CMO Smart: Key lessons about the art and science of marketing

How do marketers balance the increasing complexity of data science with creative storytelling?

That was the overarching question put forth to a panel of top marketers at the American Marketing Association Chicago Chapter’s event called CMO Smart – Creativity & Science: Achieving the Ultimate Balance at the Highest Level.

Marketers attend CMO Smart at Morningstar in Chicago

At Morningstar in Chicago, AMA Chicago recently invited four top marketers to share their insights, tactics and lessons about how they managed the art and science marketing continuum. They also discussed the importance of mentorship, networking tips, data science challenges and professional advice for up-and-coming marketers.

The panel participants were:

Moderated by Nancie McDonnell Ruder, the founder of Bethesda, MD-based Noetic Consultants and author of Jack and Jill Went Up the Hill: How Senior Marketers Scale the Heights Through Art and Science, the event drew about 50 marketers who wanted to learn from top professionals.

McDonnell Ruder was particularly well suited to the task of moderator since she had interviewed more than 50 top CMOs for her book that focused largely on the event’s topics.

Those who attended received a complimentary copy of the book. It’s chocked full of quotes from CMOs who have risen to the top. She also interviewed some of the CMO Smart panel members like Marc Lapides who in the book talked about the difficult balance that marketers must manage.

“The analytics or math part has to be considered in everything that you do – it should feed a creative strategy,” said Lapides in the book. “If you don’t have that, you are missing out on a key opportunity to understand where data can send us. But don’t use the data as your creative, (it should be) part of your brief, not the answer.”

Marketing Data – A Blessing and a Curse

Key Panel Lessons

  • More data may not mean more insights.
  • Knowing what data to focus on is key to success.
  • Marketers can be distracted by too much data if they aren’t careful.

Panel members said that since the birth of social media more than a decade ago and the rise of the web, marketers have been sifting through the new marketing analytics in order to gain customer insights. 

While it’s given rise to new marketing professions and opportunities, marketers are still trying to figure out exactly how to manage it all and determine what data is most relevant to their businesses.

“It’s (data) very daunting with all the options,” Feil said. 

Also, the rise of new marketing technology like social media has allowed smaller companies to reach customers in ways they never could have and leveled the playing field against larger, more established outfits. 

Kim Feil

But for both large and small companies, the main issue right now is the same, Wadler said.

“The challenge is to be able to figure out the right conversation with the right people,” Wadler said.

The Art Versus Science Question of Marketing

Key Panel Lessons

  • Great marketers are great generalists who know a lot about many subjects. 
  • To be successful, it’s important to focus on both art and science.
  • If you don’t know a topic or issue, don’t be afraid to reach out to others who can help you.

Throughout the evening, McDonnell Ruder tied in lessons that she learned while writing her book from top CMOs into the panel discussion. 

For instance, she found that an important personality trait for top marketers was not only grit but the ability to be great generalists, meaning top CMOs knew a lot about many topics. She said this allowed them to be nimble. She also found many fell into marketing and took a less than straight career path. Many CMOs started out firmly in either the art or science.

CMO Smart Panel (left to right) Marc Lapides, Jason Wadler, Kim Feil and Amy Gibby

The panelists agreed that striking a balance between the two is an important aspect of marketing. Most people will lean toward one or the other, so it’s OK to reach out to others who can help create balance in this area.  

Feil said that she had once considered herself a “data wonk” and that she’d walked into meetings with large binders of data. As time went on, she grew less reliant on data and now looks at it as a tool that helps her create stories that resonate with customers. 

“Unpacking the insights in the data is incredibly valuable,” Feil said. “I’ve been able to come full circle on that.”

The Importance of Mentorship for Marketing

Key Panel Lessons 

  • Marketers can learn from subject matter experts, not just fellow marketers.
  • The hardest aspect of mentorship is asking others to be your mentor.
  • Mentors don’t have to be older and more experienced.

Panel members talked about how important their mentors were in their rise through the ranks. While many marketers may not like asking others to be mentors, they should not feel badly because many have been in the same spot and are willing to help. 

Lapides said one of his most important mentors was a restaurant business executive who taught him about the intricacies of the restaurant business, which offered invaluable insights into the customer experiences. He added that mentors don’t have to be older but rather can be people much younger who have important skills and insights. 

Marc Lapides, left, and Jason Wadler

Wadler said one of his best mentors is one of his former college professors who he still depends upon. But the hardest part of getting a mentor is asking a person for help, he said. 

Gibby said that mentors can even be people you don’t know. As an avid reader, Gibby comes across many marketers who catch her attention. As a result, she reads more about those particular marketers, learning all she can about their decision-making processes so that when she is faced with a particular problem, she thinks about how they would solve that problem.

“I’ve created a virtual board of advisors,” Gibby said. “I ask what would that person do.”

CMOs Impart Best Advice for Rising Marketers

Key Panel Lessons

  • Switching jobs can help you learn more. 
  • Build your network – this is not optional.
  • Don’t worry about your resume rather worry about what you’ve learned.

Lapides advised that marketers should consider working for many different companies because doing that helped him acquire a broader range of skills. He added that many marketers are focused on how their resumes evolve, but the most important aspect is learning new skills because that will serve marketers far better in the long run. 

“Don’t worry so much about resume,” Lapides said. “Worry about what you have learned at the job.” 

The panel said networking is imperative to success. Not only do marketers meet new people, but they also gather important information about their fields of interest. 

“I can’t stress how important it is to reach out to people if you need advice or a job,” Wadler said. “Put yourself out there. People do want to help. Build your own personal network.”

Gibby said that she’s not wired for networking, so she doesn’t network in the traditional sense. But rather she has a “three job” philosophy of networking. The first job is her day job. Her second job is reciprocal, meaning she gets something of value out of it and the other side does as well. The third job is purely philanthropic where she receives nothing in return. 

“It’s not traditional networking, but the result is the same,” Gibby said. “You meet a lot of people.” 

Marketers at CMO Smart listen to the panel discussion

Learn More about AMA Chicago Events

Check out more AMA Chicago events like CMO Smart, which are designed to help marketers network and build on their professional skills.

Events range from major conferences to smaller gatherings. Events are free or discounted with AMA Chicago membership

Also, follow AMA Chicago on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.

Submit Your Article

Submit your idea for one of our monthly guest writer spots.