What does it take to be a successful CMO today? Josh Steimle reckons it’s the ability to have an eye on the prize, a nose in the numbers and an imagination that knows no bounds.
During his first 12 months in the role, Spotify CMO Seth Farbman came up with the brilliant idea to produce and promote night-time playlists. His inspiration? Millions of user data points which pointed to an opportunity for Spotify to reap the rewards of a large niche audience.
It’s this marriage of innovation, creativity and data which award-winning author Josh Steimle says sets successful CMOs squarely ahead of the pack. And he should know – for his book, Chief Marketing Officers at Work, Steimle interviewed 30 such CMOs.
Steimle quickly came to discover that Farbman’s accomplishments are actually reminiscent of a larger shift, prompting CMOs to cultivate on three things – quick returns, multi-faceted skills transcending discrete departments, and data-driven models for success.
“This idea of the marketer being more like Don Draper from Mad Men or somebody who throws the dart at the wall and says ‘oh we’ll do this today,’ and they’re just coming up with creative ideas in some backroom – That’s not the marketer at all that I found,” he says.
“Now the CMO is responsible to go into the boardroom and say for every three dollars and 53 cents that we spend we get a new customer.”
Listen along to discover why there’s a revolving door of CMOs “topping out” after short stints, and how to avoid doing the same. That plus plenty of marketing insights from the likes of GE, PayPal, Target, Spotify, and the Harvard Business School.
- Chief Marketing Officers at Work
- Top CMOs Advise On How To Avoid Common Marketing Pitfalls
- Music as medicine: how songs could soon replace painkillers and help you sleep better
- GE’s CMO on redefining B2B marketing at the ‘pretty damn cool’ brand
The CMO Show production team
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Hosts: Mark Jones (MJ) and Jeanne-Vida Douglas (JVD)
Guest:Josh Steimle (JS)
JVD: We’re here with Josh Steimle, he’s the CEO of MWI and the author of Chief Marketing Officers at Work. Welcome to the show.
JS: Thank you so much. Happy to be here.
MJ: Josh, I’m interested in the, if you like, the maturity path that those CMOs have been on to that point. Did you get a sense from speaking to them about, you know, how quickly things have changed?
JS: So before the internet you’d weren’t able to get the data for your marketing to evaluate your campaigns effectively and so people relied on the best data that they had. Today, you can track down to the penny exactly what you’re getting back from your Facebook ads or Twitter ads or other ads that you’re running and so with that granularity, now the CMO is responsible to go into the boardroom and say for every $3 and 53 cents that we spend we get a new customer and because they can provide that data, it’s been required of them, and so that‘s really pushing the CMOs into this more technical world, but that’s all come about with the internet over the past – we could say the last 20 years, but really it’s been the last just 3 or 4 years that they’re really getting that data.
JVD: Are you seeing the, a sort of global trends in terms of that, that CMO shifting into a more strategic and perhaps a more prestigious role within the organisation?
JS: Yes. More prestigious and more risky at the same time. We see that CMO turnover is pretty high just as the CMOs been given more responsibility and perhaps that’s a result of so much responsibility putting on, being put on the CMO that it’s easy to blame them when things don’t go right. But, yeah, I was interested to see that a lot of the CMOs I spoke to are taking over other roles, or they’re starting to manage other roles. So, in some organisations the CMO’s becoming responsible for sales and some organisations the CMO’s responsible for customer service and these are roles that you would typically put under marketing and yet when you talk to these CMOs and you get to understand their job, which is growth, and their trying to understand every customer touch point so that they can sell more so that they can have a better relationship with a customer, then it makes sense why they’re managing sales and managing customer service and in some cases the CMO is even managing product design which you would never put under the CMO logically and yet when you understand that the CMO is the person who is most in touch with the customer and understands their needs and wants well then it makes sense that the CMO gets involved in discussions about product design and how an app or a website is designed, but even how a physical product might be designed because they get their customer.
JVD: There is a high turnover of CMOs, but they don’t often go into a higher position. There’s not all of that much movement into the CEO role. They tend to move horizontally, if you like, to another organisation at the same level. Is this something that you’re seeing and is it something that concerns CMOs being able to sort of breakthrough that, I’m not going to call it a glass ceiling, what would it be?
