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.

Categories: CMO