ACA Fall 2015 Executive Forum Recap

CMO's are very smart people.
I know this is obvious, but it's the why they are smart that I find fascinating.
Looking into the digital future 
First, a bit of background. Along with Federica Aperio, Head of Digital at Ebiquity, I had the privilege of being invited to present findings from our joint report with the CMO Council, “The Path Forward: Marketing’s Outlook into the Digital Future,” at the recent ACA Fall 2015 Executive Forum. The report highlights findings around an emerging trend: the roles of traditional partners -- agencies -- and independent providers -- digital analytics firms including Ebiquity and Stratigent -- are rapidly changing. In some ways, their roles are even blurring. As new data is uncovered around the state of display advertising, traditional agencies are under more pressure to provide transparent data and clear insights to their customers. 
At the same time, expansion of digital marketing technologies means that more and more, Stratigent is being asked to help with not only tracking visitors from display and traditionally agency controlled traffic, but also merging this data set with onsite behavior and third party data to generate more focused personalization and more accurate analytics. It's an interesting time in this space as these different players try on their new roles, but like any market shakeup driven by a quest for the truth, the ultimate one to benefactor is our customers.
Our presentation -- crafted to take Canadian responses and overlay them on the larger sample pool -- was well received, with excellent questions prompting interesting discussions. However, the ACA CMO Panel that followed was what really captured my attention.
The reality vs. the promises of technology 
There are many pundits and prognosticators in this space, but the most fascinating people to speak with and listen to are those actually in the trenches, doing the work and taking the risks. They know the reality vs. the promises of technology, and more importantly, are actually applying those tools to innovate, compete, and win. As I said in the beginning of this post, CMO's are very smart. This is not because they know more about the tools out there or have some insider information on the technology space and where things are heading. They are smart because they know their business, inside and out. 
Again, this sounds obvious, but it’s one of the hardest skills to acquire. Particularly on the vendor side, there is always a continual internal effort to provide and refine a sales "process", whereby you led a prospective customer down a predefined path, with pre-generated answers to questions you anticipated months in advance. Simultaneously, you have to lobby smart bits of data at key points meant to disrupt the competition and provide rules about what to do if something didn't go according to plan. 
However, as anyone who has actually been in the field knows, companies looking at your product are not grading you on the ability to follow a script. Good teams will refine their message to their audience and the type of business they were in. Great teams will refine it further to the specific company, what they were facing both internally and externally, and how their product would help. Obviously it takes more effort to be a great team than a good one, but the payoff is immense. Eventually, you become a trusted partner, not just another guy in a suit trying to sell something.
Intuition comes from knowing your business 
Back to the ACA CMO Panel. The panel consisted of Stéphane Bérubé (CMO, L'Oréal Canada), Patrick Dickinson (Senior Vice President, Core Marketing & Brand Strategy, Hudson’s Bay Company) and Shelagh Stoneham (Senior Vice President, Marketing, Shoppers Drug Mart Corporation). Questions ranged from how they are managing the explosion of customer data, to their thoughts around the fundamental value of online advertising in light of the current crop of technical challenges. 
On the surface, all three panelists are dealing in retail in some way. However, what struck me the most wasn't their depth of knowledge about the tools they use, but their depth of knowledge about what would and wouldn't work in their business at this specific point and time. The answers varied widely, in some cases disagreeing entirely with their fellow panelists (though politely, this is Canada). The answers always included how they were using the tools, and that’s a direct reflection of how their unique business operates to serve their customers and stay ahead of competition. 
Another element that struck me was how often CMO's experiment. Of course, they do not have a crystal ball, so the best way to learn is to try something out and see if it moves the needle. This approach takes a lot of smarts combined with an ability to use the data available to you and tease out insights from it. Ultimately though, a lot of it is the deep intuition that comes from knowing your business backwards and forwards. 
CMO's are busy people and you don't often get five minutes of their time, let alone an hour. For that reason, the ACA event was invaluable and I would attend another in a heartbeat. While Toronto is a great city with good people and amazing food, I’d still attend if they moved to, say, Banff during ski season! 
Thanks to the ACA and the panelists for the insightful experience! For more information, please contact
By David 'DJ' Johnson
About the Author:

David 'DJ' Johnson is the Vice President, Account Development at Stratigent.

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