Behind Closed Doors: What’s On the Mind Of Chief Marketing Officers

We attended the Forbes CMO Summit in sunny Palm Beach, to learn what’s on the minds of executive marketing leaders. The conversation from this group regarding social was more sophisticated, which Charlene and I don’t think is reflective of most chief marketing groups we speak with. What’s unique about these Forbes CMOs? Perhaps they are more progressive, well read, and tuned into the rapid changes coming.

In consideration to attendees of this event, I won’t be giving any specific individual quotes, (this wasn’t a media event) but instead, I’ll focus on the insights related to emerging technologies, overall budgets and market economics.

The Dialog on Social Marketing Has Elevated:

CMOs on a holding pattern for growth. Our host, Steve Forbes kicked off the first evening, telling us why he believes we got into this financial spiral. He gave a broad economic lecture covering mortgage, congress, the weakened dollar and compared the current situation to other global and historical incidents. Although the theme of the event was “Preparing for Growth”, I didn’t get the sense that marketers had increased their budgets or were preparing for a marketing upswing. Yet despite decreased marketing budgets, the opportunity to innovate with inexpensive channels were discussed.

CMOs admitted they were losing power to the empowered consumer. A few years ago, the conversation may have been one of resistance, argument or fear of these changes. Yet this group had moved on, accepted the changes, and had already put into place programs to benefit from market changes. I liked Greg Walsh’s quotes, one of the opening moderators (I just reviewed his book) he openly admitted that power was shifting to the empowered consumers. He gave the analogy that previously marketers were used to ‘Bowling’, where marketers could easily throw a message down the aisle and hit the pins with great confidence. Now, he eloquently describe, it was more like ‘Pinball’ where a marketer could load the message up, shoot it out, but have no idea where it will end up.

Social was on the lips of nearly everyone. Although not all the panels and speeches were focused on social, it was noted by speakers and moderators it was a recurring theme among the day. Charlene Li (who invited me to attend, thanks) lead a panel with executives from the Ritz-Carlton, Porsche, and HP. This wasn’t the usual social rhetoric of the 101 questions, but the overall group asked sophisticated questions around the change in influence, reputation management, and integration with existing programs. For example, the Ritz, has already woven in social to their experience, each hotel manager spend over an hour reviewing the online conversation (even Tweets) at their location before walking the grounds each morning.

Social is difficult to measure –yet marketers know they must be there. One of the Forbes moderators gave a stat that they polled the Forbes CMO group to find that “Over 70% of the CMOs polled will do more in the social space this coming year”. Yet, when asked “How do you measure success?” there wasn’t a clear answer, it’s still baffling. Although social marketing is easier to measure than real world ‘analog’ ads, it’s more difficult to measure than web based digital ads. Similar to the difficulties measuring analog marketing, they’re ok with not being able to measure everything in social –they now see the value.

Beyond monitoring, insight from the social sphere is untapped. Social media monitoring is just the first baby step, most companies haven’t tapped into what the data actually means. I sat next to the CEO of Autonomy who’s mission is to organize customer and market data and make sense of it for companies. We were both nodding to each other seeing the opportunities to mine, understand, and make sense out of the vast unstructured social data sets and develop richer customer profiles and map out relationships.

In private conversations, I asked a few if they think the pace of technology change is increasing, and they said “yes”, interesting times ahead. Finally, I’d like to thank Forbes for inviting me to attend and participate, they graciously paid for my travel and hotel.

Update: This post has been reprinted on the Forbes CMO network.

  • Interesting stuff. Wish I could have been there. I’m glad that

  • What’s interesting to me is that the dialogs occurring with these more progressive CMO’s are the same ones occurring with those organizations just making their way in this area.

  • Alex Ikonn

    Thanks for the great insights into the upper levels of the corporate world. Regarding the marketing budgets, they don’t really need to be increased if the company is dedicating a fraction of it to social which is probably enough for companies to be able to test the waters with their social campaigns and see if they achieve any results. CMOs like seeing ROI and results as much as they like keeping their jobs. Huge opportunity for measurement firms.

    Alex Ikonn

  • Thanks for the insight, Jeremiah. One part of your summary that especially caught my attention:

    “Similar to the difficulties measuring analog marketing, (CMO’s are) ok with not being able to measure everything in social –they now see the value.”

