Hashing the CMO dilemma - is content eating the org chart?

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed February 20, 2015
Does the content imperative mean that CMOs should redo their org charts? In the conclusion to my narrated chat with NewsCred's Michael Brenner, we debate the marketing org of the future and hash out practical approaches for the digital CMO.

In my first installment with Michael Brenner of NewsCred, I pulled out highlights from our "CMO Content Dilemmas" Hangout. Two themes emerged from our video chat: the frontiers of content personalization, and "Why don't CMOs get content?"

Writeup part one, Purging the content marketing clichés, hit on the problem of competing for attention, while debunking the myth that content has no ROI. But I didn't cover the CMO issues that put the chip on my shoulder in the first place. Let's rectify that in this installment (if you want to check the videos directly, here's the links to How Should CMOs Face the Content Challenge, and the (longer) video segment.)

Should CMOs put journalists on top of their org chart?

To drill into the CMO content dilemma, I asked Brenner a provocative question: "What if I were to advocate that a CMO should radically restructure the people working underneath them, move a lot of the branding/messaging people to the side, put an experienced journalist in charge of most of the marketing, and have the marketing tech people report to the journalist?" To my surprise, Brenner (mostly) agreed, though his focus was breaking up silos:

I've predicted two years in a row now that traditional marketing silos are going to disappear. I see data, technology and content as the three components of an effective marketing organization. I don't know that anyone else has articulated it that way.

Brenner pointed out that even Hubspot, a leader in so-called "inbound marketing," organizes by the sales funnel:

If you look at companies like HubSpot, they talk about early funnel, mid-funnel, late tunnel type people and some events. But you can put events, branding and advertising into one of those three buckets (content, data, or tech) - probably in the content bucket.

But why aren't more CMOs making these changes? In a note prior to our interview, Brenner didn't mince words:

My view is that most CMOs don't see content as a problem. Or more importantly, they don't see their under-performing marketing investments (programmatically-bought banner advertising no one sees, and logos on stadiums that have nothing to do with what you sell) as a problem.

So what about shifting priorities, and elevating content by putting a journalist/editor in charge of the tech and automation folks? Brenner wasn't wiling to go quite as far as me:

I don't know that I would put the technology or the data people under the content person, but I do think that they're equally as important. It goes back to what marketing is to begin with. People think marketing equals advertising. The content folks are the ones who understand that marketing is a conversation between a company and their audience. Then the data people are the ones that understand the digital signals that come back, what they mean and how they should be implemented. The technology - that's the infrastructure that helps the whole operation work. I don't know if any organizations out there really implement it that way, but I think that's what's coming.

Sentiment analysis obsessions - we're measuring the wrong things

Since Brenner didn't totally agree with my org chart rant, I pressed my reasoning further, bashing "sentiment analysis" in the process: One reason I'm advocating putting the marketing people underneath an experienced journalist/editor is because so many marketing tech people are measuring the wrong things. They're wasting time on things like, "Oh, my sentiment analysis tells me my brand is trending negative today. Who put out that horrible blog?" The next thing you know, they're on the phone with that blogger, give them a hard time. "How could they have said that?" They're thinking, "I've got to get my sentiment score back up," and it's just crap.

My rant extended into the long-term interaction metrics I find compelling, which involve engaging with critics, tracking their feedback into product service and development, and measuring customer satisfaction over time. To me, those measurements are far more interesting (and absolutely doable with today's marketing tech), yet all I hear about is, "Oh, our hashtag trended on Twitter today." Brenner:

I've written a couple of rants on what I call share of conversation. I think sentiment is crap as well. When brands start to look at share of conversation, they understand. At SAP, we looked at conversations on big data; we looked at cloud. We saw that Oracle and IBM weren't the competition. Like I said, it was people like you, people like Ray Wang and others who are really the host of the party. We were barely even invited. We showed up and were happy there was guacamole. We certainly weren't leading the conversation. We definitely weren't the host. When you think of it from the lens of: "the market is having a conversation," you're lucky to be invited; you're luckier if you are hosting or leading that conversation - but that should be the goal.

We didn't get to the bottom of my org chart tirade - which to be fair, was probably more ideological than practical. But that left us with the reality-check question: where should the CMO go from here?

Responding to the content challenge - CMOs who get it

Brenner advises to learn from those ahead of the curve:

In the conversations I've had with senior marketers at large and small brands - the ones that get it - are simply trying to generate higher return on marketing. They measure ROI to whatever extent it can be measured, and they see that their current content and advertising are largely wasted investments. They know, as digital consumers themselves, that effective content attracts current and future buyers.

Brenner sees the job of the modern CMO as:

  1. Creating a culture of content (an organization that aligns around thinking like a digital publisher).
  2. Breaking the campaign mentality of traditional marketers.
  3. Demanding results-driven performance vs. activity-based metrics.
  4. Using that higher performance and digital consumer behavior to win a seat at the boardroom table.

During our shoot, I asked Brenner for an example of a marketing leader doing things the right way. He pointed to Beth Comstock of GE:

Beth Comstock is a great example of what the CMO of the future can look like. If you think about her background, she was in marketing and then, in classic GE fashion, she was asked to lead a whole business unit for GE. The business leaders are everything at GE. Then she was asked to go back and run marketing again. What's fascinating is she's a CMO with a seat at the table. Not only does she have a seat at the table, but she can say, "Hey, I used to be one of you guys. I understand what it's like to run a business." When you look at marketing like a business, you don't just grab budget, throw it over at an agency, ask them to come up with some creative ideas.

She thinks of herself, I think, as the steward of the brand - meaning that she is responsible for the culture. The marketing programs that they implement, we're all pretty familiar with them, they're totally brand publishing, like their Tumblr blog. They've just done a great job of starting to tell the story - not just about GE, but about innovation and invention - which is back to their core purpose. It's highly experimental, content marketing driven.

Perhaps the best news for organizations intent on change: often it's not about expanding the budget, but shifting how you think about content (and how you source and produce it). Brenner used the example from his time at SAP, where customer testimonial videos were expanded to include content for a broader audience:

SAP did a lot of customer testimonial talking head videos of customers, and spent a lot of money on them. The target audience for that is really the sales guy at the last moment of sale. I didn't get a lot of budget when we started developing content as a service, if you will, at SAP. So I went to folks like that and said, "Hey, that's a great piece of content for a very specific late-stage kind of need, but you know what? You interviewed somebody who's really interesting." This guy's the CIO of Verizon. I want to know more about him. Why don't you just ask a couple of more questions like, "Hey Joe, tell me about the biggest challenge you faced in your career," of, "If you could talk to your younger self, what advice would you give?"

With that mindset shift, the audience expanded:

In those talking head videos that three people would view on YouTube because it was so internally focused - we turned those things into something that 2,000, 20,000, 200,000 people might view because it was personal, it was interesting, it wasn't so specific to a late stage sale. The big challenge there: once you start thinking like an editor or a publisher or a journalist, you start to realize there's content opportunities all over organizations. The thinking expertise is there, you just have to tap into it.

Wherever the marketing org chart of the future leads us, that's a good challenge to end on.

Note: I also released our conversation as part of my Busting the Omnichannel podcast series – you can check that on iTunes also.

Image credit: Keys Handover © FlamingoFotografie - Fotolia.com

Disclosure: diginomica has no financial ties with NewsCred or Michael Brenner. Brenner’s former employer, SAP, is a diginomica premier partner as of this writing.
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