Chief marketing officers have never had it easy. In today’s tight economic climate and with transformational shifts in marketing technologies and trends, some would say the job of CMO is tougher than ever. But those same shifts create exciting new tools and opportunities for reaching and motivating B2B buyers.
In this conversation with seasoned CMO Mike Mitsock, we explore his thoughts on meeting today’s challenges and practical approaches for creating strong brands and generating measurable growth.
PR: CMOs are charged both with building the brand and with generating leads that drive top-line revenue. How do you reconcile these dual goals and tackle both within tight budgets?
MM: Marketing, by its nature, is an exercise that requires juggling and balancing competing priorities. Brand and lead generation are intertwined; it’s difficult to generate quality leads unless the brand is strong and supported by strong positioning and messaging. And in the end, what’s important is quality, not quantity of leads.
The effect of marketing needs to be measured and quantified to the maximum extent possible. I’ve seen studies that show a strong brand may drive up to as much as a 30-percent higher company valuation versus competition with weaker brands. Still, trying to quantify brand value is much tougher than quantifying the value of a lead. The good news is that brand value is becoming more recognized in the technology sector than it has in the past.
There’s no magic formula for what percentage of your marketing budget to spend on building brand versus lead generation. Ultimately, the answer is often based on judgment and experience and where a company is in its lifecycle.
As a CMO, the key is in your ability to be persuasive and convince your fellow executives that a strong brand will increase the value of your company; they go hand in hand.
PR: Marketing and Sales are two sides of the same revenue generation coin. Yet they often work on parallel—or sometimes divergent—tracks. How can CMOs improve collaboration between marketing and sales...and why should they bother?
MM: Why bother? That’s simple - for your company to be successful, sales and marketing need to be in sync in what they’re trying to accomplish; the alternative is never pretty. The key is to be open to some creative problem-solving and flexible enough to reach an agreement on what’s important, how budgets are allocated, and how to define a good lead, and then to communicate that shared vision to the rest of the organization.
When sales and marketing work together instead of on divergent paths, you see sales people hitting their numbers and companies that are successful.
PR: In this age of analytics-driven digital marketing, how important is creativity? And what is the CMO’s role in encouraging, nurturing and focusing creativity?
MM: Analytics are a reflection of whether or not a campaign is on strategy, whether it’s well executed, whether or not it’s a positive differentiator versus the competition, and how creative it is in capturing people’s attention.
Creativity is more important than ever, regardless of how much analytics you apply – everyone has very short attention spans these days, and without creativity it will be next to impossible to capture anyone’s attention.
PR: Strategic marketing often targets C-level decision makers. What practical guidance do you have for marketers looking to engage and influence these notoriously hard-to-reach executives?
MM: Trying to reach C-level targets requires a variety of approaches that can mean 10 to 15 touches just to get their attention. Initially, a lot is based on offering content and being informational, both through outbound programs like email marketing, and through inbound, meaning a website that has compelling calls-to-action, and by paying attention to search engine optimization.
A constant in selling and marketing is that you have to be able to demonstrate you can solve a company’s problem. That’s true in spades with executives.
Even when you have the right answer, be prepared to exhibit lots of patience and perseverance. It may take more effort to reach the C-suite audience but the potential payoff can be greater because these are the people who drive strategic purchases.
PR: What is the role of trade shows in the modern marketing mix?
MM: There has definitely been a shift in tradeshow and event strategy that you see, especially at big shows. Twenty years ago, before the Internet made information readily accessible, attendees went to discover and learn about solutions they hadn’t heard about before. Exhibitors gauged their success on how big a stack of leads they could generate.
Today, it’s much less a discovery mechanism for attendees and more about meeting with vendors they have already decided are worthy of their time and attention. As an exhibitor, I’d rather come back from the show with a smaller number of quality leads and a set of well-targeted conversations than a large quantity of leads that are not worthwhile.
With that increased emphasis on meetings, your strategy focuses on how you promote your presence, how you support your sales team in setting up those meetings, in creating booths more focused on comfortable spaces, and creating smaller, more intimate demo experiences. Much different from when we used to put up a big stage and hire magicians and actors to demonstrate products and services.
For example, HIMSS is the biggest healthcare IT tradeshow of the year and six to ten big competitors dominate it. If you’re not one of them, you must be extremely clever in how you approach the show: start early in trying to generate meetings, especially with the sales team; create a booth that has stopping power; and be able to quickly provide content that attendees find useful.
PR: The healthcare sector is in the midst of an historic shift from a volume-based economic model to a value-based one. What does this mean for marketers of healthcare products and services? Does it represent a threat or a new opportunity?
MM: It's both a threat and an opportunity. Even before things like the ACA changed the equation, healthcare providers were already working at thin margins, and the economics certainly have not improved. That means you’re selling to people working on even thinner margins, and you’re competing for an even more limited set of dollars.
Even if you don't have a direct competitor, you might be competing with the “do nothing” option, which is often viewed as the cheapest solution. Or, if a provider is reasonably large, there’s also the “do-it-yourself” option. Those are the threats.
On the other hand, it’s an opportunity, because executives in this environment have an incentive to move more quickly to solve problems. The CEO of a large healthcare provider organization has on average about a two-year tenure. So if you can solve a problem and do it quickly, you can get to the top of the limited pile of expenditures they’re willing to make.