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Acquia’s Jennifer Griffin Smith on being a Chief Market Officer (and no, that’s not a typo!)

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher May 31, 2023
From Chief Marketing Officer to Chief Market Officer...

Jennifer Griffin Smith

Jennifer Griffin Smith didn't plan to get into marketing as a career, but that's where her path led her. She's been Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) for well-known tech brands, including Brightcove, SoftwareAG, and Alfresco, but her latest role, as Acquia's CMO, takes a slightly different perspective on marketing, one that goes well beyond running campaigns. 

I always like to hear how people got into marketing because it's often not a straight line. This was certainly the case for Griffin Smith, who, while studying business management (marketing and HR) at university‌, decided she wanted to be a linguist and joined a company's customer service team after school so she could speak German all day. 

She met the marketing manager at that job, who took her to CeBIT, Germany's biggest computer expo trade show, and got the tech bug. From there, she started her marketing career and eventually moved to the US as CMO for Progress Software. Given that she had always worked in a remote office for a US company, she had close connections with sales and could quickly learn what did and didn't work. She believes her global view is a primary reason Progress Software hired her, and she's been able to leverage that experience ‌with other companies: 

I never thought, ‘I'm going to be a CMO, and I want to live in America’. I've worked with some great companies. I've had some great leaders, and I've had some great opportunities, and I just kept thinking about how can we make it better? What's the next thing we can do? And here I am.

Why this role is different

Griffin Smith was introduced to Acquia through its partnership with Brightcove (where she was CMO). Along with a joint customer, Griffin Smith's team was also looking at Acquia's digital asset management (DAM) solution. Many opportunities have come across her desk, but what interested her about Acquia was her fascination with the digital world as both a consumer and a marketer.

At Brightcove, she had learned how to build experiences and connect with audiences through the power of video. She also learned that extending the platform helps build a better digital experience across a broader technology set and a broader portfolio of customers. The idea of connecting content, data, and executing experience is at the heart of what Acquia's platform does, and she wanted to be a part of helping companies leverage it to connect with their customers.

At Acquia, Griffin Smith isn’t the Chief Marketing Officer; she's the Chief Market Officer. It may seem like a subtle nuance, but it packs a critical point. Marketing has evolved from being about campaigns and events and leads, to a more strategic function that requires a deep understanding of the market and customer needs. She explains: 

It's the focus and acknowledgment that the things we execute are meaningless unless we really focus on the market needs.

In an industry where people are always talking about ‌shifts in buyer behavior, Griffin Smith believes the pandemic brought an equality to people that wasn't there before. She said you can have buyers and employees all over the world, and they can have the exact same experiences, but you need the right digital backbone to deliver it. 

There are two things Griffin Smith argues marketing needs to be these days:

  1. Obsessed with market conditions, buyers' needs, how these things have changed competitors, and what you're innovating for. 
  2. Marketing cannot be just a department. And it can't be only about executing programs and measuring performance. Marketing needs to be about facilitating a business and helping sellers get products into customers' hands for their benefit. 

The Chief Market Officer works across the company and helps to connect the entire go-to-market motion to make it better for the customer. (Note: I greatly appreciated Griffin Smith's continued focus on improving things for the customer.) This GTM motion focuses on metrics such as revenue, bookings, growth, customer retention, and NPS. 

How do DXP platforms fit into this new world?

Acquia is a Digital Experience Platform (DXP). A few are available in addition to Acquia, including Sitecore, Adobe, Optimizely, and others, but you don't need one to create the customer experiences that customers expect. So how does such a platform fit‌ in?

Griffin Smith has been in her new position for about a month now, but she's spent a lot of that time talking to employees, customers, and partners. They've had internal conversations about DXP, wondering if anyone is buying it (not the platform, but the term 'DXP').

Her conclusion is that there are companies out there specifically looking for a DXP, but most are simply looking to solve an engagement problem:

What customers are looking for is building some kind of business outcome for their customers. So they're looking at a better experience, and they're looking at saying, how can I understand my customer data better? How can I drive better first-party data management, and how can I map that to better content? So that might be consumption rate. Ultimately we're all trying to get a customer to do something, whether it's an online transaction, consume a piece of content, or even an employee right, and drive motivation up. So most of the time, they're not searching for a DXP. They're searching to solve an engagement problem.

Companies seek a way to connect with customers more efficiently and create personalized marketing at scale. So how do you put data and content together to deliver something unique? What solutions help you do that? 

According to Griffin Smith, the answer is open and composable solutions that enable you to build the right martech stack. Acquia wants to give its customers the flexibility they need to build the right experiences. But it's not just about using the data to deliver the best experiences; it's about using the data to understand how it's affecting your community and customers and what that means. 

Don't over-complicate your marketing

Acquia's platform supports both developers and marketers. It also works with many different industries. The challenge for Griffin Smith is how she creates a marketing program that supports all the different audiences. The key, she argues, is not to over-complicate it. If you spread things too thin, then you do nothing well. 

She starts by understanding what ‌the overarching brand story‌ is. After speaking with customers, if she isn't sure those emotional stories are coming across for Acquia, that needs to be resolved. The firm then executes across key sectors or regions where they are strong. And, of course, for the company’s two audiences - developers and marketers - there are different tactics, such as different events, community development, content delivery, and partners to extend the company's reach. She explains: 

I learned a long time ago making a marketing team successful is really the coordination of all the parts because if everybody's doing their own thing, you're only going to have so much success. It's understanding what our go-to-market framework is, what are our priority campaigns, and then orchestrating that through from product to product marketing, to communications to execution to digital, and then trying to measure that back. So we're all working towards the same goals.

My take

Griffin Smith and I talked about many things related to building the best marketing program and the need to work across the entire company to succeed. We also talked about specific activities and technology that help, like CDPs, DAMs, and content management, and yes, we talked about AI. 

She says her team was using generative AI, but she sees it as an assistant to that team, helping with more administrative tasks to gain efficiencies. One area she sees it very helpful is with translations, but like many companies, they are just beginning to understand how to use it best. 

For me, it was nice to talk to a Chief Market Officer who believes understanding the customer and doing what's right for them is the priority, and that tech is an enabler to doing that. I’m not sure the title change is required, though, as it seems to me that this is how every CMO should be thinking.

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