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Marketing, Redefined for Today’s Reality

When a business helps companies transform, transformation is a given for that business, as well.

That’s the case for Deloitte LLP. The global professional services firm is always evolving. This is especially evident in the firm’s reimagining of the marketing function, which is focused on shaping every aspect of the customer experience. Deloitte CMO Diana O’Brien is especially well-suited to guide the transformation. Her leadership-development and life sciences consulting background may be untraditional for marketing, but it gives her a unique perspective on marketing’s role and its influence on the client experience. In fact, her approach to marketing and the customer experience could become the standard for future CMOs.

What’s your marketing passion?

Client experience. Marketing has transformed and the entire organization now needs to be empowered to shape the client experience. The CMO is in the unique position to do this. At Deloitte, our purpose is to make an impact that matters. That means helping our clients reach a state where they can be their best.

How did you discover your passion for the client experience?

It’s funny because my passion for the client experience started outside traditional marketing boundaries and even outside of my client work; it began by serving our people within Deloitte.

I had the opportunity to be part of designing, building, and managing Deloitte University, our firm’s $300 million leadership-development commitment to our people. What’s also funny is that, as a voting partner, I didn’t initially support the initiative. Later, as the first managing principal of Deloitte University, I came to see how important it is to create a learning environment where all of your people feel safe and nurtured while pushing their boundaries, testing their skills, and truly growing as service professionals. Recognizing how powerful that is for our people, when I became CMO I wanted to create the right experiences for our clients to be able to learn, grow, and thrive.

What is Deloitte University, and who can “enroll” in its offerings?

It’s our leadership center based in Westlake, Texas. It has 800 rooms and 36 collaboration centers designed in an open and highly interactive style to foster collaboration. It’s open to everyone at the firm, from our most senior leaders to our newest hires. In fact, I’m on campus today, helping to welcome our newest hires.

We also bring in clients. Later this week we’re hosting a three-day academy for 40 future CMOs. The program they’re attending is designed to help rising marketing executives understand how they can establish strong relationships with C-suite colleagues and how they can create a legacy in their organization. The purpose of the instruction is to get them ready for when they get the call to become a CMO.

Tell me about your marketing team and its structure.

We don’t even call it marketing. We call it our market development group because that better describes all the elements for which we’re responsible. The term also shows that we recognize that marketing is undergoing a fundamental transformation. The creative and advertising elements of traditional marketing are still important, but now there’s so much more to marketing…. Marketing is about how we go to market, build relationships, and bring ideas and insights to our clients. 

In fact, you distinguish between marketing, with a small m, and Marketing, with a capital M. What do you mean by that?

Marketing with the small m is the marketing message. In the past marketing focused heavily on how to create, deliver, and broadcast the message. The small m is still important. Even more important today is Marketing, with a capital M. That capital-M Marketing is all about meaning; it’s about the broader business meaning of your message. Part of my client-experience passion is about making what we do meaningful to each individual customer. That’s how we build long-term relationships with our clients, and it requires a commitment to understanding what we mean to them. You’ve got to own the entire customer experience. And you can’t own it by putting out a one-way message. You own it by understanding what you mean to clients.

What elements are you responsible for as leader of the market development group?

Our model combines marketing, communications, and brand, as well as public policy, government affairs, and corporate citizenship. And because we think digital is so fundamental, we have a strong digital practice — Deloitte Digital — that serves our in-house marketing teams and our clients. We also have responsibility for all of our go-to-market channels; so, all of our managing partners in our key markets, all of our client leaders, and all of our industry practice leaders sit within market development. The leaders of our client and market teams are incredibly valuable from a marketing perspective because they build client relationships and lead teams that play a major role in delivering the client experience.

How do government affairs and corporate citizenship link to marketing?

We need to anticipate and understand policy and regulation developments that affect our clients’ businesses to interpret the implications of relevant changes and help our clients respond to them.

On the corporate citizenship side, we know our people want to be socially involved and they want our firm to make a positive social impact, so we have many initiatives in this area, especially in secondary education and supporting our veterans. All of the many citizenship investments we make sit under market development because they play a central role in shaping our culture. And our culture is centered on making an impact with our clients, as well as the communities in which they, and we, operate.

As CMO, what are you ultimately responsible for?

As a CMO today, you have to be the person who sets the vision and tells the story about where the company can go. I’m ultimately responsible for the client experience and using that deep understanding of the customer to be an agent for growth. To do this, I work closely with our chief talent officer to build a culture where our people feel empowered to represent the brand and vision internally and externally in every interaction with customers and in every footprint they leave, whether it be a direct conversation, an email, or a social media post.

What role does technology play in your approach to marketing?

The world is changing, and digital transformation is driving that change. So, CMOs need to be more technologically savvy — I need to be more technologically savvy. It’s something I’ve been working on since I took on the job.

As CMO, one of my key roles is to be the capability builder. My team needs to build and integrate new skills to help create a better client experience. It’s easy to become enamored with the latest software or robot or drone out there; but if you don’t address a specific business problem with new technology, you’ll suboptimize the client experience. We set up labs for different technologies and test how they can improve the client experience. That way we see what works and we also learn what’s required to build out the capability. You get very different results from a client-experience perspective when you say, “How do we embed this technology to make this capability come to life?” versus, “Can we go hire someone who has social media skills or someone who is particularly good at video?”

Based on your, and Deloitte’s, work with CMOs, how do you see that role evolving?

We work with so many CMOs who recognize the need to transform their roles. Executives should consider marketing to be a growth-driver for the business, not a cost center, because CMOs are the closest to understanding the client and the customer experience. It’s important for CMOs to become even more business savvy and to keep their focus squarely on the needs of the customer. If someone were to step into the CMO role today, one of their top priorities should be to understand how the rest of their C-suite perceives marketing and then determine how to influence that perception to drive the most value for the organization while demonstrating a strong ROI. 

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