Three Essentials for Earning a Performance Marketing Black Belt

Clay Stobaugh anticipated marketing’s current transformation nearly two decades ago when he witnessed the power of performance marketing during the twilight of the Mad Men era. Today the CMO of John Wiley & Sons is applying a potent dose of Lean Six Sigma to designing and running the marketing strategy and structures used to drive transformation at Wiley, a learning business that helps people and organizations develop the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.    

What is your marketing passion?

Two words come to mind: performance marketing. Performance marketing is about the ability to define, measure, analyze, improve, and control. Those five metrics, “DMAIC,” also describe the central process used within Six Sigma.

How does DMAIC apply to marketing?

It brings a highly analytical approach to the way you define success and how you measure your ability to achieve that success. It also identifies which metrics can then help you modify and improve your success. I always emphasize to our team that if you cannot define success, you can’t measure it—and if you can’t measure success, you cannot achieve it.

When did performance marketing first resonate with you?

The term conveys so much, and it’s not out there as much as I think it should be.

After I completed my business degree in the 1980s I went where a lot of other Harvard MBAs did not go back then: Madison Avenue. I worked in an agency, where I eventually launched a division that I called performance marketing. We were running co-op ads. We ran them for supermarkets such as A&P, tourism outfits such as the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, and so on. Co-op ads are extremely measurable because you can track sell-through based on specific campaigns. They’re truly performance-driven. That mind-set resonated with me in the 1980s, which was sort of the twilight of the Mad Men era. Advertising was still very creative, but it was beginning to come into its own for being performance-driven.

As time progressed, I saw the marketing mind-set shift from Mad Men to what I call the Modern Marketer. We’ve largely gone from a product-focused world to a customer-focused world. Marketing now has the ability to engage with the customer and to represent the customer’s voice at the decision-making table.

What drove the shift?

I’ve been following marketing technology and emerging companies in this space for years. In some ways it’s been a very long wait for me. Like any emerging technology, new marketing tools were originally siloed. But the industry has matured—especially in the past two and a half years, which is evident in all of the consolidation and integration taking place. Today you see single-solution suites offered by the big players, but you’re also seeing data integration offered by nearly everyone. Vendors are playing nice with each other. These toolsets are a key enabler of the Modern Marketer.

So, now, the great thing about marketing is the Mad Men element. Marketing content absolutely needs to be creative and authentic to resonate with customers and to engage them. But creativity as the be-all, end-all is no more; it remains an incredibly important ingredient, the heartbeat of your brand. Measuring what your customers are doing and tracking your success, as well as meeting their needs, is really where so much of the value and excitement in marketing now resides.

How do you get your marketers to operate like Six Sigma black belts?

At a high-level, I always talk about three things: mind-set, toolset, and skill set. The mind-set is that shift from Mad Men to Modern Marketer. And it’s not just for marketing processionals. Today everybody—regardless of whether they’re in sales, customer service, or anywhere else—is a marketer. Everybody needs to know about their customers, and needs tools to obtain and maintain that knowledge. But the latest marketing tools are so sophisticated that you need the skill sets to use them to their fullest capacity. That requires unique training.

How do you cultivate those skills?

At Wiley, we created the Marketing Revenue Center (MRC). It operates as a global center of excellence that establishes best practices that drive revenue, brings in marketing technology capabilities that support these best practices, and hosts the certification and training programs that these sophisticated tools require.  

What certification programs are offered?

Our disciplines include content marketing, CRM, customer experience, demand generation, digital analytics, social media, and SEO/SEM. We’re in the process of designing a certification program for sales enablement, which will center on how marketing and sales can more effectively work together in handing off contacts. We designed the MRC to provide skills, leadership, tools, and training to advance marketing’s capabilities, empower our teams to better serve Wiley customers, and, ultimately, to enhance our company’s business performance.

Who can get certified, and how have the MRC and its certification programs been received by the rest of the company?

We initially launched the certification programs for our marketers. We now have colleagues across the organization participate in it. I’m thrilled that we’ve even had customers ask if we could extend it to them. Our certification programs are voluntary. It’s been fascinating to hear our marketers say, “These programs are so good that we want them to be mandatory.” That’s clearly a sign of success. I’m proud that we’ve also had outside validation from research and analyst firm Brandon Hall, which presented us with its Gold Award for “Best Learning Program Supporting a Change Transformation Business Strategy” in October.  The MRC is fundamental to our overall strategy at Wiley as we transform and redefine the publishing industry.

Given the rapid evolution of marketing technology, how do you choose among different toolsets, and how do ensure that the training is adequate?

Our running joke is that we say, “You can have any tool you want as long as it’s the one we’ve selected.” As you develop your model for selecting tools, it helps facilitate your decision-making process.

We look for vendors who can support our needs as a global organization, who possess excellent training capabilities, and who can support our data-integration requirements. Everyone is trained in the same way, and since our training is online, it’s highly scalable.

I think a crucial success factor is that our training is not theoretical. Our people undergo hard-skills training and take tests. Our Level I certification is introductory and means that someone is conversational in a tool or practice area. Level II gets into six to seven hours of training. Level III certification requires up to 20 hours of training. Within Wiley, Level III training has deep significance because it conveys that you are an expert in a subject area. When people are certified it takes off the table any question of doubt about their capability. You get more momentum more quickly because there’s more trust throughout the organization.

With the right mind-set, skill sets, and toolsets in place, how do you execute your mandate to represent the customer’s voice?

If I ask my team what my three favorite words are, they will reply, “Dashboards, dashboards, dashboards.” We have all of this data, so the question becomes: What’s the important data? You can drown in the data that the tools produce. So, you need that clarity of purpose and clarity of mind-set regarding how you define success. And then you can deploy your tools and the key measures they track to achieve that success.

What makes for an effective dashboard?

The most important factors are an understanding of who your audience is and what they’re seeking to measure. That brings you back to core marketing: knowing who your customer is and what data is important to them. You’re serving your external customers, but you also have your internal customers.

Last thing: What do you look for when recruiting and hiring?

Smart people will always learn skill sets and toolsets and because they’re smart. The critical element is the mind-set. I want to find marketers who are results-driven and who think and behave as Modern Marketers. That’s a shift, and you can see it in the CMO role, as well. Ten years ago CMOs were largely creative directors. Today they are not. Certainly, we’re all creative because we enjoy that part of the brain, but we are very numerically driven. I think the more successful you are at performance marketing, the more successful you’ll be as a CMO.

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