CMO Chat: Mastercard, Ally Financial, NerdWallet on What Makes a Successful CMO

Posted on by Kaylee Hultgren

What are the skills that chief marketing officers need to master in order to succeed in their organizations and the marketplace? Particularly in today’s volatile businesses climate, CMOs are being tasked with far more than they were previously—from data and analytics to research to marketing technology to driving innovation. We asked three CMOs, from Mastercard, Ally Financial and NerdWallet, to articulate the key skills every chief marketer should strive to master.

Andrea Brimmer, CMO of Ally Financial:

With the pace of change right now, you need to stay on top of what’s happening not only in your industry, but in the world. I have a robust learning agenda and I encourage my team to do the same. I try to spend a third of my time seeking out new viewpoints, learning about new technologies and reading the latest consumer research to keep up not only with what’s happening today, but with what’s next.

I spend time with the companies I admire and the people that I admire. Not just CMOs but CEOs, CFOs, technologists, so I can learn from them. I think the mindset of constant innovation, learning and disruption will never be replaced by an algorithm. It helps you develop a golden gut and deploy it to help move your business forward. A golden gut, well informed by an active learning agenda, makes you indispensable within any organization.

Kelly Gillease, CMO of NerdWallet:

The role of the CMO has really expanded. The responsibilities can vary a lot by company and can include things like research, marketing technology, design, UX, all sorts of things. CMOs are expected to be proficient in a lot of skills, whereas previously they were traditionally good at brand marketing and building brands. There’s a whole host of things now that CMOs can be responsible for, and interestingly, it’s become more common for CMOs to play a big role in conversations around diversity and inclusion.

You’re considered a brand ambassador a lot of the time. What are our brand values? How do we want to talk about that or have that come to life within the company? Who do we cast in our TV ads, and how does that reflect our brand values and what we look like? What channels did these ads appear on? What kind of messages are we sending? All these questions become very important.

Also, CMOs have employee stakeholders. As we think about the nerds at NerdWallet, our marketing decisions at the company that we reflect out to the world also get reflected to our employees. And there’s a certain amount of folks who are internally happy with that and feeling like that’s going in the right direction. I’m not sure that was as prominent before, for CMOs to think about employees as a stakeholder group.

Raja Rajamannar, Global CMO of Mastercard:

The CMO has talk the language of the CEO and the CFO. If the CEO asks you what your campaigns have done for driving up margins or driving up retention for renewal, or how it impacted the margin, have definitive, clear answers. Don’t waffle along the lines of, “my brand has gone up so much, customer sentiment has improved.” CMOs and marketing people care deeply about marketing KPIs, but the CEO and the CFO, are looking more at the true business impact. If you don’t connect the dots within your marketing actions and the financial or business reserves of the company, you will become obsolete and irrelevant.

Number two, many CMOs have come from the creative side of the house. They are probably not very data-savvy or finance-savvy, so there has to be a clear connection established. Say, with this campaign, this is what it has done for the business. Also, you have to [present] your digital investment models in a way that is very credible. For example, at Mastercard some years back I appointed a CFO in marketing. She made sure that everyone has bought into the methodology and then started actually showing those results with regular frequency, which boosted the level of transparency and trust.

Third, the time for marketers to behave as functional specialists is gone. Today’s marketing is not just about a functional aspect of managing marketing. It is a true general management job. They need to understand technology. They need to understand numbers. They need to understand data. They need to understand PR and communication—a very critical area. If you look at all this, the CMO is a general manager who has a deep functional expertise in marketing but is not a marketing specialist. He or she has a broad understanding of all the other areas as well. My advice, particularly for people who want to be CMOs in the future, is to make sure that they have experience in areas outside of marketing so that they come back into it as a well-rounded professional. You need to enlist yourself to learn, to update your knowledge. Gain experience that’s across multiple functions and truly build a general manager profile for yourself.



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