A managerial ceiling if you like into the top job?
JS: I think they are two reasons that may account for most of that. Part of it is yes the CMO is that poison chalice, it’s a little bit too easy to blame the CMO when you don’t see the growth that you want. Because who are going to blame? I mean you can blame sales, and you could blame customer service and these other things, but the CMO has a big target painted on their forehead because that’s the person who’s in charge of growth. So of course, when you hire a CMO and then you have them for 12 months and you don’t see the results you want it’s easy to go and say well, we need a new CMO this is who we’re going to blame because everybody’s trying to protect themselves and I think the other side of it is that corporations are slow moving and the idea of the CMO as the principal driver of growth is still a new idea.
I mean a lot of large companies don’t have a CMO, they don’t have a [VP] in marketing, there’s nobody at the board level that has anything to do with marketing. A lot of the companies – when I was going out writing this book I was trying to find which companies I was going to get marketers from and I was surprised how many companies when I looked at their websites, I’m looking at their leadership page, there’s nobody with marketing attached to their name. And they might have 30 people on that leadership page for their global organisation, not a single person has marketing attached and so the idea of marketing being this C-suite, board level role is still a new idea for a lot of companies and so there are a lot of companies that I, when they see the CMO or they see somebody in that top marketing position, I don’t think they see them as top leadership potential type people.
JVD: So it’s all a risk in responsibility without the recognition?
JS: I think in some cases, yes.
MJ: And you know it’s easy to glorify the sales role because you kind of get it intuitively at a board level.
They sell stuff, yeah, so what about another tactic that we see is that the growth of digital officers so…
JVD: CDOs, yeah.
MJ: Yeah, so as, as either a companion to the CMO or perhaps a different way of re-imagining the CMO. What’s your take on, on that particular title?
JS: Well, on the one hand I get it that there are certain organisations that have certain needs and they say hey we need somebody to do X, Y, Z job and what do we call this person?
Well the CDO thing kind of seems to fit and that’s a fun sounding title and maybe we can use this as a recruitment tool so let’s advertise for a CDO because that’s kind of a hot thing and maybe we can get somebody into that title just by offering that title as kind of a carrot.
So I get that that happens and that’s a necessity in business. At the same time isn’t all business going digital? It seems to imply that this business hasn’t already become as digital as it should be and so they need to hire somebody with that role to move that, move them into that. It’s, it’s a bit of an admission of being behind it seems like it.
MJ: You know and that’s interesting because I, I’ve had this view, we don’t hire Chief Mainstream Media Officer or…
…Chief Outdoor, you know…
JVD: Advertising Officer.
MJ: Yeah, Billboard Officer.
It’s like we’ve, we’ve glorified a channel, haven’t we?
JS: Yeah, yeah.
JVD: So you mentioned before that you were surprised by the, I guess, the technical prowess of a lot of the CMOs that you interview. What were some of the other really surprising things that you came up with in your research?
JS: Just the level at which some of the CMOs are involved. So, for example, Seth Farbman is the CMO of Spotify which of course is hot app that everybody and their kid is using and so Seth Farbman was telling me a story about how they were examining the data from their users and they noticed that a lot of their users were turning on music late at night and then just letting it go for hours and hours and hours and they weren’t modifying anything, they weren’t changing anything, they weren’t interacting with the app and they were trying to figure out why are people late at night turning on the app and then just not interacting with it all?
Well they figured out that people were turning on music to go to sleep…
JS: …to help them sleep and they their sleeping through the night listening to music.
So, when Seth Farbman was looking at this they decided hey well let’s start advertising playlists to help people sleep. Let’s push this out and respond to this and so to see a CMO getting involved in that level of detail and really being on the frontline looking at what their users are doing, that’s interesting to me because in a lot of large organisations you see such a divorce between the high-level executives and the frontline.
JVD: So what’s the difference between someone like Seth who clearly has a fair bit of influence within the organisation and maybe another CMO who, who might have the opportunity to come up with these sorts of solutions but just doesn’t get the traction, isn’t being listened to?
