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Data Geek or Storyteller? Today’s CMO Must Excel at Both

Authors: Ben Plomion Ben Plomion
Posted Under: Digital Marketing
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Data Geek or Storyteller? Today’s CMO Must Excel at Both
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badge-guest-post-FLATTERNot too long ago, I spoke to Steve Herrera, an executive recruiter at SEBA International, about what it takes to be a great CMO in this era of data-driven marketing.

Specifically, I asked him about the great divide in marketing skills: Silicon Valley vs. Madison Avenue, or put another way, data geek vs. storyteller.

Whose skills will reign supreme?

Let’s be honest: The storyteller has taken a beating over the past five or so years thanks to the rise of programmatic marketing in particular, but also in no small part to the cornucopia of marketing automation technologies that let marketers measure everything.

Remember all of those articles citing the hubris of Mad Men’s Don Draper? The ones proclaiming that the days when advertisers controlled the conversation have gone the way of the black-and-white TV?

Consumers, we hear daily, are in full control of their buying journeys, and they’re the ones who tell marketers what they want. Savvy marketers look for ways to listen. Listening equals data collection.

Everything we need to know about our target audiences, and the best ways to engage them, lie within the bits and bytes of their click-streams, the thinking goes. Of course, no one can deny that data is enlightening. Its signals tell us who our audiences are, where to find them, and how they’re influenced.

But does it trump storytelling?

Steve dismissed the notion out-of-hand, pointing out that the advent of marketing automation tools and programmatic marketing has brought the role of data into center view. To paraphrase Steve, data is the shiny new toy in the sandbox.

“These terms, Silicon Valley and Madison Avenue, are a bit too tongue-in-cheek, and I hesitate to use them. But in terms of the storyteller vs. the data-driven marketer, it’s not a zero-sum game. The fact is, every CMO needs to do both.”

Steve offered up several examples where the pendulum appears to be swinging back towards storytelling.

Facebook, for instance, successfully achieved great scale and is one of the most successful pioneers of data-driven “growth hacking.” The company didn’t even hire a chief marketing officer until last year! But as soon as Gary Briggs signed on as CMO, the storytelling began.

Facebook’s Mother’s Day video was designed to establish an emotional connection, and highlight the benefits of their service,” Steve explained.

Tesla is another example Steve mentioned. The company’s mission is to reduce the consumer’s carbon footprint and eliminate dependency on fossil fuels. Though highly driven by its mission, one rarely hears the company talk about it. Instead, focus is on creating the best driving experience that also happens to be good for the environment.

The brilliance of this approach is that it offers direct benefits to consumers (i.e. great driving experience) while accomplishing Tesla’s goals, which in and of itself may not have widespread appeal.

Amuse or Lose the Consumer

In an interview on MarketingProfs, Nedra Klein Weinreich, makes the case that storytelling is an essential requirement since consumers can now ignore or block advertisements.

“I believe that the age of the 30-second spot and interruption marketing is just about over. It’s so easy now to skip over TV commercials with our DVRs, block online banner ads, and tune out the pitches being thrown at us constantly,” she said.

The marketer’s challenge, Ms. Weinreich states, is to present brand messages in ways that make consumers want to pay attention to them. In short, we must entertain them.

She’s clearly on to something: I’m reminded of the Dos Equis The Most Interesting Man in the World commercials. I must admit, I watch those commercials all the way through.

Of course, as Ms. Weinreich points out, we live in a ‘transmedia world,’ with consumers flitting between numerous media channels via their computers, televisions, tablets, and smartphones. And that, in turn, requires marketers to parse out parts of their story across multiple media, “allowing the audience to become participants in integrating the pieces.” In other words, marketers need to perfect their sequential storytelling skills.

That begs the question: How do markets tell sequential stories across multiple devices and channels? How do they know which ads consumers have already seen so they can successfully integrate the pieces? That’s nothing short of multi-channel cross device attribution – the epitome of Big Data science.

Steve Herrera is right: Today’s successful CMOs are data-geeky storytellers.

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