"The Big Rethink" 2015 - The Age of the Entrepreneurial CMO

I have just attended The Economist's 'The Big Rethink 2015' event in London, where leaders from organisations such as Diageo, O2 and Google and various innovative start-ups explored the 'Age of the Entrepreneurial CMO'. The event talked about a new breed of marketer known for their speed, agility and ability to scale on a tight budget.

Inevitably different speakers brought their own perspectives, but a common theme was how CMOs can best balance the 'art' (creativity, intuition) and 'science' (data, technology) of marketing to create better value for customers. With the threat of faster, more agile competitors, how can marketing leaders find the right balance in their organisations to unlock growth? Here are key ideas that resonated with me from the event...

1. Instil an Entrepreneurial Mindset

Entrepreneurs avoid over-strategising and act fast to capitalise on new market opportunities, Diageo CMO Syl Saller's view is that most of the strategies in her industry are the same and it’s this ability to react and execute with pace that’s key. For example, to gain first mover advantage over competitors, they mobilised the launch of Ruut beer into Ghana within just 6 weeks through agile working between the global and the local market team.

Diageo challenges their marketers to act like a small business owner in their decision-making, watching and responding to what's happening in the world. This also means embracing failure so marketers can really live by the Google mantra 'what would you do if you weren't afraid?' Similarly Fred Destin of Accel called for CMOs to 'embrace their own ignorance', using intuition and hypothesis to explore new ideas which can be informed by the data rather than led by it.

2. Partner with Start Ups for Disruptive Innovation

Whilst Diageo has established a "Futures team" to drive innovation from within, they also partner with tech starts up to drive breakthrough solutions for big challenges like responsible drinking. This reflected the view of Brandwatch's Azeem Azhar that whilst sustainable innovation can be built into big organisations, disruptive innovation is difficult so you need to invest or partner with start-ups. The reality is large companies need a certainty of outcomes that is not particularly conducive to truly disruptive ideas.

A successful example cited was Coca Cola's strategic alliance with Endomondo (a 12 m user social fitness community). Coca-Cola harnessed the tech start up's cutting edge technology and social network capability to drive innovation around its Powerade brand, such as its hydration app that educates users on how much to drink after their personal workouts. CMOs have a key role in ensuring that their organisation’s investments or partnerships are only pursued if they will ultimately add more value to their customers.

3. Balance personalisation and privacy

Data science has the potential to enable increasingly personalised experiences to customers whether through our mobiles and digital TV sets to driver-less cars and device connected homes. However with power comes great responsibility. Economist Editor in Chief Zanny Minton-Beddoes opened the day with a prediction that the next industry disruption may come from a big data privacy backlash rather than any new technology.

It is imperative that organisations find the right balance between personalisation and privacy for their customers. The more data customers provide, the more value you can provide them but make sure this value exchange works for them and they trust you. For example, you’re happy for Amazon to use your data because you know it helps provide relevant book recommendations when you want to them.

4. Orchestrate the whole Customer Experience

Consumer loyalty is down by 50% across sectors¹. The majority of people wouldn’t care if 74% of brands disappeared tomorrow². It has never been more critical for marketers to build stronger relationships through a brilliant customer experience.

As we have outlined in previous posts, marketing needs to step up and fulfill a broader role creating and executing the customer experience across the organisation. Reflecting this view, Daryl Fielding of Vodafone called for CMOs to become the conductor orchestrating the desired experience across every touch-point. Focus on the moments that matter to customers not what you think matters most – for example, Vodafone customers spend far more time engaging with their bills than any brand advertising campaign. Similarly, Nina Bibby of O2 emphasised the lack of separation between the product experience and communications now, what you say and do must be aligned. Never is this truer than in Asia, the first mobile-first region. We can’t simply be brand storytellers, the whole organisation must deliver on the brand promise to customers in practice.

This relentless focus on the customer must remain the priority for marketers and their organisations. Whatever new technologies emerge, they are ultimately just enablers for creating better experiences for your customers. The winning marketers will always remember it’s about engaging the people behind the devices not the devices themselves.


Read other ideas and perspectives on creating a customer-centred organisation including films from CMOs, white papers and blogs.

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¹ Stockholm School of Economics Study
² Havas Meaningful Brands Study