JS: I think there’s a lot of trust in somebody like Seth. So with an organisation like Spotify that’s young and growing rapidly, I think there’s a tendency to look at the CMO as more of a growth hacker and to say, look we’re bringing you in as a CMO and we expect immediate results. We expect you have to an immediate benefit to the organisation and we are going to trust you and we’re going to put the growth of this organisation in your hands.
In a larger organisation like GE where I interviewed Linda Boff, their CMO, that’s a little bit harder to put that much trust in the CMO, but it’s also hard to give the CMO that much control because GE has hundreds of divisions and each division has its own marketing team and so the role of the CMO is just really a different role. It’s not growth hacker, it’s more somebody who’s overseeing and training and supporting all these individual marketers and co-ordinating their activities and managing the brand to make sure it’s used consistently, but it’s a little bit harder for somebody in Linda Boff’s role to sit down with an engineer and start making on the fly marketing decisions.
JVD: Who are CMOs today? What do they look like?
JS: Well, I went into this exercise with my own preconceptions and biases about what a CMO was and what a CMO wasn’t and I came away learning a lot of lessons writing this book.
I interviewed 29, actually 30 CMOs, 29 made it into the book, and one of the eye-opening things for me was to learn that the CMOs are much brighter and much more on top of technology and data and trends than I was expecting them to be.
Some of the them have programming backgrounds and engineering backgrounds and they’re highly technical people and so this idea of the marketer being more like the Don Draper from Mad Men or it’s so – that the marketer is somebody who throws the dart at the wall and says “oh we’ll do this today” and they’re just coming up with creative ideas in some backroom. That’s not the marketer at all that I found.
In fact, these marketers are dealing with more numbers than the CFO is dealing with. They’re the ones who are really heavy into the data, in the analytics and they’re really diving into that stuff and yet at the same time they still have to go with their gut and they have to have that magical intuition that guides them in the right direction.
MJ: Let’s change tack a little and talk about the globe [laughs] and clearly your perspective you’ve, you’ve got a business yourself you’re, as running an agency in the US and also now China and Hong Kong. Give us an insight into some of the, the global marketing trends or perhaps differences you’re seeing between the different cultures that you’re working in.
JS: A lot of the CMOs that I interviewed are running global organisations and they have offices and customers in all sorts of countries around the world and you do see that people are different and so you have to localise your content. You have localise your app, you have to respond to those differences.
For example, here in China everybody uses WeChat instead of Facebook and all the other social media apps that we use everywhere else in the world and WeChat has this function built into it with QR codes where everybody is scanning QR codes and you use these codes to make purchases on the street. So if you want to pay at a restaurant or you want to rent a car, or rent a bike or you want to make a purchase at the supermarket, you scan this code through WeChat and that’s how you pay. Well for a company coming into China from the outside, if they don’t understand that this is how everybody in China is making purchases these days and they make the assumption, oh everybody is going to buy with a credit card, they’re going to fail right there.
But at the same time, people here in China, they care about the same things that consumers care about everywhere. They care a lot about quality. Especially because they have been some scandals in China with food products and food safety and such and so they care a lot about safety, they care a lot about brand because brand to them communicates that level of safety and that trust in the product. And so the fundamental things that consumers care about are the same, but the way that it’s delivered, the channel, those things do change and that’s where localisation comes in.
And also one other interesting example is Amazon here in China has really struggled because they went out and they hired a lot of local people and then they found that a lot of these people were simply job hopping. They were wanting to get Amazon on their résumé so that then could leverage that to get a higher paying job somewhere else. So they come to work for Amazon for six months and then they get a job offer for two or three times their salary at Amazon and they go somewhere else.
JS: Yeah, so it was just this revolving door.
JS: Where Amazon was getting used in a way to build résumés, but they weren’t really building their business and so understanding that these dynamics exist in different markets is something that a lot of these CMOs have to adjust to and understand and what a lot of them are doing is they focus on hiring local talent that they can trust to run things locally because they know that as a global CMO they don’t have time to micromanage every local office. They have to get people on the ground who understand that.
