For Lionbridge CMO Clint Poole, creativity is a way of viewing the world that will never fall out of favor–no matter how much data comes marketers’ way.
“While marketing executives are increasingly behaving like business managers with P&L and revenue responsibilities and becoming increasingly removed from the creative development process, that doesn’t mean they are changing what is predominantly their thinking style,” Poole told CMO.com. “It’s about how you approach challenges and reach decisions.”
Indeed, as digital capabilities and data availability are democratized, creative CMOs may be the ones who make the difference. “Creativity is the game changer that sets one data-driven company apart from another,” said Deirdre MacCormack, CMO of 3D printing company Mcor, in an interview with the CMO.com.
The marketing process has always been data-driven, Poole added. “There is this myth that traditional creative marketers were these black-turtleneck-clad hipsters locked in a conference room ideating,” he said. “But the best traditional agencies were those that used all the insights at their disposal. All that has really changed is the volume of data and the diversity among our buyers’ preferences.”
So what characteristics does the modern-day creative marketer possess?
CMOs are expected to think like business managers and run the organization like a profit center. Working creatively within the bounds of limited resources is key. “Part of the challenge for me is the ability to scale our corporate marketing resources to match all the unique markets that we serve globally,” Lionbridge’s Poole said. “Instead of just traditionally scaling resources at significant cost, we have worked to identify existing in-market, customer-facing resources from other functions that [we can] leverage to gain local insights, review content concepts and plans, and engage in the overall process.”
At Mcor, MacCormack is a one-woman marketing team. “It’s important for me to be creative not only in execution, but also in how I wear all of the different hats that are usually split up among team members,” she said. “Tight deadlines, modest budget, and specific goals all inspire out-of-the-box thinking that has helped Mcor achieve strong brand recognition and bottom-line results.”
ThoughtSpot CMO Scott Holden was used to wading into the weeds as a product marketer, going deep into use cases, demos, and presentations. “I’m a bit of a perfectionist and love sweating the details,” Holden said. “However, creativity requires time to ideate, experiment, and refine. [As a CMO], I have a lot more responsibility, which means I don’t have the time to obsess over as many details.”
Instead, Holden must encourage and nurture the creative efforts of his team, staying close in thought, if not in deed. “If you’re not mindful of creativity,” he said, “it’s easy for CMOs to get removed from the day-to-day creative process and see projects as expense items on a spreadsheet instead of potential breakthroughs.”
Solid relationships among CMOs and their C-suite counterparts—CEO, CFO, and CIO—are more important than ever.
“CMOs today are responsible for more functions than ever—advertising, operations, user experience, and more—but ultimately we are measured on overall business impact [and growth],” CA Technologies CMO Lauren Flaherty said. “And that really means we must draw on skill sets across all disciplines of business—from the tech-savvy of IT teams to the financial acumen from the CFO’s office—to not only do our day-to-day job, but, more importantly, be the adviser that the CEO needs to grow the business.”
The CTO is another CMO-must ally. “Robust brand-building strategy is now table stakes,” said Omaid Hiwazi, president of global marketing at Blippar, in an interview with CMO.com. “To build on this, the modern CMO needs to properly embrace the quickly emerging behaviors being enabled by technology. This involves understanding them and then innovating.”
A creative CMO isn’t bound by the ways things have been done in the past.
“In having previously worked in the B2B and B2C space, I’ve noted that within the B2B space there was something missing in the narrative and how people created content. It was missing this idea that everyone is a consumer,” said Michael Mendenhall, CMO of Flex, who previously held CMO positions at Disney and HP. “You don’t necessarily treat someone differently because they are buying something for a business. You still need an emotional connection with people.”
That’s why Mendenhall decided to jettison the research reports and whitepapers no one was reading and hire a full editorial and production team to produce a consumer-grade magazine.
“Great CMOs challenge the conventional wisdom and are always willing to ask why things have been done a certain way,” added Mike Grandinetti, chief marketing and corporate strategy officer at Reduxio. “For the past decade I have worked in B2B in the advertising and media industry. I always noticed a lack of interest from these companies in building their brand identity or delivering warm experiences.”
So Grandinetti went against the grain, selling leaders on a B2C approach. “It allowed us to immediately stand out in a crowded marketplace and accelerate revenue growth,” he told CMO.com.
Customers today want singular experiences from brands. “[That] forces brands to become great storytellers, and not just great at acquiring a customer at the bottom of the funnel,” said Scott Rayden, chief marketing and revenue officer at digital agency 3Q Digital. “CMOs today need to be able to pull away from pure performance KPIs.”
Revenue is a by-product of an engaging or exciting customer experience. “The creative CMO is someone who can pull together the right storytellers, creative, copywriters, and content marketers to deliver something that creates a deeper relationship with the consumer,” Rayden told CMO.com.
Veteran B2B marketer Lisa Joy Rosner, now CMO at Neustar, said she has always worked for companies where data was the most valuable asset. But, she told CMO.com, her most impactful strategies involved bringing the data to life through character and story.
“Data alone can’t tell a story,” agreed Peter Arvai, CEO of presentation software maker Prezi. “It takes the creative marketer to craft a message that will cause an emotional reaction.”
Robert Tas, CMO of Pegasystems, has a quarter-century’s experience in marketing and operations, including a recent stint as head of digital marketing for JPMorgan Chase. But he estimated that 99% of his job involves creativity. Equally important, however, is to know when to stop coming up with ideas and make decisions.
“I think my biggest challenge is choosing where I spend my time. Yes, data is critical to doing the job, but, if not careful, it can also suck you down rat holes,” Tas told CMO.com. “You need to know when there is enough data and act on what you have. In other cases, you need to know when you have to dig further. There is no shortage of things to focus on.”
CMOs must apply discipline to their creativity “to ensure the energy is channeled into a way that drives business objectives,” added Norm Yustin, a senior leader in the global retail, marketing, and digital transformation practices at Russell Reynolds Associates.