Celebrity or Humility?

At the CMO Panel on the big stage at Salesforce Connections yesterday, the CRM giant’s own chief marketer, Lynn Vojvodich, asked panelists to describe the current state of marketing in one word. Katie Bisbee of DonorsChoose.org answered, “personalization.” John Osborn—actually the president and CEO of BBDO New York—said “tempest.” Gary Briggs of Facebook thought for a second and said, “Yes,” agreeing with Osborn.

It was surprising that no one answered “celebrity.” Regardless of the fact that Salesforce has managed to make customer management cool, packing thousands into New York’s Javits Center to hear email techie and Marketing Cloud CEO Scott McCorkle hold forth, the CMOs had just been eyewitnesses to the raw, unabashed power of celebrity. Their session had been preceded by an interview of Diane Von Furstenberg by Late Night host Seth Meyers, who had digital marketers crammed shoulder-to-shoulder inside the exhibit hall-cum-arena. But a third of that crowd walked out along with the fashion designer and the TV star, leaving the insights of some of the world’s most influential marketers bouncing off scores of empty seats.

Those who departed missed a bevy of keen insights from the panel, not the least of which was the lack of pretention and hubris that apparently continues to guide their efforts. Indeed, asked by Vojvodich to name the chief characteristic of a good CMO, Osborn came back with “humility.”

Osborn’s shop is jam-packed with blue chip clients like ExxonMobil, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, and PepsiCo, yet Osborn says his focus is constantly working these relationships. “Relationships,” he said, “are the currency of the business I’m in. You’ve heard of six degrees of Kevin Bacon? For us now it’s more like six degrees of anticipation. There are managers, middle and junior level executives, we never used to track. Now we have to anticipate where they’re going. It’s absolutely critical, given the pace of change, to really get to know these men and women.”

Asked by Vojvodich for tips on how marketers could better use Facebook, Briggs came out slightly at odds with a theme set down earlier by McCorkle in his keynote address—that the old ways of customer segmentation were on the way out. “If you’re using Custom Audiences, you really want to understand the target you want to reach,” he replied. “In a lot of ways, marketing’s going back to the original fundamentals—really great stories, really great structure. But it’s also the ability to understand the targeting. It’s incredible the amount of customers who just skip past the target. With our product, we really want you to start at the start. Whom do you want to reach and why do you think it’s important that they be reached?”

When the discussion got around to emerging channels, Bisbee verified what numerous studies keep propounding—that email has yet to reach the pinnacle of its marketing power. “Email for us is the biggest channel for driving donations. This year it represents about 50% of revenue. Social, by comparison, is about 10%,” she said. “Email allows us to tell a story. Email allows us to personalize our ask. Email templates allow other people to ask on our behalf. Email is incredibly scalable. Email works.”

Briggs shared an interesting take on his leadership role as the chief marketer of the world’s largest social network. Eight years ago, well before he joined the company, he met Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and had a conversation with him about the company’s own face in the world. “My key job is to turn skeptics into advocates. The idea then was how quickly he was going to innovate the product. But I think, for a long time, he was skeptical about communicating the company. Now we recognize the role we play in the world and that we have to be out communicating in a way that’s true to Mark and true to the trajectory of the company.”

When Vojvodich turned to the old agency pro for his pronouncement on creativity in a digital world, Osborn turned it back around to the subject of leadership. “Creativity is nothing unless it serves a greater purpose on behalf of the clients we’re honored enough to serve. That can’t be underscored enough,” Osborn said. “In all the purpose-based work we’ve done, that service-based acumen has taken hold with us. Name any one of our clients and I can give you, in a sentence, how they serve their customers, or the greater community, or society. I can do it across the board. And I think that has had an economic multiplier effect on our business.”

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