Executive Insights: A Marketing Transformation Conversation with CMO Advisor Kathleen Schaub

Fred Isbell, Research Director Dresner Advisory Services, High technology Veteran and former Senior Director SAP Global Marketing

I have had the pleasure to work with an amazing array of people over my nearly 30+ year marketing career. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts has been to work with some great firms and people from the analyst community. Their “outside in” perspective is critical, with the ability to keep a pulse on the marketplace with regular insights and research from experts with deep expertise in specific areas of focus.

One such firm is IDC and my first interactions with them date back to my time at DEC ( before the launch of my marketing career) while I was a young analyst and consultant. While in SAP Global Marketing we launched several thought leadership efforts, and one of the analyst partners I leveraged was IDC, and specifically their CMO Advisory Service.

Kathleen Schaub led this practice for many years and she and her team helped marketers of all kind by providing regular briefings, informative webinars and events, and their marketing track at the annual IDC Directions event.

Kathleen recently retired from IDC after a long and distinguished career in marketing, including being a head of marketing and a CMO. I had the opportunity to recently catch up with her and discuss the future of marketing, the use of marketing analytics and her advice for marketers to advance and grow their careers.

Q: Kathleen, you led IDC’s CMO Advisory and Customer Experience Practice for close to a decade. We have come to embrace the concept of “Modern Marketing” over that time, with marketing and digital transformation seeming to accelerate constantly. During your marketing career, what are the things that have changed the most and where do you see marketing headed in both the short- and long-term?

A: The short answer for what has changed marketing the most? Digital! Because of digital, every aspect of marketing is different. Expanded media channels. More competencies required including content marketing, social, and operations. The advent of MarTech and data-driven marketing. Digital also altered marketing’s relationship with sales and increased the importance of marketing to the business.

Having said that, even after a couple of decades, digital marketing is still in its early stages. During the first wave of any technology, people use it to do familiar things in better, faster, cheaper ways. The first television commercial combined two familiar things – a black and white magazine photo of a clock sitting on the screen while an announcer read radio copy.

Most of the B2B marketing tactics I see aren’t much different from the tactics I used as a young marketer – except that digital gets things done easier, faster, and with less cost. Account-based marketing (ABM) is major account marketing with new shoes. Most companies execute content marketing in ways hardly different from 1990’s marcom. And let’s not get started on email – it’s mostly just direct mail on steroids.

However, in the last few years, I’ve seen leaders enter genuinely new territory. Once a technology itself becomes familiar, that’s when you see deep system-level innovation. We’re starting to see these profound transformations. The pandemic has now added a forcing factor accelerating changes that were already in play.

In this category of system-level innovation, I put the customer experience focus. I would add agile marketing management, loyalty first/community marketing, customer success management, and the move to B2B eCommerce. Companies are experimenting with new organizational combinations to accommodate these reconfigured capabilities. In a decade, traditional sales, marketing, and customer support will all look much different.

Q: I recently had the opportunity to interview Scott Brinker, VP of Platform Ecosystem at Hubspot and the “father” of Marketing Technology (MarTech) about the ever-changing dynamics of the MarTech landscape and the role of “marketing technologists” who have become an essential part of the marketing department. How do you see marketing using MarTech moving forward, and now that marketing controls more technology investment dollars than the traditional centralized IT department in many organizations, does that empower even greater marketing and digital transformation?

A: Digital marketing innovation will be driven by the fusion of business and technology skills within teams of marketing experts. Event marketers who “get” digital, for example, will be the ones who invent new kinds of virtual events. This is why the CMO needs to own all the elements of MarTech that run marketing. When I was with IDC, we saw evidence of how CMO ownership of MarTech leads to the greatest satisfaction with results. Business process ownership of applications applies to all functions, not just marketing. IT plays a critical role in supporting business owners with data management, security, and other key infrastructure. IT is like HR. The business manages the workforce. HR is a critical support function.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) continues to make MarTech easier and smarter. AI capability, as well as sheer experience, will drive the tech-process skill fusion. So, the kinds of marketing technologists we have today won’t be as needed in the future. AI will reduce a lot of their current work. However, new kinds of marketing technologists with even higher-level skills, related to AI, will be important.

Q: During your tenure at IDC the CMO Advisory Service also incorporated customer experience (CX) and with it the customer journey, which has become an essential part of B2B marketing across all industries. Given the CX function is often not owned by any specific line of business (LoB) function, how can marketing add value, lead, and ensure optimum success? Are there emerging best practices to share and build upon?

A: You are right – customer experience is a part of everyone’s job. However, marketing has an outsized role to play both in delivering customer experience and contributing to the ability for other functions to deliver.
Marketing is the customer experience gateway. The very first customer interaction is always mediated by marketing. That first touch might be an ad, a peer recommendation, a social mention, a search response, or a link to a website. Customers then engage with marketing several times before anyone else in the company gets involved. Marketing also crafts the narrative which is an important part of how a company sees itself. Leaders set the tone but it’s the company’s voice that spreads and interprets it.

Delivering great customer experience requires the appropriate culture, strategy, and business operations. It’s incredibly challenging to develop an outside-in, empathetic, perspective. To adjust culture, CMOs have told me that there is no substitute for having marketers gain first-hand knowledge of customers. The right strategy depends on setting a clear customer-centric mission and measuring customer-centric goals. Measurement needs to be expanded beyond NPS and get deeper and more specific. For business operations, many practices are being developed. CMO’s must demand direct customer feedback, intelligence, and voice in every situation. Softening silos so that different groups can work together helps eliminate duplication and process gaps and encourages experience innovation.

Q: What would the younger version of you offer for recommendations to a new generation just getting started in marketing? Are there specific skills they should invest in with training and development, given the continued rapid pace of change in both modern marketing and digital transformation?

I tell young marketers that the job they will have in ten years doesn’t even exist today. So, you have to “skate to where the puck is going”. In my discussions with CMOs, they have shared that they value “soft” skills such as collaboration and problem-solving over hard skills because of this need to adapt. Getting a breadth of experiences – in work and in life – helps build these skills. It also helps to take on challenging jobs that take courage, put you close to customers, and make a difference to the business. As for the hard skills, certainly any technical and data training is always going to help. Creative jobs will also expand. Most of all, prepare to be a life-long learner.

Kathleen, thank you very much for your insights. We appreciate you taking time today and wish you the absolute best of luck in your next endeavors. And on behalf of all marketers across many organizations we thank you for your outstanding guidance over many years!

Kathleen is a Writer and Advisor to CMOs on marketing transformation & management and the former head of IDC’s CMO Advisory Service
Follow her @kathleenschaub

Fred is a Research Director at Dresner Advisory Services, a high technology industry marketing veteran and former Senior Marketing Director for SAP Global Marketing.

Fred Isbell is a Research Director for Dresner Advisory Services and was formerly with SAP Global Marketing as Senior Marketing Director & BMO Lead. He also led SAP Services North America Field Marketing, SAP Services Thought Leadership, services Field Engagement programs and Channels Marketing for SAP Small and Midsize Enterprises (SME). Previous to SAP, Fred held a variety of senior solutions and services marketing roles with Compaq and Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). He is a graduate of Yale University with honors and has an MBA from the Duke Fuqua School of Business where he was a Fuqua Scholar and received the Fuqua Alumni Exemplary Leadership Award.

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