Founded by the National Association of Securities Dealers, NASDAQ began trading on Feb. 8, 1971, as the world's first electronic stock market.
But it wasn’t until 1989 that the company got really serious about marketing, with the goal of building brand awareness, according to John Jacobs, formerly CMO of NASDAQ OMX and now EVP of Global Information Services. Fast-forward 25 years later and NASDAQ, undoubtedly, is a globally recognizable brand.
In this exclusive interview with CMO.com, Jacobs details those branding initiatives, how marketing impacts NASDAQ's bottom line, the internal process in place to enable marketing agility, what he learned during his CMO tenure–and what he misses about the role.
CMO.com: I read up on you, John, and see you have a B.S. in accounting. When did the career in marketing start?
Jacobs: I got my undergraduate degree in accounting, but I minored in marketing. Then I got my master's in finance with concentrations in microeconomics and marketing, so marketing has always been in the background. I picked accounting because I knew I wanted to be on the business side, but I wasn’t sure exactly where. Accounting would be something that could transfer everywhere.
I started off in financial analysis, working with companies to look at and review their financial statements. I really enjoyed working with the companies. Back then, NASDAQ OMX did not have a strong brand. It was clearly positioned differently in the marketplace than we are today, and as we started to do more nascent activities in marketing, I, personally, really enjoyed it. My focus became very strategic, and I looked at it less tactically than a lot of people looked at it. That’s really how I made the switch over from the customer relations side, to marketing--for the strategy of it all.
CMO.com: Would you say marketing is making an impact on NASDAQ OMX's bottom line?
Jacobs: Oh, absolutely. At the beginning of my time with the company, NASDAQ was not even the No. 2 market in the U.S., by reputation. We were very much an unknown. Our first market research in 1989 to 1990 had New York Stock Exchange with the highest recognition, the American Stock Exchange was second, and even OTC had a higher recognition than NASDAQ OMX, even though we were the second biggest market in the U.S.
Our first task as the marketing team under our very first CMO, Brian Holland, was to actually build that brand awareness and let people know what we were and who we were first: first, that we were a stock exchange, and second, who was listed on our exchange, like Microsoft, Cisco, Intel, and others. We realized we had a lot of work to do because the general public didn’t even know that great companies like Microsoft and Intel were listed on NASDAQ OMX.
Today, the NASDAQ Stock Market, as part of NASDAQ OMX, is known as more than just a listings business. We have grown the brand to reflect that we are a global leader in providing technology to exchanges around the world. NASDAQ OMX is a global index leader. We have broader indexes than any other exchange in the world. The marketing and branding that we do absolutely drive our bottom line.
CMO.com: What are the biggest challenges in digital marketing, specific to NASDAQ OMX?
Jacobs: Our challenge is we have a diverse set of customers. Think about this: Some of our customers are CEOs and C-suites of private public companies about to make the listing decision. Some of our customers are traders who trade equities or fixed income in the U.S. and Europe. Some of our customers are the chief technology officers at exchanges or exchange-type businesses around the planet. And some of our customers are the people who use our indexes and index products, and so on. So you can see we have a pretty diverse customer base—on six continents. NASDAQ OMX does not have a single type of customer. Therefore, we have found that digital works really well for certain customers, but doesn’t work as well for others.
There’s another added dimension: A lot of what we do at NASDAQ OMX in the marketing group is we have to act as a marketing partner for many of our customers. Our listed companies are looking to use our channels to reach customers. It’s a very complex issue for us. We don’t have a single type of customer.
CMO.com: I assume there is a legal process in place for all NASDAQ OMX communications, especially marketing.
Jacobs: Every single thing we do has to be signed off on by legal—whether it’s in our regulated business or not.
CMO.com: Then how are you able to stay agile in such a fast-paced digital environment?
Jacobs: We’ve spent a lot of time making that an efficient process where it doesn’t get in the way of us and how we do business. The marketing comms team and the legal team are in close communications on a regular basis.
CMO.com: How do you organize for that process?
Jacobs: We have marketing teams built around customer groups. There’s a marketing team that works with the listings business, the index business, the technology business, and the trading business. There are also lawyers in the general counsel’s office assigned to each business unit, and that’s in addition to a separate regulatory group. So when a marketing team has prepared something and we need to get it out the door, they are already working with lawyers who are familiar with the business unit. You don’t have to bring them up to speed and start over each time. It’s all part of an iterative, ongoing process. It’s a very fast process, and we do it in parallel, meaning as we conceive what we are trying to do, we bring the lawyers in very early. They know our businesses so well, they often give us feedback as we are developing our ideas. It’s is a very collaborative process.
Conversely, our marketing folks have learned where the legal lines are as well. We’ve got a very efficient way we do this. And it is definitely all about working as a team. The business folks, PR, marketing, and legal folks are very much together, and they specialize by customer group/business unit.
CMO.com: You led the team that redefined the NASDAQ OMX brand. Can you talk about that? What did you accomplish during your CMO tenure?
Jacobs: The first time we defined the NASDAQ OMX brand was under our chief marketing officer at the time, Brian Holland. Brian is the one who actually put us on the map when it comes to the world of listings. He gets full credit for establishing NASDAQ OMX as a global brand.
