using Instagram, it doesn’t make them great at managing Instagram or Twitter to help generate growth for the company. Those are different skills. Using it is different than leading it.

And then, more importantly, at the head of the function, it should be the orchestra conductor. It’s not necessarily the oboist who gets promoted to the orchestra conductor, it’s not necessarily the drummer who gets promoted. Essentially, they have to understand that it’s a complicated orchestra, and they need to know enough about each and every different part so that they can put it together so that as a group, they make beautiful music together. That is a very different skill. That is a strategist, that is a leader. It’s somebody who has experience in enough of the different ones or is smart enough to know what they need to go learn to be able to facilitate the whole organization.

It’s kind of like saying, “I need somebody who’s great at a specific type of coding to be the CIO.” No, you need a CIO who understands the value of the coding, who knows how to hire somebody who can do the coding, who knows how to ask the right questions to know that the coding is done correctly, but I’m not sure you want to promote the coder to CIO. There’s this odd thing that’s happening in marketing. You see on boards. “I need a digital expert to go on boards.” I’m doing a lot of research interviewing board members now, and this is a problem. We can have a digital expert consult to boards, but what you really need on boards is somebody who is much more than a digital expert, if that makes sense.

Drew Neisser: It’s funny—that’s what Greg Welch and I talked about in our entire episode. Great CMOs are great leaders and all that goes with it. Last call? Any other questions?

Stephanie Anderson: Drew, I know we talked about the relationship with the CFO and a little bit about the CIO, but from my standpoint—and Kim, I did the same thing at Time Warner Cable where we had to rebuild a lot of things, so my relationship with the CIO was extremely important. I even found myself educating him on what was even available out there for us to find out about our customers, our prospects, how to make that useful, how to push that into Salesforce, all of those technical things. And then we actually sat on a CIO/CMO panel which was very interesting that Forbes did years ago but I don’t think they do it anymore.

I’m just curious, has any of your research or experience talked much about that? I’ve always been at a technology company, but using the technology and making sure you get the support of the CIO of the organization—whether that’s something as simple as your website or something as complicated as an Eloqua or Oracle system.

Drew Neisser: For all the listeners, that’s Stephanie Anderson, the former CMO of Time Warner Cable Business Class.

Kim Whitler: Excellent, excellent question. Actually, I’ve done quite a bit of research on that. IBM helped facilitate this. I did a number of dyadic interviews where we identified best in class and struggling organizations where the CIO/CMO relationship was working effectively, where it wasn’t, and tried to figure out what was driving it. I actually have an article in HBR on this and I’ve got some other academic publications on it. The short answer is that, yes, this relationship in many ways is critically important to the company and in many cases very dysfunctional.

Organizations are rewarded for different things. Marketers are rewarded for driving growth; IT oftentimes is rewarded for not making a mistake. If they do nothing, then they’re in better shape (I’m exaggerating here); marketers constantly want to try things and they need to do different things and they need to move fast, so it pits these two functions against each other.

The short answer Stephanie that I found is that in the companies that work well, what happens is the CEO—again, I’m kind of a broken record on this—we tend to underestimate the criticality of the CEO. The CEO understands the importance of the two working together and they do a couple of things. In some of the best companies, the two literally sit together, in some companies they’re working directly together. They have members from their own teams embedded in the other team. They do offsites together. They literally are strategically linked, but here’s what the CEO does. Not only does the CEO in some of these best companies have meetings with just the CEO, CIO, CMO to go over technology decisions to help drive the firm forward on a regular basis, but the CEO also changes what they’re rewarded for.

He or she makes sure that they’re both held accountable for the same thing. The CMO needs to care about privacy issues and data breaches and everything else so that they have empathy for what the CIO is trying to protect. The CIO also has to be held accountable also for driving and generating growth. When the two have shared responsibility, and I call this horizontal alignment, versus vertical alignment with the CEO, then the two shockingly get along well. It all comes down to what they’re held accountable for and what they’re rewarded for, and historically and traditionally it puts them at odds that helps create the conflict.

Part of it also is the nature of the training and the way in which we think. We come from two different thought worlds, but that can be overcome with mechanisms that reward the two leaders for delivering similar results.

Drew Neisser: Amazing, and really interesting. What makes this role so interesting and so challenging is that you have to build these relationships across, and you have to share ownership in all ways and make them feel part of it. But it does also come down to, as you said, how is everybody rewarded? If we’re all rewarded for the same thing, then we’re all pulling oars in the same direction. I wanted to give the last call for questions while we have Kim here. Aaron?