JVD: Now you’ve mentioned sort of digital nous and you’ve mentioned empathy as being two traits that CMOs really need at the moment. What are the some of the other attributes or qualities did you notice that these leading CMOs either had or were, were developing or needed?
JS: There’s one thing that we, we hear a lot these days about AI artificial intelligence and robots taking our jobs and such and I think about that as a marketer is there, is the day coming that a robot could take my job as a marketer?
How do you get AI to figure out those same type of connections? I think that’s very difficult, I think that’s something that perhaps only we as humans can do and that’s something that I think the CMOs are very skilled at doing, is seeing inside the mind of the consumer. I don’t know how you can do that through AI or robotics. I mean I can see it to an extent, but I think these CMOs have that creativity that is really key and that’s something that I kept seeing pop up in this role as I interviewed the CMOs.
MJ: Now Josh on the personal side, I’m interested to know a little bit about what you’re learnt through this whole process. You’ve obviously, you know, running an agency and then growing into these different markets and so forth. What’s the future look like for you and how has it changed how you see the world?
JS: It’s, one thing that I got out of the book that’s changing my career and changing my role is Linda Boff, she had my favourite quote out of the entire book. She said “Speed is the new intellectual property” and I love that quote because a lot of product designers or product oriented companies they focus on patents and copyright and trademarks and things like that, but really, it’s all about speed these days. Everybody’s copying products and copying ideas so quickly that we have time to file patents and copyrights because by the time they’re issued the product is already obsolete and we’re on to the next thing. And this idea of speed and moving quickly has really become key for me and my business and what I’m doing in my career and so I’m always looking for the lean way to approach things and how do I get something out there really quickly and test that idea and move that into production or into something that we’re doing as an agency as quickly as possible so that we can catch the next wave. In fact, it’s funny, I interviewed 30 CMOs for this book, by the time the book was published about 10 of those CMOs already were not in the position they were when I interviewed them for the book.
JS: And I had to rewrite their bios and say well this person when I interviewed they were the [laughs] CMO, but now they’re in this other position somewhere else.
JS: So that idea of speed and getting things out there fast really came out of the book and is helping me in my own business.
JVD: What do CMOs need to know in the next 12 to 18 months?
MJ: Yeah. Give us some hot advice.
JS: So, one of things that I saw in these interviews and I’m seeing in my own marketing agency is people want authentic connections with brands, they want to connect to a person who represents that brand. And the opportunity here, I think, is for essentially influencer marketing but maybe not exactly the way that we think of influencer marketing. We often think of influencer marketing as these crazy kids on YouTube doing crazy stuff and then we go to them and we say hey will you sell my product. I don’t mean so much that type of influencer marketing, but instead of the CEO being the all-powerful CEO at a company who maybe he issues a statement here and there, I think we’re going to see a lot more CEOs like Richard Branson where they are a personality unto themselves, they’re a brand unto themselves and their brands, their companies benefit by being associated with that charismatic out there CEO and so I think we’re going to see a lot more CEOs and other executives becoming influencers, becoming thought leaders. Whereas before they could hide in the boardroom, they could just get their job done, they could execute, and maybe they were a personality in the business world, but nobody else knew who they were.
What type of person are they, do I agree with them on their politics, on their ideas about how the world works? And I think Richard Branson is one of the people that we see at the forefront of this, who’s understood this for a long time that people do business with business they like and trust and so he’s out there and he seems like this likeable, fun guy right?
MJ: Of course, the risk is like famous founders, , when they move on in careers etc. I’m thinking of others like you know, well Steve, Bill Gates when he retired…
JVD: Yeah, what, what is Microsoft without Bill Gates?
MJ: You know, exactly right.
JS: Yeah, well I mean Richard Branson, who’s going to replace Richard Branson? Who’s going to be the next Richard Branson at the Virgin companies?
MJ: There you go.
JS: He’s got over 400 companies, who’s going to represent those companies better than Richard Branson?
MJ: Nobody, nobody.
JVD: Now, Josh, are you happy to go ahead with a bit of rapid fire?
JS: Sure, let’s do it.
JVD: Okay, excellent. What are you grateful for?
MJ: My family, my wife who’s stuck with me through this whole book writing process and edited the book and read it about three times. I think she might know the book better than I know it.
