Top CMOs Share Their Best Practices For Success In Age Of Digital Disruption

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Just as 2060 years ago today, the Ides of March 44BC, Julius Caesar uttered his last words, “Et tu, Brute” when he was without warning murdered, today fierce competitors without warning are attacking established businesses and seemingly overnight taking over the leadership position.  Most attacks…

March 15, 2016 — Just as 2060 years ago today, the Ides of March 44BC, Julius Caesar uttered his last words, “Et tu, Brute” when he was without warning murdered, today fierce competitors without warning are attacking established businesses and seemingly overnight taking over the leadership position.

Most attacks come through digital disruption, and often the first to recognize these threats are marketing executives. So on March 15, 2016, I sat down with 6 leaders of marketing to discuss digital disruption challenges, opportunities, and the future. The executives were leaders in travel, technology, academia, healthcare and consumer products:

  • Jim Berra, CMO, Royal Caribbean International
  • Rashmy Chatterjee, Marketing, Communications and Citizenship, IBM North America
  • Ravi Dhar, George Rogers Clark Professor of Management and Marketing & Director of the Center for Customer Insights, Yale School of Management
  • Paul Matsen, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Cleveland Clinic
  • Kathy O’Brien, VP Skin and Marketing Services in the US, Unilever

Robert Reiss: What will drive success in the future?

Rashmy Chatterjee, IBM: “The speed with which businesses transform in the Cognitive Era i.e. their ability to act on insights gained from structured as well as unstructured data (posts, tweets, images, tones, videos etc.). We all know data is growing at an unprecedented pace but over 85% of this is unstructured. Cognitive systems process structured and unstructured data to Understand, Reason and Learn (URL!). As an example, five years from now, I don’t think there will be anything like B-to-B, B-to-C. Marketing will be Business to Person and a deep understanding of an individual’s profile will enable them to be better served by businesses, governments, hospitals or academic institutions. The has to be the purpose of technology, not a one size fits all.”

Paul Matsen, Cleveland Clinic: “From a health care perspective: Consumerism. Consumers are having to pay more out of their own pocket with high deductible plans and co-pays so they are seeking more digital information. Transparency– one of the biggest disruptions is the ability for patients to compare prices for lab tests, various procedures and imaging. Personal technology, driven through wearable, digital technology allows patients to engage in their care, keep them well and at home, where they actually will receive better care for some services.”

Ravi Dhar, Yale: “It’s like a democratization of experience. If you look at Uber, it allows everybody to have a limo service at a relatively inexpensive rate. Things that perhaps only the one percent could afford, are now being moved to the broader base through technology. You can call it disruption, give it different words, but what it’s doing is allowing everybody to purchase experiences that traditionally would have cost a lot of time and money. It’s not the same way of doing business, it’s certainly exciting times.”

Kathy O’Brien, Unilever: “Certain companies will leapfrog. We are not wedded to the past. Unilever will go from being data poor, to data rich, to data intelligent. Once we are able to source and mine data in a new ways we will be able to springboard to different ideas and choose different partners, it will allow us to jump off into different avenues. I don’t think it could be a cooler time to be a marketer.”

Jim Berra, Royal Caribbean: “It’s becoming more of an experience led economy. How can you scale customization through technology without losing sight of the fact that it’s about individuals interacting with individuals? If it becomes individuals and machines, then I think we’ve lost something in the way we deliver our hospitality brand. We’ll need to be able to react and respond quickly to consumers’ needs. Technology is a strong enabler, a catalyst. We need to be thoughtful about how that intersects with customer experience, and how our teams interact with our guests around the world.”

Reiss: How is digital transforming your organization today?

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O’Brien, Unilever: “Digitize Unilever is one of our anthems for 2016. It’s not just marketing’s job when you think about digital, it really is your entire organization, especially considering Millennials. Collectively, we are trying to understand what drives the end user and delivers a more superior product. At Unilever, everything we do has to have a strong consumer insight– not only our innovation, but our marketing innovation as well.”

Berra, Royal Caribbean: “Two areas we’re focused on are commercialization of the Web and what we can do to create the right level of content/information/connection to guests to make vacation planning seamless and stress free. We see ourselves as a wingman in that process where digital and digital applications create a real opportunity.”

Chatterjee, IBM: “Digital has become the core of the IBM Marketing organization today. We are building our digital capabilities centered on a client’s digital journey- how they discover us, learn more about our capabilities, engage with us and transact with us. And the client journey could be from multiple lenses- an industry lens, a role lens, a solution lens and many more. Most important for us is that the client’s experience is consistent with the value of our brand.”