Aaron Clifford: Thank you, Kim. Thank you, Drew. I was going to ask a question: Has any of your research been around personality types with the CMO, with CEO, what two combinations work best together, and which ones should not work together?

Drew Neisser: That’s Aaron Clifford, for the audience who is listening, who is the CMO at Binary Fountain. Go ahead.

Kim Whitler: Fascinating. No. And what’s interesting is that academic research on upper echelons leaders—so that’s the board, CEO, and top management team—has not done much on personality. There has been a bit of research on CEO hubris, negative personality traits of the CEO, but not beyond that. This would be a really interesting area. Do you have any hypotheses that you want to throw out?

Aaron Clifford: Very rogue ones, but maybe somebody else has one.

Drew Neisser: It’s funny because, in any of the Myers Briggs studies on CEOs and leaders, they come from all quadrants, so that’s a hard one. What’s interesting is, they come from all quadrants but they somehow or other do share some common characteristics. One is to know what they’re good at and what they’re not good at and surround themselves with people who can fill in the gaps. I suspect one of the challenges for the CMO is, if you have a CEO who thinks they really know marketing, it’s finding some space and room between that individual. So that’s a good news/bad news thing.

Kim Whitler: It’s a very complex question because there are so many aspects to a person’s personality, the degree to which they have a high need for control. There are just so many dimensions that you could go explore, and how that interacts. I have to say it’s a fascinating question. As I’m thinking about it, I’m not quite sure how to tackle it, but it’s a great question.

Drew Neisser: We’ve covered a lot of ground today. Peter Neiman, who is the CMO of Amalgamated Bank. Talk to us! What’s your question?

Peter Neiman: Darden School makes great CEOs. Are you able to tell and are you able to send them our way for hiring purposes?

Kim Whitler: Well, I will start by saying that I feel very fortunate because I think the Darden students are spectacular. I’ve guest lectured at a number of schools; I got my Ph.D. at Indiana because the professor I wanted to work with was there. I’ve worked across a number of different schools, and one of my first-year students said that they’re kind of blue-collar, Ivy League students. I thought that was a really good description. I think what he meant was that they are really hard workers, nothing is beneath them, they value good relationships. They’re the salt-of-the-earth kind of people, all the good attributes when you think about blue-collar, but they tend to be well trained, very bright, very capable. All of them, I think, generally are good.

The interesting thing for us at Darden is that we get so many people wanting to be consultants and i-Bankers. This year, I asked my class, “How many of you were marketers?” Not one person raised their hands. That’s quite unusual because I think the number one degree coming out of undergrad business schools is marketing. Traditionally, we haven’t historically gotten many marketing students who come to Darden, we get the people who want to go into i-banking and consulting. My primary goal is not to teach them marketing, but to get them to respect marketers. If I can do nothing else but to help them appreciate what marketers do uniquely in the firm so that, when they get there, they’re not that Wharton CFO. They really have a true appreciation and respect for it, and they have enough knowledge to ask the right questions.

I will say this. I had a student in my 2nd year who was really sharp. He was from Mexico; he blew open the opener of a case. I knew he was going somewhere. He just sent me this weekend an email saying that he’s been hired to be a CEO of a $60 million company down in Mexico that they want to spin off, ideally in five years, to Coke or Pepsi. Now, did I think he’d be CEO in five years? No. But he made it. Sure, I’m happy to help you. If you need some students, I can send them your way.

Drew Neisser: There it is. We get employee recruiting right here on Renegade Thinkers Unite. Alright, well, we’re going to wrap up the show. First, Kim, thank you so much for spending the time with us. It’s been great talking to you. Also, thank you to the CMOs who joined the show to keep me honest and excited about all of this.

The word that comes to mind here is respect, and you mentioned that several times. I think it’s this combination of earning it and getting it. The earning it seems to come from being this hybrid who understands brand and demand, who understands creative and analytics. That’s one way you earn respect. Number two is reaching out and building these relationships with your peers and the C-suite. Number three is figuring out a strategic plan. Have one, because that will be the thing that will allow you to essentially say, “These are the things that I’m planning to do and how I plan to measure. You agree, right? Because that’s what we’re doing. And if they don’t agree with your strategic plan, full stop. Get approval for that. I could go on. I’m not going to because this is a long episode, but thank you again Kim for being a guest on Renegade Thinkers Unite.

Kim Whitler: Thank you

Drew Neisser: Hey audience, let’s give her a round of applause. [Applause] Alright, to the listeners, thank you for hanging in with us today. I hope you got a lot out of the show, I did. And until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.

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