Data Insights

8 Lessons I Learned From 8 CMOs

Emi Tabb

First, I know you’re here for the quick-hit CMO lessons, and we’ll get to that (or you can just skim down for them, which is fine, too!). But I want to share how I got them, since I think it speaks to the problem marketers everywhere are trying to solve: how do we use data (with care) to help our customers?

Last July, I got my first full-time gig as a content marketer. The work I did months one through four were similar to the work I had done as a freelancer in college (writing blog posts, editing email tracks, standardizing website copy) with a few twists. Such as I wrote at a desk instead of a dorm room couch, and my manager gave me feedback, not sign-off. There were also other marketers in the office who I learned from and spoke to in-person, not just over video conference calls.

I spent more time inside my comfort zone than out of it. Until December. That’s when I had to brainstorm a new content roadmap with Jordan, the other half of the content marketing team. We spent seven hours a day for two consecutive weeks in a conference room whiteboarding solutions. We laughed, I cried, and every time we made a pitch, our manager said: “Good, but not quite there.” Tough, but fair, Amelia.

Eventually, we came up with a plan that was good and there. Jordan and I would cut our dedicated time to the blog in half and focus on what our manager calls a ‘big bet’–untested, bold campaigns that could have a lot of impact (if they perform well) or would teach us a lot about what we should be doing (if they flop).

Jordan’s big bet was creating industry-specific product benchmarks reports. My big bet was…to be determined, essentially. I would write something that Marketing leaders would care about. The first step was figuring out what Marketing leaders care about.

So I pored over survey data. I read thirty ebooks cover to (proverbial) cover. The ebooks analyzed aggregated responses from hundreds of thousands of senior-level marketers at top companies around the world. And, across the board, respondents were thinking about two things: customer experience and customer data.

Marketing leaders, in particular, wanted to get all their customer data in one place, so their teams could analyze it and then use it to give customers more of what they wanted and less of what they didn’t. It sounds simple, but it’s actually really, really hard. Less than ten percent of respondents were proactively using data to make decisions; most were reacting to performance metrics.

I decided to try and speak with the CMOs who would openly talk about how they addressed the problems at the intersection of data, customer experience, and privacy. So I did more research, this time on specific CMOs and what they cared about. Then, I started cold emailing. I did a lot of cold emailing.

Honestly, I didn’t expect to get much back, but the pitch resonated. After two months and dozens of back and forth emails with generous PR people, I had the opportunity to interview ten marketing leaders. Eight of their stories are out now. While there’s a ton of richness in their accounts, here are the eight lessons that I took to heart:

Ali Weiss, VP of Marketing at Glossier

Businesses win when they listen to what women and femmes want, instead of telling them what to want. (This lesson came up in the context of brand marketing, but it is applicable for everyone, always).

Linda Boff, CMO of GE

The success of a business should benefit its customers. So if ensuring customer privacy is at odds with the marketing strategy, get a new marketing strategy.

Jeanniey Mullen, CMO of Mercer

Not everyone actually knows what marketers do, which is an internal marketing challenge so tough that only marketers can solve it.

Corinne Sklar, CMO of Bluewolf

Even for a company with infinite monetary resources, nothing will solve a problem as effectively as the commitment and energy of the people most affected by it.

Siddharth Taparia, VP of Marketing Transformation at SAP

Enterprise executives should care about building relationships with their customers and employees as much as startup leaders do.

Zach Beatty, VP of Marketing at Aaptiv

The things that matter to product people should matter to marketers and vice-versa. For subscription businesses, that thing is retention and customer advocacy.

Jeff Samuels, Global VP of Marketing at Cisco Security

Use data to learn from failure, not punish people for it.

Danielle Guzman, VP of Social and Distributed Content at Mercer

Data does not stifle creative thinking. If used well, data can actually enable it.

What they all taught me? The power of a well-written email and a relevant story.

If you are a marketing leader with a story to tell about data and customer experience, send me a note! Also, while I have you here, help make tech a more inclusive, equitable, and innovative industry by supporting one (or all) of these incredible organizations:

Black Girls CODE brings more women into STEM fields through workshops, summer camps, community outreach programs, and hackathons for young girls. Since their inception, they have helped more than 3,000 girls of color to develop their technical skills.

Lesbians Who Tech provides career opportunities and community to queer women and non-binary people who work in tech (or would like to work in tech) by hosting conferences in cities around the world, including San Francisco. We recently sponsored their summit, which had more than 5,000 attendees and keynotes from Bozoma Saint John, Megan Smith, Sheryl Sandberg, London Breed, and more.

Code2040 works with companies like Mixpanel to build more diverse, inclusive, and innovative teams by pairing Black and Latinx computer scientists with organizations looking for outstanding technical talent.

TransTech Social Enterprises is a community that empowers trans and non-binary people through online courses, conferences, co-working spaces, and meet-ups that prepare their members to enter or advance their careers with a strong network and job expertise.

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