    Are you seeing this shift across the board, or was this audience an outlier in this regard?

  • Great post, Jeremiah. We have the opportunity to work with CMOs from a number of F500 companies. Your 5th point about the monitoring…we (Nicholson Kovac — an ad agency)are starting to see a lot of traction and adoption of this strategy. Our clients’ are becoming very interested in the idea that they can actually monitor (in a transparent way) what their customers are saying about their products and brands. They are seeing the potential for sales generation, retention (this is huge, esp. in b2b) and CSR. We are also advising our clients to overlay additional data, such as Web Analysis, leads, revenue, etc to gain a holistic picture of the marketplace.

    Always enjoy your posts.

    @chriskovac

  • Jeremiah,

    Thanks as well for the insight. It’s good and refreshing to hear what the people at the top of the corporate marketing food chain think about social media, especially the fact they are they have accepted that it is here and here to stay. It will be interesting to see how much of their marketing budgets they allocate to social marketing.

    Mark

  • Jeremiah,

    Thanks for passing on the bowling/pinball observation from Greg Walsh. I plan to pass that on.

    My speculation is that the Forbes CMO’s are not the bellwethers in this space in terms of either adoption or innovation. So I’m not sure how to react to their enthusiasm or lack thereof. However, given their resources and the requirement that marketing initiatives be accountable to the budget (I’m assuming), I am counting on these folks to help formulate the performance metrics and develop the data mining strategies for social marketing

  • huge time-lag between early adapters and corporates … in internet years, almost too long to matter …

    and then there is what actually is happening in this global hyper-connectivity paradigm shift …

    corporates cannot keep up and still be corporate …

    anybody daring to say that?

  • Daniel, I don’t have enough information to stay, I’m not talking to Marketers about their analog marketing measurement efforts. I think most would conclude that social is taking a foothold in many companies, yet measuring it isn’t quite a standard.

  • Thanks for providing this valuable information. Much appreciated!

  • Hi Jeremiah,

    Nice Post. Recently I was at an OTA conference in Philadelphia and reputation monitoring was discussed. It’s amazing to realize that less than 50% of major brands don’t have a reputation crisis plan.

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  • It seem to me that despite all the talk by the “enlightened” marketers, by “listening” they still try to figure how to control the flow of messaging, rather than to “hear” and engage into conversation. “Listening” without deep desire to “hear” cannot yield any insight or “Aha!” moment, and these are the ones that lead to meaningful and measurable actions. No wonder there is so much yearning for a magic ROI formula for Social Media investments. It is very difficult to figure a return on knowledge you didn’t bother to learn yet.

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  • Had this saved for later reading and I’m really glad I got around to it. This is some really good info. I wish I was there to hear more. Sounds like there were some real conversations going on. We could use more of that at “social” focused events.

    Do you think it’s dangerous that more and more companies are opting in to the value of social platforms without understanding why or how to measure it? (The social media bubble burst?)

    David Spinks
    Community Manager at Scribnia.com

  • >Although social marketing is easier to measure than real world ‘analog’ ads, it’s more difficult to measure than web based digital ads.

    I don’t agree with the statement because the real issue as I see it is not how easy or difficult it is to measure but deciding what to measure and how indicative of success that is. For instance if your social media strategy involves giving feedback to requests for information and providing click throughs then it is very easy to measure the success of the information you are giving by looking at stats for referring sites on the click throughs. If you are hosting a conversation about a particular topic then looking at the volume of ‘buzz’ about that topic and the conversations around it are also pretty easy to monitor. I suspect the difficulty that was being spoken about stemmed from a lack of knowledge about what to monitor and how to analyse it rather than actual difficulty of getting hold of figures. As with most things digital marketing it is a case of knowing what your aims are and not simply getting stuck in with no clear direction in your own head of what you want to achieve.

    Someone above made the point about actually listening and hearing what your customers are saying to engage with them and I agree. People do know the difference when they are being heard and listened to and not simply given a mouthpiece that no-one is actually paying attention to. Measure your overall satisfaction levels amongst the customers you are engaging with online and compare that to the ones who have not yet found that resource. Is it increasing? If it is, you are probably doing the right things, but don’t stop thinking of new and creative ways to increase the ways you are engaging with your customers.

