Wise CMOs know that, with our rapidly transforming roles, we need to share experiences with fellow marketers to keep ourselves current and ready for the future. To find out a bit more about how this can be done, CMO.com reached out to Peter Horst, a battle-tested global marketing leader with a diverse B2C and B2B perspective.
Horst most recently was the global CMO at The Hershey Company. Before that, he was a marketing leader at Capital One and Ameritrade, and an innovative brand marketer at General Mills, Verizon, and US West (Qwest).
Read on to learn more about Horst’s marketing and management approach, which could help to inform your own strategy.
CMO.com: What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned that are critical as the CMO role continues to become more complex?
Horst: As I’ve moved across companies and industries, a few things have proved helpful. First, it’s really important to move into a new company or vertical with a core set of beliefs and principles that defines your vision of marketing, leadership, and the kind of culture you’d like to have as you hit the ground running. But at the same time, it’s incredibly important to be very flexible and to listen and learn, challenge your own assumptions, and know that there are a host of issues that you don’t fully understand as well as the people around you.
Another key learning is about culture and understanding what it takes to create the kind of environment where great marketers want to come and stay. There is nothing more important than establishing the right culture of open-dialogue, low-ego collaboration, and a real commitment to a high standard of excellence. With the pace of change and new complexities in the marketing environment, and the blurring of boundaries between functions, you need people who “egolessly” go beyond their functional silo boundaries to collaborate and focus less on turf and ownership and more on how to connect to do great things together.
CMO.com: How do you recommend making that happen?
Horst: It’s important to get the whole organization to rally around the idea that it doesn’t matter what you “own.” I’ve spent a lot of years in the matrix mush, and I learned to ban the word from the vocabulary of my team members. It just sets off all of the wrong emotional knee-jerk reactions. The key is to just focus on getting the right brains in the room to deliver a great piece of work, without regard to who owns an issue and where you sit on an org chart.
A great example of what becomes possible with this kind of collaboration is the recent furor around the launch of Reese’s Pieces Cups. The social-listening center picked up buzz about a rumor the product was coming, a cross-functional team jumped on the opportunity, the agency developed a great reactive campaign, and the brand had a huge moment as a result of seamless, real-time collaboration.
Lastly, I believe there is no other C-suite role that varies so greatly from one company and industry to the next, in terms of the mix of accountabilities and expectations. On top of that, the world of marketing is constantly changing. So, don’t get too attached to your job description. And be ready to accept that all of the strengths that got you to where you are probably are not the assets that will keep you going into the future. Have a healthy dose of humility, learn, flex, and roll with all of the amazing changes.
CMO.com: What are the three top marketing principles that you’ve brought from company to company?
Horst: Be a hawk on understanding the underlying insights. Rigorously and honestly find the catalyzing insights that shine a light on a tension that is relevant to the brand, articulated in a way that touches a nerve ending and can inspire great creative thinking. Second, as I mentioned earlier, build an open, collaborative culture. Great ideas know no levels. Junior people need to feel comfortable to speak up because in this environment, they may be the ones closest to an insight. Third, bring a maniacal commitment to a high standard of excellence and be willing to call each other out if the work is not 100% great, powerful, and enduring.
CMO.com: You’ve led several very different types of digital transformations. What advice do you have for CMOs and cross-functional C-suite peers on how to approach this strategic, ongoing work?
Horst: This type of transformation touches the entire organization, like customer experience and so many other marketing issues these days. Digital transformation is not just an undertaking of the marketing function. It touches so many parts of the organization, most importantly the CIO’s world, but also extends into sales, operations, supply chain, and so forth. So, the critical role a CMO needs to take on is one of ring-leading, orchestrating, and rallying to sell a vision. Otherwise, you’ll run into too many roadblocks, won’t get the best thinking, and won’t get the best enterprise traction needed.
It is also very important to know the limitations of your organization, culture, and talent. Be realistic; take on what the enterprise is capable of doing and what capability you want to invest in. Today there are 4,000 mar-tech vendors. There are incredibly complex decisions to make about what mar-tech you buy, outsource, or build internally. You need to be both pragmatic about what comes first in the digital transformation before chasing every shiny new mar-tech toy out there. Be careful to not take on more than you are ready for.
CMO.com: Who do you recommend being part of a digital transformation team?
Horst: Make sure you have the right people in the room who represent a cross-functional mix, who would have a stake, and who would be definers, builders, and users of this transformation. You need an open culture where people park their functional hats, while also clearly understanding what their roles and accountabilities are. Co-authorship is important. Jointly build the vision, craft the story of where you are going, and the plan to get there. People get excited about bold, energizing visions of what can be. Even though the plan may be led by marketing, the originating source is irrelevant because everyone needs to buy into it. You need to operate as one group during a digital transformation.
The Jolly Rancher campaign at Hershey is a great early example of the kind of work that becomes possible with an approach that is more digitally driven and reliant on a technology-enabled ecosystem.
CMO.com: You co-authored a November 2015 Harvard Business Review article, “Don’t Let Big Data Bury Your Brand.” What are your thoughts on balancing the use of big data insights to drive short-term revenue gains with the longer-term need to build brands?
Horst: This is the age-old marketing dilemma. You’re always balancing competing forces: Sales versus brand. Short-term versus long-term. Product marketing versus brand marketing. What is different now is the constantly growing power of the data, analytics, and marketing automation creates even more gravitational pull toward the short-term sale. The reality is that the current state-of-the-marketing science is better at understanding, predicting, anticipating, and directing the moves that will spur the most efficient next sale. We don’t understand as well on a granular level the payback from brand-building initiatives in the longer-term. These analytic, data-driven, machine-enabled ecosystems tend to veer toward the shorter-term sales.
So, it is even more important in this environment to appropriately apply the right strategic judgment override with the analytics so we don’t default to an unbalanced model. Don’t abdicate your CMO decision-making responsibility to the analytic engines. Find ways to appropriately keep the business decisions as balanced as they need to be.
CMO.com: Where does creativity fit in? What are your thoughts on how to balance science and art to build brands?
Horst: With the increasingly more powerful data science tools that marketers have, it ups the ante on how elegantly and thoughtfully marketers find ways to integrate art and science. Make sure you deeply understand what is going on in the analytics. Consider artful, judgmental moves that might surprise and delight your customers. This “art” probably won’t come out of an algorithm. Without introducing bias, don’t ignore good strategic thinking that enables creative leaps. The brilliant marketing campaigns come from these leaps to bold new places in a way that still can’t be done by technology. Let creative magic and sparks of genius happen. Be brave. We need to find ways for human plus machine to equal three, not two or one-and-a-half.
CMO.com: What are your most important reflections for fellow CMOs as they start 2017 and build smart, modern marketing machines?
Horst: First, in this world of rapidly accelerating, proliferating technologies, be very aggressive to explore, learn about, and smartly test new tech that may be useful. But also be pragmatic, thoughtful, and balanced on where to invest. Second, continue to find new ways to create a culture of bold thinking and smart risk-taking that gives support and encouragement and pushes people to move out of their comfort zones to champion new ideas. Be comfortable with the learning that comes from failure. Last, find ways to connect with kindred spirits who share the passion and angst about blending and balancing science and art, and are looking for ways to get this right.