Three Legs of Marketing (circa 2019)

To build an effective marketing team, it probably helps to gain an informed perspective on the key functions and their activities. Establishing this perspective can be a challenge, given the rate of change in the digital era. So with all due humility, I offer up one view, summarized with this picture:

In the above view, marketers assess the competitive landscape to identify sources of differentiation, develop the story to make people aware of, and lay the path for them to convert into customers. For any customer journey enabled by software, the continuous optimization of this loop is a vital source of advantage. Imagine three legs of a relay, rather than a stool.

How does marketing run such a race? Here’s a simple breakdown of key activities along each leg:

Product marketers conventionally run the first leg, formulating strategic hypotheses informed by research and data. Continuing the metaphor, they hand off a “baton” of key messaging points to the story tellers, and feature requests to the development team.

Brand marketers traditionally communicate the story and design it for promotion across multiple mediums. A newer generation of these marketers creates experiences, such as free trial versions of games or SaaS apps. They hand off creative assets to what once were called performance or direct response marketers.

In the digital era, performance marketers have morphed into growth hackers, demand generators, conversion rate optimizers and their analytic ilk. Their experiments to drive adoption, or progress along the customer journey, fuel a rerun of the first leg. And so the modern marketing relay continues, in perpetuity.

If this picture holds, a profile of the modern CMO emerges. Agree? Have a different picture? Please share!

What’s changing marketing? And vice-versa?

A finance professor once suggested that the best way to make a lot of money, is to make an inefficient market more efficient. In simplified terms, an efficient market provides buyers with the information necessary to purchase with confidence. One way to repack the professor’s idea is to say that the best way to grow a market, is to reduce the risk of purchase for buyers.

Reducing purchase risk is second nature to marketers of consumer packaged goods (CPG). CPG vendors often grow markets by distributing free samples, and providing options to buy in small or large quantities. They earn their customer’s continued business early and often.

Marketers of software-as-a-service (SaaS) also strive to reduce purchase risk. They grow user adoption with free plans and free trials. They offer monthly subscriptions as an alternative to annual contracts. In essence, they also earn their customer’s continued business early and often.

Despite operating under very different conditions, CPG and SaaS companies thus pursue similar marketing strategies. They help customers confirm value before purchase, and enable customers to start with small commitments. In so doing, they make otherwise inefficient markets more efficient.

After 2010, I’ve sensed that companies, especially those with digital technology driven strategies, have increasingly sought marketing leaders with competencies found at the intersection of CPG and SaaS. The ideal CMO is expected to be:

  • Competitive strategist
  • Engaging story teller
  • ROI-focused hypothesis builder
  • Data-driven experimenter
  • Architect of customer journeys
  • Producer of customer experiences

The marketer described above blends the brand management rigor of CPG with the customer journey building savvy of SaaS. The challenge of attaining this ideal may explain much of the turmoil in marketing over the last decade.

Deconstructing CMO Turmoil

Marketers have been wringing their hands for years now about changes in marketing practice, digital skill gaps, and CMO job insecurity. Example: this recent AdWeek tweet sharing data on CMO tenure in various industries.

Much of current practice, at least in cloud-based services, revolves around iteratively building and optimizing an end-to-end journey, from discovery to conversion and retention. That often relies on tightly coupled teams collaborating continuously to improve the customer experience. Organizational silos and external resources make this far more difficult. Which begs the question… could the turmoil be correlated with how much a CMO relies on traditional advertising agencies? :-0.

WordPress Planted Here


Today, I finally setup WordPress on my personal homepage and imported old posts from my dormant Blogger site. This has been on my to-do list for a long time, but marriage, home ownership and parenthood came along, among other things. So hear I am, quite a few years later!

America’s First Internet Generation Presidency

Originally uploaded by The Official White House Photostream

Oddly, I just discovered that the White House now has a flickr feed with high-resolution photos available for public viewing and civic use. Duh, of course a social media enabled campaign leads naturally to a social media enabled White House. Our political discourse takes a leap forward permanently (unless the next American President deletes all these social media accounts, or these social media services cease operations).

Wow, elementary school SHOULD be awesome now, assuming kids get to use digital media tools and the Internet to assemble commentaries and reflections with all this great material available for mashup (somehow, I fear we’re not even close to this at the moment).

CEO 2.0

CEO 2.0

This is the desk of Zappo’s CEO/founder Tony Hsieh. It may be a humorous jab at old-school images of CEO desks. But maybe it reflects the realities of the modern Internet-enabled organization and executive. Heck, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings doesn’t even have a desk/office/cube… just walks around to his meetings or sits in an empty meeting room with his laptop on the wireless network.

They’re all computer monitors now

They’re all computer monitors now

Back around 1991, at the dawn of the interactive media “revolution”, I made a silly vow that the largest video display in my home would always be a computer monitor. The line of reasoning was “everthing worthwhile would emit from a computer screen rather than a television screen”.

Now, 18 years later, the vow seems silly, but I actually kept it, and my thinking proved essentially correct. Because today, the largest and best screen in many of our homes is a flat-panel screen with a multitude of connectors for various video, computing and gaming (e.g. specialized computing) devices. Yeah, we can call it an LCD or plasma TV if we want, but we know it’s much more that that.

So I found it rather odd that this recent New York Times piece on why we no longer need TVs came so close to reaching a similar conclusion, yet unnecessarily backed off at the end.

Pre versus post Internet era mindsets

Pre versus post Internet era mindsets

Interesting essay by Bruce Schneier in the Wall Street Journal about Barack Obama’s right to use a personal PDA. The essay closes with an astute observation:

The Internet is the greatest generation gap since rock and roll. We’re now witnessing one aspect of that generation gap: the younger generation chats digitally, and the older generation treats those chats as written correspondence. Until our CEOs blog, our Congressmen Twitter, and our world leaders send each other LOLcats – until we have a Presidential election where both candidates have a complete history on social networking sites from before they were teenagers– we aren’t fully an information age society.

When everyone leaves a public digital trail of their personal thoughts since birth, no one will think twice about it being there. Obama might be on the younger side of the generation gap, but the rules he’s operating under were written by the older side. It will take another generation before society’s tolerance for digital ephemera changes.

Now I recall mulling over this same issue a couple of years ago…framed at the time as the “transparent versus opaque generation gap“.