How to Succeed as a CMO: Advice from a Top Chief Marketing Officer
Advice

How to Succeed as a CMO: Advice from a Top Chief Marketing Officer

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Featured Marketer: Adam Bleibtreu.
Role: Chief Marketing Officer, Creative Circle.
Discussion Topic: Advice on being a CMO.

This Q&A article is a summary of the Podcast Interview.


The Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) role is the top job in marketing. Compensation packages can go as high as 420K according to Salary.com. "But be careful what you ask for," cautions Adam Bleibtreu, CMO for Creative Circle. "The challenges and pressures are unique," he says.

The CMO has ultimate responsibility for the company's marketing ROI. But there are hidden frustrations. In this interview, Bleibtreu describes his journey to become CMO for a public company. He shares tips on how reach marketing career goals while avoiding some of the pitfalls.

Q - What influenced you to become a Chief Marketing Officer?

A - Early on in high school and college it became clear to me that I saw words translated into pictures. Whereas, other people were good at seeing numbers and words. Algebra was not something I ever succeeded in. Geometry and storytelling were.

"I thought television commercials were the most honest form of communication on TV."

I got into USC film school out of high school. I saw early on this juncture between film and television storytelling. I was taking a psychology class one day on Pavlovian psychology. This light bulb went off and I thought wow, how great would it be to tell stories that affected the way people felt?

That led me to work in the television industry along side Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets. Then I got into film and television and was led down a logical path to messaging that got shorter and more impactful.

I was also a journalism student. And it became clear to me that news was not interested in the truth. It was about creating sensationalism that drew eye balls to increase advertising rates. I thought television commercials were the most honest form of communication on TV.

Q - What's your main focus as Chief Marketing Officer?

A - There's a little less doing and a lot more worrying. I have teams of people who implement marketing campaigns for me. I spend my time worrying about the impact on our business and workplace environment. I'm always thinking about how to make our companies more successful and profitable.

"The number one challenge is distraction. The share of voice that you have in the consumers of today's world is minimal."

The number one challenge is distraction. The share of voice that you have in the consumers of today's world is minimal. The number of communication messages people receive are astronomically higher than ever before.

The first thing I worry about is how we get heard and seen. Some of our messaging is critical to the success of our companies. That's where technology like artificial intelligence and marketing automation systems come in.

Q - How has digital transformation made marketing leadership more difficult?

A - I want to create messaging that has impact on people's lives and behavior. The capacity to tell a compelling story is paramount. Delivering it in a sound bite on a digital platform for consumption is the true challenge. All marketers today face this challenge.

"Digital transformation brings new marketing challenges. In front of me I have a laptop, an iPad, a cell phone and two monitors running. To say I'm distracted is obvious."

On one hand, digital transformation is not that much different than the move from radio to TV, or TV into the Internet. We've all encountered these technological transformations where platforms speed up messaging.

But digital transformation brings new marketing challenges. In front of me I have a laptop, an iPad, a cell phone and two monitors running. To say I'm distracted is is obvious.

Q - How has emerging technology changed your decision making process?

A - If you go back a few years in time, you could create a message and distribute it on PR platform in the form of a press release. Or, you could get articles in print or digital and copy them onto your Linkedin feed.

You sort of threw things out there and went, "Oh my gosh. I hope somebody is paying attention to them." In the old days we had Arbitron, Nielson and other rating services we subscribed to.

In contrast, this morning I was discussing the business challenges of Covid-19. I suggested we create a couple of banner ads, get them out there and see who responds. If people are responding, let's do more. If it's not, let's take it down and go in another direction.

"Today I can get results in a six hour timespan, then make real time decisions on what to do next."

Today I can get results in a six hour timespan. I can develop a strategy and create the messaging. Then launch the messaging and see how people are reacting. Then make real time decisions on what to do next.

That's never happened before in the history of American or global communication. But everybody else's messages are distracting people from ours. And that's the key. How do I get my message out there in a form that grabs that moment of someone's attention.

The underlying key for the true advertiser is maintaining a level of authenticity. If you're authentic with people, you can get them to pause for a nanosecond.

