Why The “CMO Of The Future” Needs More Than Data

Dec 3 2018


I was recently interviewed for an article by the Association of National Advertisers, an organization of which I’m a proud board member. The writer asked marketing leaders from a variety of industries which skills will be required of chief marketing officers of the future.
It was wonderful to be included in the piece, which featured perspectives from many of my peers, and some of the answers really resonated. Some discussed design thinking, which will allow CMOs to align their programs with broader organizational goals. I also admired what Raj Subramaniam of FedEx said about the value of nurturing a healthy culture.

But I always look for themes in this type of article, and honestly, I was struck with what most contributors chose to emphasize as the key tenets for the “CMO of the Future.” Time and again they focused on data. Now I’m not saying data isn’t important. It is, and my team relies on data-driven decision-making every day. But I believe that if data is the most important thing to CMOs of the future, we run the risk of overlooking what I believe is most important: taking values-based brand action.

I believe companies should determine their brand purpose, and then take a meaningful action based on that purpose, in order to make a lasting impact on their customers’ lives. I call the approach “Do Well By Doing Good.”

If CMOs aren’t proactive in helping companies take that sort of brand action, who will? They’re the ones who must determine how their brand should exist in the world. They’re the ones who must push for programs that impact both the world and their bottom line. They can use data to identify priorities, but it’s the actions they take after analyzing that data that matter.

In other words, big data is only going to get bigger in the coming years, but marketing leaders in particular cannot get so obsessed with data points that they lose sight of the big picture. Otherwise, we’ll be wearing blinders and we’ll miss so many opportunities to make a difference, for both our customers and our own business.

For example, in my role at Deluxe, I theoretically could’ve skipped the process of examining our brand purpose and looked exclusively at what the numbers were telling me. But without focusing first on purpose and how that purpose could translate to a brand action (which was, again, informed by data) we likely would have never launched the Small Business Revolution. Because the program has made a real, authentic impact on people’s lives, it has resonated in a way that has generated more than 4.5 billion earned and social media impressions. The data alone would not have gotten us there – it would’ve pointed us to driving revenue immediately, instead of investing in a program that has paid such big dividends over time and transformed a century-old company.

In this data-driven era, it’s important that CMOs shape their roles in a way that allows them to focus on more than a set of statistics. The CMO of the future will need to strike a careful balance between art and science. They can’t become so obsessed with cranking up short-term revenues that they lose track of their core missions, which are integral to building long-term brand loyalty. They must determine a brand purpose, and then look to data to help guide what actions they should take based on that purpose.

CMOs are charged with steering the world’s brands into the future, and that means they stand behind megaphones. People are watching and listening. And with that power comes great responsibility. How we act and what we say will have a far-reaching impact that resonates well beyond what is reflected in a set of numbers.

I’m encouraged by the fact that more CMOs are recognizing our opportunity to change the world for the better. But I hope that the CMO of the future sees more than just opportunity. I hope they feel an empowerment – and, ultimately, an obligation – to make a difference. Just imagine a world in which those holding the megaphones approached their responsibility that way.