What I feel I accomplished is redefining NASDAQ OMX to where it is no longer a surprise when great companies like Kraft, or News Corp, or Facebook pick us to list. That was one. Additionally we made multiple acquisitions when I was CMO. Now NASDAQ is one of 30 markets owned by NASDAQ OMX. NASDAQ OMX is a very broad company that does business on six continents.
I am very proud that the team was able to redefine the brand so it means just as much to a person in Australia—NASDAQ OMX powers the Australian Stock Exchange—as it does to an investor in China who is investing in the local Chinese NASDAQ-100 Index Fund. That is the second big thing. We moved away from being a listing-centered brand to a world-class company in a variety of businesses with some customers that don’t even interact on the listings side.
CMO.com: “Outlining a brand’s purpose and then shaping brand engagement around that purpose is the key to effective marketing.” So said Mark Addicks, CMO of General Mills, who recently spoke at an event I attended. I'm wondering if you agree or disagree with that statement. And what is NASDAQ OMX's brand purpose?
Jacobs: I agree with that. It is very much a dilemma for us. When we do overarching brand campaigns, we have to make our brand relevant to the small bank in Ohio as well as a chief technology officer in Singapore. How do you do that? We have to elevate the brand purpose and have a unified brand purpose.
The purpose of NASDAQ OMX is to be a forward-thinking, technology-based company that helps you move your company, your economy, and your marketing forward. Our brand purpose is all about applying state-of-the-art technology and innovation to support whatever it is the client needs to do. You can be an entrepreneur with a new startup, a person who wants to launch an index fund, or the CTO of a market that’s building a new technology platform to modernize their stock market. Once we understand your brand purpose, we execute plans based on the unique characteristics of the client and their audience.
CMO.com: Your role recently changed at NASDAQ OMX. What's your job all about now?
Jacobs: I always had two hats on before: I ran the indexes business and was CMO. But we brought Jeremy Skule on board. He is an outstanding addition to the team, and he took over the CMO role, which freed me up to manage the data business as well as the index business.
Data is very exciting. I now run one of our four business units at NASDAQ, the Global Information Services business, which consists of all data and index activities. We also have The Global Corporate Client Group, which consists of listings, the NASDAQ Private Market, and our Iconic MarketSite at Times Square in New York City. There is our Global Technology Services business, which powers more than 80 exchanges worldwide and delivers a broad spectrum of products, programs, and services to corporate clients; and our Global Trading & Market Services business, which includes trading platforms and products across virtually every asset class, as well as broker services.
My job is to sell and create data and index products for individual, retail, and institutional investors, along with traders on the sell side and buy side, everywhere in the world. There’s not a single country in the world that has investors that isn’t interacting with my business unit either directly or indirectly, which is really exciting for us.
CMO.com: How is NASDAQ OMX using big data to inform marketing? Can you give a noteworthy example?
Jacobs: First and foremost, we are a data company, and we also happen to know our customers very well. Data often leads you to the questions that need to be asked. What we do is look at patterns and needs. What are customers doing? We see their habits. So, for example, they are consuming this product, and we can determine whether we should be changing the delivery mechanism because we know what’s happening down to the microsecond. That gives us great insights into changing patterns that allow us to ask the questions that need to be asked.
CMO.com: What is NASDAQ OMX’s social strategy? Do investors talk about stocks on Twitter?
Jacobs: We do use social media a lot, but we use it differently depending on the client, the audience, and the purpose. The [tone is different] when you’re communicating with chief technology officers than when you’re talking to exchanges around the world, versus how you will talk to retail investors or our listed companies.
Also remember, we are not a B2C company. We are B2B, and we feed C through B. There’s a different way to do things in that sense. We use social media to inform, educate, and direct people. We’re not trying to engage them in certain kinds of conversation.
CMO.com: Do you agree that the job of the CMO is changing? How has the role changed? Is there a need for a new breed of CMOs?
Jacobs: Early on, marketing was very much about sales support. Marketing has become far more strategic, and that’s what got me into the marketing role. You don’t want me writing brochures and making art work–critical pieces to the process, but not my expertise. My role as the CMO and what I am much better at is the strategy, vision, and how to position the company to various customer groups. The CMO job has become far more strategic here, and, in general, than it’s ever been before because it is harder, frankly. In the old days, there was network TV, billboards, and other things like that. Then one day everyone realized that every single person in the company, and every single communication that they have, is a function of your brand, and the CMO is an integral and very strategic role within every organization.
CMO.com: Can you talk about talent? What have you learned as CMO about nurturing and retaining marketing talent?
Jacobs: Great question. The challenge with keeping marketing talent is marketers want to expand their skill set. The way to do that is take the person who is good in direct marketing and get them to get to know digital. The advantage of our various customer-focused marketing teams is that we can rotate people through these groups, and that’s really at the heart of talent retention. You have to let them expand their skill set and customer focus; otherwise you may lose a talented individual.
CMO.com: What's the most important question I did not ask you?
Jacobs: Do I miss being CMO?
CMO.com: That’s a good one. Do you?
Jacobs: I absolutely do miss it every single day. Luckily I run a business, and therefore I get to interact with the CMO and marketing team every single day. But I do miss it. It gives you a view of the company that you can’t get anywhere else.