MJ: [Laughs]. Do you like rain?
JS: I love rain, I love variety, I love rain, snow, hot weather, I love it all.
JVD: In the movie of your life, who will play you?
JS: Oh, man, I know, oh, who’s that guy?
JS: Oh no, he’s terribly handsome though and has a great voice and everything, I just can’t remember his name. But you know, some sort of really handsome guy.
MJ: [Laughs]. Nice. What’s your greatest career fail?
JS: Oh, I’ve had a lot of those, but almost all my major failures have come around hiring and the same with all my successes, it’s all come down, down to good hiring or bad hiring.
JVD: Beach or mountain?
JS: Beach to the mountain.
MJ: Nice. [Laughs]. Best ever career advice?
JS: The one that pops into my head, since I mention hiring, is the hire slow and fire fast. A lot of the mistakes I’ve made have been the result of hiring too fast and then taking too long to get rid of people I should have gotten rid of sooner.
JVD: Summer or winter?
JS: I like them both, but I’ll go with summer.
MJ: Who’s your hero?
JS: My father, he made me who I am. He’s a great example to me of integrity and yeah.
JVD: If you weren’t a marketer, you’d be a…?
JS: Well, I am a dad, but if I weren’t a marketer I’d just be more of a dad, that’s what I really wish I could do all day long.
MJ: Chocolate or strawberry?
JVD: What did you have for breakfast?
JS: It’s early morning in China, I have not had breakfast yet. I had a glass of water.
MJ: What would you rather have had instead of that glass of water?
JS: I would have had a bowl of homemade granola.
JVD: What was the last conversation you had with your parents?
JS: Yesterday, I was trying to help my father figure out how to load a webpage so that the images weren’t blurring on it. That was a conversation over Facebook.
MJ: Scrunch or fold?
JVD: [Laughs]. If you could change one thing about the marketing industry what would it be?
JS: I would want people to invest more in one to one connections, the personal things. Gary Vaynerchuk says he’s successful because he does things that don’t scale. Meaning he takes time with people and you can’t scale time with people, but that’s what he does and that’s what leads to his ultimate success and that’s where I see companies succeed is when they do things that don’t scale and I see a lot of companies trying to scale too much and use too much data and then they lose touch with their customer.
MJ: And I think that’s why Gary Vaynerchuk doesn’t sleep. Just quietly.
JS: Yeah, that’s his other secret.
MJ: Yeah, right. Can you ride a bike?
JVD: What’s your greatest frustration?
JS: With myself and time. I mean I wish, I wish we had a 36 hour day, I wish I didn’t need to sleep. There’s some guy in Vietnam and he hasn’t slept for 20 years because he got struck by lightning. This is a true story. You can go look it up.
JS: And there’s so many times when I think, I wish I was that guy.
JVD: It’s making me tired just thinking about it. [Laughs].
MJ: I’m going to look that up. Touch, taste, sight, hearing, smell. Which would you rather sacrifice to save the rest?
JS: I could get rid of taste. I mean I love food, but I’d sacrifice that first I think.
JVD: Dogs or cats?
JS: Dogs only because I’m allergic to cats.
MJ: Favourite book?
JS: Oh, there are so many, but you know what, Gary Vaynerchuk again. I just read ‘Ask Gary V’ and that is an amazing book and it’s given me so many ideas for marketing and for my business and for clients. So that’s an excellent one to read right now.
JVD: If you had to change your first name, what would you change it to?
JS: Boy, I wish I could, you know, I’d kind of like to change the last name because then I wouldn’t have to explain to everybody how to spell it.
You know, Josh is a pretty simple one, but if I had to change Josh, I don’t know maybe Brad or something.
JVD: Fair enough.
JS: Brad Pitt, you know Brad Pitt Steimle.
MJ: Yeah, yeah, pretty cool.
JVD: Josh, it’s been lovely having you on the show, really, really insightful and it’s fantastic to get that sort of global view and, and, and such an in-depth view of what’s happening with the CMO role.
Thank you so much for joining us today.
MJ: And thank you for getting up early in China to join us on the podcast. We really appreciate it.
JS: My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.