CMO Smart: Top 6 Takeaways for 2020 and Beyond

No one can say that 2020 hasn’t been a difficult year for marketers. During CMO Smart last week, someone suggested the hashtag for the year should be #RipUpThePlan.

Top CMOs – Janice Tennant of Merrell, Scott Ablin of Keeper Security and Melanie Huet, of Serta Simmons Bedding – talked about their own challenges this year at CMO Smart – AMA Chicago’s annual event that became a virtual, online gathering this year.

The CMOs discussed how marketing is changing and what the future may hold during a 90 minute presentation and panel discussion.

If you missed CMO Smart, don’t worry. You can still see it for yourself with the full recording, available now through Dec. 31. (If you attended CMO Smart, log in to your Eventbrite account to view the recording for free here.)

Here are some of the CMO Smart highlights:

1. Work on Getting to BRIGHT

Tennant said she asks her team to “put your head down and work on getting to BRIGHT:

B – Begin with Your Team
R – Review Brand Fundamentals
I – Inhabit Your Consumer
G – Ground Everything in Strategy
H – Have a Plan
T – Test and Refine It

Janice Tenant, CMO, Merrell

Tennant defines “getting to BRIGHT” as taking those small intentional steps that you take to run your brand, moving you closer to that greater vision that grows your business.

The “inhabit your consumer” step had particular resonance for Tennant, a woman of color who started as CMO just a few days before George Floyd was murdered in Minnesota.

2. Use Small Wins to Help Big Bets Pay Off

Tennant pointed out that the outdoor gear industry is 74 percent white. “People of color face harassment and hostility on trails,” she said. “How can we help them understand they have allies?”

She set out to achieve some small wins that would help Merrell win a bigger bet—to “transform the outdoors as a social justice space over the next 12 months.” These included an all-hands training and a marketing audit of all materials to help internal stakeholders understand the importance of the issue.

“The goal is to see that 74 percent change to reflect the US population,” she said. “Let’s have people of all different backgrounds participating in the outdoors.”

3. Demand Objectively Great Creative

“You can be proud of subjectively great creative,” said Ablin. “But you should demand objectively great creative as measured by its ability to drive demand and contribute to revenue.”

He said that as a CMO, you have a fiduciary duty to increase shareholder value. He advises staying in alignment with your CEO, and if he or she has a legacy view of marketing, attempt to change that view for success.

“Do your CEO’s eyes glaze over when you talk about KPIs?” Ablin said. “They won’t if you talk about conversions. The joke is that people get into marketing because they don’t like math, but marketing does not equal ‘no math.’”

4. Manage Sales and Marketing Alignment

Ablin said, “Don’t get too caught up in metrics that don’t speak directly to revenue with your sales counterparts who don’t have marketing backgrounds. Don’t waste their time trying to convince them about the merits of traditional vanity-based marketing metrics or more advanced marketing metrics that don’t connect or can’t be directly connected to revenue. The reason is that the CEO and the board don’t care.”

He advised that your team should only care to the extent that non-revenue driving metrics are leading indicators of revenue generation. “Send a message that you as a CMO are committed to sales growth. Sit in on sales calls and understand the buyer journey.”

5. During a Crisis, Lean on Your Brand Purpose

Huet said COVID-19 taught her company how to manage a national crisis when sales initially plummeted by about 80 percent.

Their solution? Lean on the brand’s purpose: “comfort for all.”

Serta donated quickly designed, manufactured and donated 10,000 beds to New York City, which as the early epicenter of the outbreak faced a critical shortage of hospital beds.

This campaign didn’t just generate positive media attention and increased sales—it created a 20-point increase in the brand’s positive sentiment in social media while competitors’ sentiments were down or flat. It also help Serta be named by Newsweek as one of the top 50 U.S. businesses that stood out during the pandemic.

Huet said, “When you link your brand purpose to something very meaningful that your brand can own, you will reap a lot of rewards.”

6. Target New Audiences Where They Are

Under Huet, Serta decided to relaunch its venerable Simmons brand as Generation Z’s first brand. That meant targeting them in a brand-new medium: Tik Tok.

They initiated an online festival called Snoozzapalooza focused on Gen Z and young millennials who are about to make their first mattress purchase. The campaign resulted in 3 billion views, 2.3 million video creations, a 107 percent increase in traffic to the website and a near-50 percent increase in sales in one week. It then caught on and moved to other social media platforms.

“Don’t be afraid to be the first one to raise your hand and rethink things,” Huet said. “If you support everything with purpose, you’ll have the authenticity you need.”

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