CMO's Corner: Gartner Analyst Jake Sorofman on What Keeps CMOs Up at Night

    by Mike Volpe

    Date

    March 4, 2014 at 4:35 PM

    CMOsIt's a tough world out there for CMOs. Consumers have changed the way they buy. Technology has changed the way we're working with Sales and IT. Finding top talent has become even more competitive. These trends have changed the way we operate our business and raise new issues CMOs have never faced before.

    To help fellow CMOs find answers to some of these important issues, I chatted with Jake Sorofman, Research Director at Gartner. At Gartner, Jake analyzes digital marketing strategy, trends, and best practices for Gartner's Marketing Leader practice. And he's not just an expert in the digital landscape -- he's actually been a CMO himself. Prior to his tenure at Gartner, Jake was a founding partner at Marketlever and a CMO at rPath. Here's what he had to say. 

    MV: Jake, you deal with a lot of marketing leaders and CMOs. What’s keeping most of them up at night these days? I know what’s keeping me up at night lately, but it’s two young kids -- what are the top marketing concerns for senior level marketers these days?

    JS: A lot is being laid at the feet of the modern CMO. As product and service advantages erode under the weight of global competition, CMOs are asked to drive more differentiating value from the brand itself. They’re being asked to influence preference, loyalty, and advocacy when competitive alternatives are abundant and competition for audience attention is at an all-time high. That alone is a substantial challenge.

    But at the same time, they’re expected to activate digital experiences, erase the seams between analog and digital channels, become data wranglers, marketing technologists, brand publishers, and, in many cases, key influencers of strategic growth and the architects of new digitalized products, experiences, and business models.

    Of course, no CMO can do this all on their own, so they’re in a race to source the right talent to support the transformation. We’re seeing a gap between authority and aptitude in digital marketing leadership; the CMO often has plenty of the former, but it’s the digital natives who have the latter. That’s why the digital marketing transformation is a wholly collaborative effort.

    MV: You recently blogged about how companies should think like publishers, a philosophy we are big proponents of around here. What are some of the best practices you’ve seen with companies adopting content and inbound-related strategies?

    JS: These companies appoint a leader -- a chief content officer -- to ensure the trains run on time. They recognize that content marketing can be resource intensive, and it requires the commitment of someone who wakes up and goes to sleep thinking about the care and feeding of the content supply chain. They look for someone who understands storytelling, has a strong bias toward action, and really understands how to stretch a dollar through creative outsourcing, reuse, curation, user-generated content, and other sources of content.

    MV: You’re a big proponent of brand storytelling. Can you highlight some companies and brands that are exceptional storytellers? We hear a lot about singular campaigns or initiatives, but who do you think is bringing the practice to life at scale?

    JS: There are so many great examples these days. Nike is one of my favorites. They’ve made a sizable commitment to brand storytelling. Rather than blathering on about their products, they engage audiences with an inspiring point of view, which is beautifully rendered. 

    Red Bull, of course, has done a brilliant job engaging audiences as part of a broad commitment to content marketing. Others worth mentioning: Amex’s Open Forum, Adobe’s CMO.com, iQ by Intel, Dove Real Beauty Sketches, Coca-Cola -- and, not to mention, HubSpot. Your team has done a great job drawing audiences into your orbit by publishing quality content that’s relevant.

    MV: One of the things I like about your approach at Gartner is that you blog regularly yourself. What do you tell executives who say they (or their company) don’t have time to blog? What have you found works for you in terms of a blog process?

    JS: I call it the daily discipline of the content marketer, but it could be applied to any other aspect of work or life. I’ve committed to posting at least once a week. Most of the time, it’s exactly once a week. But it’s never less. No exceptions (so far). I figure that a post a week is achievable for virtually anyone. It takes me between 20 minutes and an hour to write 300-600 words. But the truth is I’m writing it in my head for several days before I post. Blogging is a great exercise for organizing and testing ideas and building structure around half-formed thoughts. I do it as much for myself and for my audience.

    MV: What do you think is the most overused buzzword in the marketing world right now and why?

    JS: Oh, so many! I happen to use this one, but it’s probably about ready to jump the shark: Authenticity. The reality is that forced authenticity is easy to detect and very alienating. Someone recently suggested that a better description for the best content marketing is transparency. Authenticity suggests there’s no commercial agenda -- but of course there always is. Everyone has something they’re trying to sell.

    MV: What is your best marketing advice in two sentences or less?

    JS: Be passionate in everything you do. Create with wild abandon and care -- a lot.

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    Written by Mike Volpe

    CMO and Head Janitor @ HubSpot since joining in 2007 as employee #5. Helped generate something like a BILLION inbound leads (ok... a couple million). Also good at changing diapers.

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