10 things that keep CMOs up at night

A group of high-profile and up-and-coming CMOs share insights on their biggest digital marketing concerns in 2016, along with strategies for coping with the challenges.

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6. CMOs must meet growing customer expectations

Consumers expect more than just attractive content design, according to Penn Mutual's Fleischman. "Today, customers expect smart, intuitive, personalized experiences across all channels."

At the same time, "the definition of content has changed. Before, it was just about having content, and in our industry that meant PDFs or brochures," he says. "Now, no matter what company or industry you're in, you have to be in the publishing business. Content needs to be relevant, consistent across channels, and informative. And more and more, it has to provide insight. If it can educate, the brand becomes more trustworthy and relevant."

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To better meet growing customer expectations, CMOs "must stop thinking purely as just a CMO and focus on how to become more technology- and data-focused," according to Fleischman. "Our strategy at Penn Mutual has been to create an integrated, omni-channel experience based on data. We're able to create personalized, meaningful experiences for both of our audiences, advisors and customers."

7. CMOs need to engage young consumers 

Penn Mutual wants to "recruit younger talent and educate them on the importance of life insurance as part of their financial future," says Fleischman. To this end, the company partnered with Drexel University's business school, and it is working with students to help it better understand how consumers want to engage with insurance companies.

"We've shared with the students some of the challenges our industry is seeing, and we've encouraged them to be creative and innovative to come up with new and better ways of doing things," Fleischman says. "The idea behind this program is to go right to the source. If our challenge is getting to know this generation and what their needs are, why not ask them for advice?"

8. CMOs can't control the message like they used to

Veeam CMO Peter Ruchatz says the company's customers and resellers are more informed and better connected than ever before. "They can access so much user-generated content, like assessments, ratings, opinions, recommendations, and warnings much easier today," he says. "As a result, customers will lean towards that source of information more than what the (marketer) has to offer because by default they trust their peers more." 

[Related: How (and why) marketing tech fails to deliver on its promise]

As such, it's essential that CMOs engage their communities as much as possible. "Make those who successfully use and are invested in your products your advocates," Ruchatz says. "You can't control influencers in your market. But be known to them, engage them, show respect. All that requires is a minimum of customer satisfaction and reputation, earned with a top product and customer experience."

9. CMOs must stay current on new channels 

New marketing and communications channels seem to pop up every week, but CMOs need to do their best to stay on top of them. "Marketers need to continuously have their finger on the pulse of the channels their customers are getting information from," according to Alicia Tillman, CMO of SAP Ariba. "[T]his includes both traditional channels, such as print and events, and modern ones like digital and social. Most organizations have multiple buyer personas they need to speak to, so taking the time to define them and assemble an organized strategy to drive a strong brand message that appeals to them across channels is key."

10. CMOs must make sure everyone is on the same page

"One of my biggest challenges is keeping globally dispersed departments working as a cohesive team," says Jennifer Stagnaro, CMO of SugarCRM. "Our core marketing team resides in six countries, and I need to make sure everyone is regularly communicating, sharing content, and teaching each other best practices."

Stagnaro tries to get everyone on her team together under the same roof as frequently as possible. "It's also important that everyone connect informally," she says. "We have icebreakers, social events and time built into the schedule for people to get to know each other. It's especially important that our team members in smaller markets don't feel isolated." 

Geographical barriers aren't the only issue. "Another challenge is to keep the full marketing team acting in harmony in this context of rapid change," says Dan Rogers, CMO of Symantec. "We're launching 12 major products over the next year," Roger says, which will be the company's "biggest-ever" rollout of products. "Behind every launch is a hive of activity, of coordination, of all the moving pieces, of interaction between product, sales and marketing teams. All three pieces of that triangle need to be in tight orchestration, and communication is king."

Roger says marketing should serve a translation function between what a company built and what customers need. "A good translator needs to speak both languages fluently. So my advice is to learn both languages. Understand the product roadmap —what are the choices and tradeoffs the engineers or developers have made, and what were they trying to solve? Then keep a close pulse on the customer and keep your channels of listening and learning open."

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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