It is always interesting to hear how CMOs from different sectors, and even other countries, are dealing with the new marketing realities of evolving customer demands, continuous technology innovations, and the ever increasing sources of information on the customer – data is now available from every consumer touch point.

These new realities impact all marketers in different ways, yet there are many commonalities that allow for great insights and shared learnings.

I talked about this with a number of local and global CMOs at the C2MTL Conference in Montreal last May. For those unfamiliar with C2MTL, it is a unique annual conference that blends business, creativity and innovation within an unexpected setting, to create an atmosphere that allows for some very stimulating conversations.

At this year’s conference, I hosted two roundtable discussions with senior marketers and executives. I also had the opportunity to share my own perspectives during a CMO panel presentation alongside two of my peers.

Here are some of the insights that stood out for me…

Although a bit of a cliché, it is always interesting to ask CMOs about what keeps them up at night. This drew a varied response, and enforces how important, and stressful, the role of today’s CMO has become. Indeed, with the average tenure of a CMO at just three years, half that if you are a CMO in the tech industry, the pressure placed on the CMO of today to produce tangible business benefits and value has never been higher.

And having this in mind, some will find the perspectives shared in these discussions to be not that surprising. Most top of mind for CMOs was a common expression of the ever-changing market and an increased clamor for quick results, yet all the while working with ever reducing budgets and resources.

Related to this was a shared concern around speed-to-market, specifically that the outside world is changing much faster than the inside world for companies. Many of the CMOs I spoke with indicated that it feels like there are so many things that they should already be doing, but they simply do not have the bandwidth, budget nor capabilities to do everything expected of them.

When it comes to capabilities and people, building the “right” competencies within their marketing teams was clearly identified as a priority. These “right” competencies have shifted from prior years and now include data driven expertise, for example. Additionally, attracting the right talent was another key concern, particularly given the demand for what was viewed as a non-traditional marketing experience that everyone all of a sudden needs.

Interestingly, the notion of creating a true marketing culture within their organizations, with customers at the core, also was expressed. Yet, the very definition of customer centricity seemed to cause some angst, as it clearly appears to mean different things to different people, depending on where your role resides in a given organization. That said, the importance of understanding who your best customers are and serving their needs first and foremost was validated and agreed upon.

There was also a loud and clear consensus for targeting customers based on their individual behavior and communicating with them in a relevant way – also known as one-to-one personalization. However, as I myself noted during the CMO panel, if you do not get this right and add value when you are reaching out to customers, they will backlash against you and you could potentially lose them.

In fact, based on Aimia’s latest research, a strong majority of Canadians (72%) said they receive useless junk email every day and more than half (53%) are opting out of the “the majority” of email communications they receive from brands. Furthermore, 56% of Canadians now avoid certain companies or brands all together because their messaging annoyed them.

And once you lose these consumers it is very hard to get them back – if at all.

There was good discussions around how to prevent customers from disengaging – brands need to ensure they are sending customers the right message at the right time and in the right channel. This was in contrast to the “peanut butter” approach to reaching out to customers – reaching or “coating” as many people as possible. We agreed that to make business personal again, harking back to the corner store approach – where store owners once knew his customers by name and made recommendations based on their relationship with that customer – was a common aspiration that we shared and should work towards

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And while one CMO expressed that data is the “fuel” needed to engage customers in this personalized way, another noted that we should not focus on the data itself as the end goal. Instead, their perspective was that the real value comes from the requirements of the data and the insights it can provide.

Still, many agreed that the first step for all marketers in developing a data strategy is to answer the question: “what is it you are trying to solve?” By focusing on insights first, we as CMOs can narrow down what data is ‘important’ and matters most. This will then allow us to collect, store and analyze only the data that we truly need in order to create ever important personalized and relevant customer interactions while, just as importantly, keeping results and ROI that are achievable.

So, given this significant transformation to the marketing profession that requires us to adapt to changing customer needs, technology and the tidal wave of data now available, I had to ask my peers, “what does this mean for the CMO role?”

The consensus– the CMO role is not simply a marketing role anymore. Instead, today’s CMO needs to be a true expert in multi-channel experience, and have the ability to connect the dots between the various stakeholders in the organization – educating and influencing everyone from the CEO down. Close collaboration with executive peers is critical.

The concept of being a “translator” also came up as a way to describe the role of a CMO. It was premised around having the ability to speak “different languages” to make discussions relevant – there is a CEO language, a CIO language, CFO language – and the CMO must be fluent in each in order to get buy in and alignment around the organization.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention that I also heard clearly that, while there are a lot of challenges and many things keeping CMOs up at night, there have never been more ways to solve their problems or more opportunities for CMOs to take on a bigger leadership role which, for me, signals there is so much to be excited about. It is a great time to be a marketer.

John Boynton is the CMO of Aimia Inc.

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Lloydmedia, Inc is based in Markham, Ontario, Canada, and is a multi-platform media company which delivers a total audience of more than 100,000 readers across four national magazines, three industry directories, and a range of events and online marketing.

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