Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Red Herring CMO Conference: What Do Marketers Really Want?

I’ve spent the last two days at Red Herring Magazine’s CMO8 conference, which was both excellent and a welcome change from my usual focus on the nuts and bolts of marketing systems. Reflecting Red Herring’s own audience, the speakers and audience were largely from technology companies and many presentations were about business-to-business rather than business to consumer marketing. My particular favorites included AMD’s Stephen DiFranco, Ingram Micro’s Carol Kurimsky, and Lenovo’s Deepak Advani. DiFranco discussed how AMD manages to survive in the face of Intel’s overwhelming market position by focusing on gaining shelf space at retail and through other channel partners. Kurimsky described how her firm uses analytics to identify the best channel partners for her suppliers. Advani gave an overview of how Lenovo very systematically managed the transition of the ThinkPad brand from IBM’s ownership and simulataneously built Lenovo’s own brand. Although each described different challenges and solutions, they all shared a very strategic, analytical approach to marketing issues.

Personally I found this anything but surprising. All the good marketers I’ve ever known have been disciplined, strategic thinkers. Apparently, this is not always the case in the technology industry. Many in this audience seemed to accept the common stereotype of marketers as too often focused on creativity rather than business value. And, despite the prominent exception of Advani’s presentation, there seemed to be considerable residual skepticism of the value provided by brand marketing in particular.

The group did seem heartened at the notion, repeated several times, that a new generation of analytically-minded marketers is on the rise. Yet I have to wonder: the worst attended session I saw was an excellent panel on marketing performance measurement. This featured Alex Eldemir of MarketingNPV, Stephen DiMarco of Compete, Inc., Laura Patterson of VisionEdge Marketing, and Michael Emerson of Aprimo. The gist of the discussion was that CMOs must find out what CEOs want from them before they can build measures that prove they are delivering it. Obvious as this seems, it is apparently news to many marketers. Sadly, the panel had a magic bullet for the most fundamental problems of marketing measurement: that it’s often not possible to measure the actual impact of any particular marketing program, and that sophisticated analytics are too expensive for many marketers to afford. The best advice along those lines boiled down to “get over it” (delivered, of course, much more politely): accept the limitations and do the best you can with the resources at hand.

So, if the attendees voted with their feet to avoid the topic of marketing performance measurement, where did they head instead? I’d say the subject that most engaged them was social networks and how these can be harnessed for marketing purposes. Ironically, that discussion was much more about consumer marketing than business-to-business, although a few panelists did mention using social networks for business contacts (e.g. LinkedIn) and for business-oriented communities. The assembled experts did offer concrete suggestions for taking advantage of social networks, including viral campaigns, “free” market research, building brand visibility, creating inventory for online advertising, and creating specialized communities. They proposed a few new metrics, such as the number of conversations involving a product and the number of exposures to a viral message. But I didn’t sense much connection between the interest in social networks and any desire for marketers to be more analytical. Instead, I think the interest was driven by something more basic—an intuition that social networks present a new way to reach people in a world where finding an engaged audience is increasingly difficult. For now, the challenge is understanding how people behave in this new medium and how you can manage that behavior in useful ways. The metrics will come later.

Anyway, it was a very fun and stimulating two days. We now return to my regularly scheduled reality, which is already in progress.

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