    Its about thinking of social media as part of an overall digital marketing strategy rather than simply a tactic to communicate with customers. If you can do that and see where it fits into your customer experience then the things to measure will become a lot more obvious to you.

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  • Robin Nakamura

    I think the “pinball” analogy is too linear. Social media is about a two-way conversation; so it is more like a telephone conversation or the circular game of telephone. Social media is a great way to get true customer feedback (reviews and ratings) and should work in a company’s favor — help find qualified leads (like-minded people), allow the end user to make an informed decision and lead to a satisfied user experience.

  • I think Social Media and the recent recession has been great for companies because it has really given them an opportunity to re-evaluate what they’re doing and how they are spending their money to reach their consumers.

    When I hear about these summits (glad you got the opportunity to be at this one), I realize just how important these discussions are for every companies to have now.

    It’s great because if a company uses social media the right way, they can spend less but yet drive more traffic, eyeballs, loyalty, participation, and ultimately…consumer spending.

    A good platform and partner for these companies will have the customizable user/site tools, plus the reporting capabilities, to make sure all of the content and information that needs to be mined and tracked to measure success are built in.

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  • Robin, agreed. Pinball is linear, but I think the analogy holds up if you change the perspective that customers are the bumpers, flippers, and other features in the game that can change the direction of the corporate message.

    Companies are losing control of the packaged message, and have to instead build relationships with the new influencers and engage in dialog.

  • Christopher Coulter

    Way too liner, the message is not going to bounce around in a straight line, from the press/blogger or other middle-men flippers to the consumer/customers bumpers, rather it will impact everywhere all at once, ubiquitous and omnipresent. A better analogy would be tossing up clay pigeons, and 500 people with multi-fire shotguns shooting all at once. The message is not even placed in the realm of strategy, rather strategery.

    Human behavior is not rational, most often absurd at that, conversations (or the “social”) are not linear either, can’t, and won’t ever be, fully measured or quantified. The whole “social media” concept, should be taken out of the “marketing” file folders and placed into the general “public relations slash risk management” folders. A conversation has to be two way, and most use of “social media” is one-way and highly controlled, that’s all so much preaching, regardless of what tech tools you use.

    All this “social” is really just indirect conversational customer feedback, and should be factored into the whole; over-catering to some minor, but vocal petulant needs, at the expense of the majority and the brand itself, will backfire. Strategery not Salvation.

  • It sure is nice to see that the big guys are struggling with the same issues I am as a small home builder in Las Cruces, NM.

  • It’s nice to see the big guys challenged with the same issues as a small business home builder in Las Cruces, NM.

  • Reading this posts reminds of the dotcom days.

    In those early days, all of us could gather (and perhaps rightly so) that there was seismic shift in how brands would now to customers. However no one clearly knew how to monetize the opportunities. We went through a crazy era of “banner exchanges” (hoping one site could drive traffic to another site : did we not realise that customers have a mind of their own?) or showing graphic heavy banner ads with obsecne CPM rates. Then Google came along, created CPC and showed all us a way of reaching the customer and thus bring ROI discipline to the business.

    I see all of us at the same place as far as Web 2.0 is concerned. I run a Social Media Agency here in Mumbai, India and I can see that eveeryone is keen to get started with FB, Twitter, YouTube etc. Yet most dont release that FB, Twitter etc are only tools…the real opportunity lies beyond the tools. And once we understand those opportunities, we will be able to create ROI

  • Alex Ikonn

    Thanks for the great insights into the upper levels of the corporate world. Regarding the marketing budgets, they don't really need to be increased if the company is dedicating a fraction of it to social which is probably enough for companies to be able to test the waters with their social campaigns and see if they achieve any results. CMOs like seeing ROI and results as much as they like keeping their jobs. Huge opportunity for measurement firms.

    Alex Ikonn

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  • Is it critical for you to be alert of key world events minutes or however hours before others

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  • I didn’t get the sense that marketers had increased their budgets or were preparing for a marketing upswing. Yet despite decreased marketing budgets, the opportunity to innovate with inexpensive channels were discussed.

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