Q - If someone's goal is to succeed in marketing, what advice would you give?

A - If you have a creative sensibility, then head into the front end or the development of the creative. If you understand the numbers, consider things like SEO. This can be fulfilling if those kinds of numbers and analysis work for you.

If you want more of a general marketing role, you must understand the human psyche. Because regardless of the digital channel of communication, we are still human beings. And as human beings we have emotions.

"Marketers must understand the human psyche. Our emotions influence almost every decision we make in a day. And stories are what drive us."

Our emotions influence almost every decision we make in a day. And stories are what drive us. A story can be 142 characters or an hour on Netflix. Either way, we're attuned to storytelling. So the first thing I would suggest to would-be marketers is to understand the human psyche.

There's a gentleman named Paco Underhill who wrote a book back in the 90's called Why We Buy. He talked about the chemical and emotional triggers that go into purchasing. He has since updated it to talk about the Internet and retail.

This book talks about the emotional triggers that impact your decision making process. If you read that and it's boring, don't go into marketing. If you think it sounds so simple and interesting, then you're a natural born marketer.

Q - Will Chief Digital Officers ever replace CMOs?

A - Strategy, audience segmentation and channel choice are critical for digital lead generation. The CMO can put that package together and rely on their digital team for implementation. A Chief Digital Officer (CDO) is someone focused on that.

"The CMO has the wholistic responsibility of the entire marketing process. That's not always how a Chief Digital Officer looks at it."

We can fight and argue with each other all day about who gets credit for the lead. But acquiring a lead is worthless without a strategy to deploy it to your sales team. Without a sales strategy, the lead means nothing.

You must have the technology to use the lead and run reports to check your results. The CMO has the wholistic responsibility of the entire marketing process. That's not always how a Chief Digital Officer looks at it.

Q - How can you know if you're right for the CMO role?

A - A desire to succeed is a wonderful thing. I've wanted to succeed and been ambitious most of my adult life. But you have to be careful what you ask for.

If you goal is to become CMO, you must understand three things. First, the responsibility and the pressures are unique. You have only the CEO or President to report into. You don't have compatriots or someone you can turn to. It's an isolated role.

"Be sure what you're aspiring for is what you want. The pressures, responsibilities and authority in the CMO role are unique."

It's one thing to look at a title and imagine how cool it would be. It's another thing to be ambitious, motivated and driven enough to achieve it. so, I strongly advise people to take a moment of pause.

Be sure what you're aspiring for is what you want. The pressures, responsibilities and authority in the CMO role are unique. You have to be sure it's what you want.

Q - If your goal is to be CMO, how should you get started?

A - The greatest training I got that led me to the success I have as CMO is the time I spent as an entrepreneur. And I've had five or six different careers.

I've been in the digital signage industry. I helped create the largest network of TV sets on gas pumps. I've worked in television production. I've helped manage the advertising components for large footwear and fashion industries. I helped build a television network. This wide variety of experiences allow me to look at problems from the myriad of angles.

"Finding a mentor is almost as important as gaining a distinct perspective from many experiences."

One of the challenges I encounter is dealing with senior managers with a singular point of view. A singular point of view is not a balanced point of view. And sometimes balance is what you need.

With that said, my advice is to try lots of things to succeed. And fail. We remember our failures to avoid repeating them. Relish your scar tissue as painful as it is. You need to have many experiences to develop a distinct perspective. This is critical.

You also need a mentor. I struggled my way in the dark bouncing off walls until the last door I opened was my current role. The gentleman who offered it to me began to mentor me in a high level senior executive level business sense. I wished I'd had access to someone like that ten years ago. Finding a mentor is almost as important as gaining a distinct perspective from many experiences.

A - North Americans have been told for generations that we have to work in a communal environment. And that we can't work from home because there are too many distractions. The worry is we're going to spend our whole day playing video games.

"A part of me believes that when this pandemic is over, we will never look at remote work the same."

Some fascinating questions to ask are, "Is remote work working? How are companies managing their people's productivity? What's the impact? Or, is remote working a possibility?" A part of me believes that when this pandemic is over, we will never look at remote work the same.

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