Matsen, Cleveland Clinic: “You don’t market health care like other brands. At the intersection between marketing and clinical care, the greatest transformation is the electronic medical record. Through our development of a digital product – MyChart – patients can make appointments online, fill prescriptions and send messages to their doctors all in a HIPAA, privacy-protected environment. Our industry hasn’t yet been able to make technology produce the efficiencies and productivity we’ve seen in other industries, such as the travel industry. That’s where cognitive computing like Watson for genomics or precision medicine has the capacity to really advance research and clinical care.”

Dhar, Yale: “If you look at what cloud and mobile does at the CEO or CMO level, ultimately business is about three things: faster, better, cheaper. With cloud and mobile, beyond cheaper, it’s about trying to focus on the better piece. In three areas, the acquisition of new customers, the customer experience, the targeting of existing customers– technology plays a terrific role in trying to change and understand the customer journey. You still need insight, whether through cognitive computing or creative marketing, and a deep understanding of your consumer.”

Reiss: What measurements are most important to you?

Berra, Royal Caribbean: “Brand search interest in Google. A brand that’s growing in search is a healthy brand. It’s a leading indicator as to where demand is headed. The ability to drill in specific query streams and different geographies helps us get a jumpstart on pricing and promotion, and recognize opportunities to ensure we get the demand that we need. This is kind of the Holy Grail metric.”

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Matsen, Cleveland Clinic: “Most of our national patients come to us through digital sources, so we’re constantly looking at our lead generation and how effective we are, which ultimately enables us to track the conversion to patients and ROI.”


O’Brien, Unilever: “Engagement. While working on Dove we found that 53 percent of women are very likely to tweet negatively about themselves. Partnering with Twitter, we developed an algorithm whereby if a woman tweets something negatively about herself we can identify and speak directly to her. The hope is to help women understand the widespread effect of negativity in social media. By distilling data, we unleashed the insight. We think of engagement at a whole new level…different than a click through rate. Now we are truly engaging with our consumers.”

Chatterjee, IBM: “The most important measurement for me is Brand health. We measure this in three ways- Belief, Action, Advocacy. Did our marketing efforts strengthen belief for the brand; did they compel a client to take action and, finally, did the client feel good about that interaction and experience, and then did they advocate for about it positively”.

Dhar, Yale: “Simplicity of metrics is important, CEOs only want to spend that much neuron on trying to understand the complexities. There is value to this, but people who are working in this area realize it’s nuanced. Depending on what part of the business you’re looking at, you will have a different set of metrics.”

Reiss: Talk about culture in a digital world

Matsen, Cleveland Clinic: “ Our focused and agile culture helps us deliver exceptional service. For example, we were the first health system to introduce same-day appointments. We say our call to action is “Call today for an appointment today.” We saw over a million same-day appointments last year. That was a huge culture change in the organization because there was no universal solution. Each medical institute and department had to think about their scheduling process and their staff needs to achieve the goal. And then it became a rapid adoption of best practices across the organization to make it happen. And I will say that our CEO’s concept was “marketing should lead.” We should push/use the marketing as much to change the culture internally and drive the organizational imperative behind the same-day initiative as it was for external audiences.”

Dhar, Yale: “I focus on test and learn experimentation. We work with a range of companies and there are huge differences in willingness and ability and capability of testing. Companies, particularly in the tech industry, and Google is a big example of that—they’re innovating, they’re testing. I think there’s some real barriers in many companies. One is the time aspect. Another, is there a benefit to testing? Or if I make a mistake—fear of failure. There’s cost and benefit issues, but unless you test and learn, I don’t think an organization can truly learn.”

Berra, Royal Caribbean: “We know with traditional command and control structures, you’re going to get lapped by your competitors. We want to move at a much quicker pace, empowering cross-functional teams and letting them go and defining the boundaries well in terms of “this is what we’re after and here’s the measurement approach to understand whether you won, lost or drew.”

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O’Brien, Unilever: “Our US leadership has prioritized transforming the culture over anything else. We’ve worked to define what leadership behavior looks like, things like “I’ve got your back,” “Make the call.” We understand that people want to be heard. So we work so every voice is heard, every story is celebrated. IT has also been huge a huge enabler of cultural change, because you want people to have the freedom to work agilely. That means technology really has to be ramped up.”


Chatterjee, IBM: “Fast, Agile, Flexible. Things can change very quickly- so really working with agility and flexibility is critical. Yet in this always-on, always connected digital world, I believe we need to create a culture that frees up time for people. To separate noise from content, to separate actions from outcome- all this requires a level of thoughtfulness. I don’t believe you can actually culture unless you give back time for teams to THINK, innovate and prioritize.”

… In summary, in thinking back about Julius Caesar there is another relevant parallel: in his time Roman Numerals were the language of mathematics. Once the concept of zero was introduced, the door to multiplication and true transformations emerged … just as I believe 0 and 1 and digital disruption as a whole will open the door over the next decade to transforming the business environment as we know it today.

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