CMO Interview: What it takes to be a smart marketing chief

SLI Systems CMO Tim Callan talks about the next gen in global marketing trends and what makes a savvy market leader

The days of Mad Men, when marketers would sit around and simply ‘make something up’ to position a brand are well and truly over, according to SLI Systems CMO, Tim Callan. Today, the job is about being nimble, agile and responsive to market trends using technology.

“We have moved away from crude tools and trying to carve a sculpture using a hammer and chisel,” he told CMO. “Now we have tools that are much sharper, more precise, more reliable and more scalable.”

Staying away from computers is not an option for today’s tech smart marketing executive. This is particularly the case in a globally competitive digital age, where marketing is becoming increasingly evidence-based and personalised, Callan said.

“The name of the game right now is using technology to create a unique and specific optimal experience for each individual prospect or target audience that you are talking to,” he said. “Whether that is a highly specialised email campaign, nurture campaigns, or personalisation built into your website, right now it is the era of the CMO as a technology leader.”

Staying current and keeping up with trends is something Callan agreed is high on the agenda when it comes to remaining adaptable and current in a digital marketplace.

“Using technology to improve the customer experience is a relatively recent thing in the grand scheme of how long we have been doing business and a lot of CMOs, if they’re kind of silver haired, have been doing business long before these technology solutions were available,” he said. “So being adaptable and current is extremely important.”

Callan explained it’s OK for the CMO not to be the technologist or coder, and to recruit the next gen of tech savvy experts to assist with the customisation process.

“But what is not OK is to ignore technology and to not embrace it," he said. "Or not to be able to recognise the value in the power of this individualised and personalised experience brings to your brand and to your sales process."

On top of this, Callan said the smart CMO looks at partnering, rather than reproducing what their businesses are great at.

“We’re seeing businesses now are partnering more than ever before, and outsourcing these things more than ever before,” he said. “I think it is a very healthy attitude, to say there are some things we are really good at, that make us unique and differentiators, but we can also partner with somebody that is as excellent as say, managing a warehouse as we are providing excellent customer service.”

The nurturing CMO

According to Callan, one of the big trends right now is ‘nurture’. This occurs once someone engages with your company, and you give them more opportunities to continue engaging with you.

“What you do is reach out to them in a variety of ways,” he explained. “This might be through webinars, whitepapers, case studies or testimonials. The prospects then sub-select what they are interested in. By having a lot of this content and presenting this content to your prospects, you can let people select what they want to engage in. This is all driven by technology.”

Offering a unique experience is an essential element in this, and Callan said good CMOs recognise and embrace providing every shopper or potential customer with a unique experience. He also noted there is no reason why we should have poor standards when we are engaging with customers in a computerised fashion in an online world, than we would in a face-to-face world.

SLI Systems is a SaaS ecommerce provider focused on learning search, navigation, merchandising, mobile, recommendations and user-generated SEO.

"By comparing the unique online experience to the offline environment, this actually makes a lot of sense," he said. “If you walked into a store said to a sales clerk, ‘I’m really interested in boots,’ and they said ‘let me walk you through the store and show you all the products in the store in random in the order they occur to me,’ you would think they are very poor sales clerk. But if we go to a website and it does that, we still kind of accept that. The smart CMOs are saying no to that.”

Internationalisation is also becoming a more aggressive play for marketers Callan said technology has enabled brands to be more global than was possible 10 or 15 years ago.

“There was a time when there was a radical difference in the approaches taken by different countries or in different regions or a large country, because cultures were kind of insular and people didn’t really communicate as well as they do now,” he said.

“But distances are shrinking and becoming less important. We can all reach the same information and we can all reach the same people. So as technology tools and practices have become more widely understood, there is a more level playing field. That is a trend the savvy CMO should be thinking about.”

Read more: How Bras N Things is serving up customers the right product fit

The shift toward data-driven marketing

Alongside technology, data is also transforming the role of marketing. CMOs may have traditionally made a lot of decisions based on a kind of ‘common sense’ or ‘gut instinct’ approach, but there is now a big focus on data, metrics and fact-based marketing.

“The world of opinion is going away, and it is being replaced by the world of evidence and proven, first-hand knowledge,” Callan commented.

According to Callan, the phrase ‘big data’ means a lot of different things depending on who you are talking to, but what it ultimately means is counting all of the natural data points that occur in your business, capture and record those, and then use them to make key decisions.

“What I say to my team is I don’t want to hear the phrase ‘I think’, what I want to hear is the phrase ‘I know’”, he said. “So embracing knowledge and not being stuck to your old opinions if the evidence tells you otherwise, is definitely essential for the business of the 21st century.”

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