Marketing’s impact on business strategy and bottom-line results was once met with skepticism in the C-suite. After all, much guesswork seemed to be involved to prove the discipline’s worth.
But we all know in most organizations that is no longer the case. Case in point: Austin, Texas-based Calendars.com, which has been selling calendars online since 1999. At the helm is Paul Hoffman, who holds the triple title of COO of Calendar Holdings, CEO of Calendars.com, and acting CMO at Calendars.com. In this exclusive interview with CMO.com, Hoffman provides an interesting CEO perspective about marketing, including thoughts on CMO tenure, how much a CEO should be involved in marketing, and why data is both a blessing and a curse.
CMO.com: How much impact does the marketing operation, specifically the CMO, have on the overall business?
Hoffman: Our marketing operation has more impact on the business than ever before. That’s because marketing initiatives are becoming—for us—more and more complex and putting increasing demands on other areas of the business, other departments, and divisions. . .for example, customer service, fulfillment, and of course IT. And everything seems to be happening faster nowadays. CMOs today have to make more complex decisions in even less time. There’s also a lot of overlap in solutions that are being presented and reviewed, so there is a lot of work around trying to decide which products to implement and which solutions to explore, while making sure you are not duplicating a product or a service you already have in place. We have a lot of vendors that are crossing the line into other disciplines, so that’s what’s bringing on all this overlap.
CMO.com: What are your thoughts on CMO tenure, which is said to be at 45 months now? Why do you think it’s so short?
Hoffman: This is a really interesting question, and I think there are a few reasons why CMOs aren’t holding their posts for too long. First, CMOs are in a role where everything is changing, and this means more and more opportunities for them to go elsewhere more often, especially with regard to opportunities that seem really cutting-edge and alluring. That’s part of it. The other part is that the rapidly changing digital environment causes companies to be more aggressive in recruiting for CMOs. Companies get a little panicked in ensuring that they are on the cutting edge and, therefore, are more willing to invest in recruiting the very top talent, so that obviously puts pressure on CMO tenure.
CMO.com: What are your expectations for this new breed of CMOs?
Hoffman: In our experience, there is a lot more overlap now than before with regard to the CMO and the CTO or CIO role. The CMO now has to be a technical expert in a lot of ways, especially when it has to do with e-commerce, CRM, and all these new, emerging channels. There’s so much technology involved in marketing now, which creates strong connections and dependencies between IT and marketing. And so the modern CMO needs to be good at collaborating with their technology counterpart.
Calendars.com is a fairly small company. For us, like for a lot of small companies, the interpersonal relationship between the CMO and other executives has to be right. By right I mean that magic alchemy of personalities that needs to just mesh, and I think that is particularly true of the CMO.
CMO.com: How involved should the CEO be in marketing? Steve Jobs is an example of a CEO who was overly involved. Is that the right approach?
Hoffman: The CMO needs to really “own” the customer. That’s the person who should be obsessing over the customer. The CEO just can’t afford the time to do that—there’s too much going on. But there needs to be a very strong relationship between the CEO and CMO. In order for the customer to really be central to the overall business, the culture of the company needs to be very focused on the customer as well, and that’s something that needs to start with the CEO. He/she needs to create that culture, talking about it day in and day out. But the CMO is the one on the day-to-day basis who should be obsessing over it and thinking about it all the time.
CMO.com: What’s your advice to young marketers or aspiring CMOs? What do you look for in a candidate?
Hoffman: We do a lot of promoting from within. And we are big believers in not quite “sink or swim,” but we want to give people who are demonstrating ability and interest, who have tenacity and open mindedness, the chance to grow in the company. That’s the kind of person who appeals to us. And that applies more broadly. Be open-minded and eager to test things and push the limits, even in the face of skepticism. Those are the people who get marketers’ attention and succeed.
Another big element is diplomacy. And what I mean by that is someone in a CMO role needs to be able to talk to the technical group, which operates in an entirely different brain space than the boardroom. This person has to be able to understand the priorities of the business, not push too hard, but at the same time they have to be great communicators and collaborators with the other C-level folks. I’m describing a rare breed out there. There are not a lot of people who have all of this. But that’s my fantasy hire.
CMO.com: We keep hearing this idea of thinking about marketing in digital world, instead of digital marketing. What does this mean for Calendars.com?
Hoffman: We are the people who sell the ultimate nondigital product: the print calendar. In general, it is true: We now live and operate in a digital world, and that means that we need to be thinking about how to market in this world, not just a siloed digital marketing strategy. All of our marketing efforts need to be fully integrated and interconnected, whether digital or not.
CMO.com: Eighty percent of your business occurs between November and December. What are some of the most interesting things you are doing during this period to get people to buy Calendars?
Hoffman: This year, more than any other, we’ve been approached by so many different vendors, with tons of different solutions. And we’ve been busy vetting through all of them. We’ve evaluated more solutions than ever before. For example, we’ve been doing a lot in perfecting our email strategy through retargeting and increasing deliverability. Right now we are implementing software that will have our customers receive their email at the most likely time they will convert.
CMO.com: What’s the CEO’s biggest struggle with data?
Hoffman: Data is a blessing and a curse; it’s great if you can digest it. The biggest challenge with data is there is so much of it, and it is coming from so many places. We’re getting to the point where you really need someone or something to make sense of it all and interpret it. For us, that was cloud-based software called DynamicAction. We have started the process of taking that data from the email vendor, the Web analytics vendor, and all of our other sources to understand how all of that data interacts and what actions I need to take accordingly. Will my inventory levels support my email campaigns? Am I promoting all of my products properly on the site based on my customer purchasing patterns? And what areas of profit opportunity are these synched-up data points showing me?
It’s no longer about having a view of the data. It is about being able to use your data intelligently to take action across the organization.