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CMO Strategy Series: Marketers Must Be Stewards of Data

Norman Guadagno is the CMO at Acoustic – an independent marketing cloud with the open platform needed for success in a dynamic world. At the beginning of the pandemic, he was a founding member of CMO Huddles, a group formed to address the vacuum of sharing, caring, and daring among CMOs.

1. Who – or what – has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?

I’ve tried to compile a series of lessons over time that reflect the things I consider most essential to be a good marketer and a good leader. In one of my first marketing roles, a senior marketer encouraged me to start by thinking big and then scale back if necessary. I still always try to imagine the biggest bet we could make and then figure out what we can actually do. 

Another influence was a leader who taught me to stop focusing so much on experience when hiring and think about a person’s potential. You want to hire individuals who can do the job but also can do all the future jobs unseen over the horizon.

2. What has been the biggest market strategy shift you’ve had to make recently?

The shift towards data-driven or data-informed marketing was clearly in progress over the last decade, but accelerated considerably in the past couple of years. 

I think this shift becomes particularly interesting in the context of the emergence of influencer and personality marketing that has also taken place in the last few years. These two seem to be pulling at opposite ends of a rope, trying to determine the future direction of marketing.

The pandemic proved we can bring our whole selves to work and be unapologetically human.

3. What are trends in data ethics that you think are critical to watch and why should marketers think of themselves as stewards of data?

Data ethics is one of the most critical issues we see emerging right now. Consumers are really beginning to open their eyes to data, while governments put security and privacy at the top of their legislative agendas. 

Unfortunately, I have a suspicion that it will require a significant breach of personal data for consumers to really insist that action be taken to protect their rights and give them some degree of actual control over how their data is used. Governments can put regulations in place, but it will take citizens demanding oversight before massive change happens.

4. How has your investment strategy changed compared to pre-COVID?

Like all marketing teams, we’ve had to redirect funds (primarily, away from live events) and focus on our highest ROI channels like email and virtual events. As we continue to emerge from the pandemic, our team is prioritizing hyper-personalization and creating unique—even bespoke—opportunities for key customers and prospects.

We’re still in brand-building mode so we still need to continue to focus on widespread brand-building through paid and earned media, but when I think about our demand creation engine, I’m more convinced than ever that personalization is where we need to invest.

5. We’ve all had to adopt new ways of working over the last year, are there any crisis-era adaptations that you think marketing leaders should make permanent?

The pandemic proved we can bring our whole selves to work and be unapologetically human. We’ve all been asked to do so much, under such unbelievable circumstances, often with parental or caregiving responsibilities on top of demanding workloads and ambitious professional goals. 

I believe the recognition that marketing teams—and all teams—can be great at their jobs while also prioritizing other important aspects of their lives is a change spurred by COVID that will upend the workplace forever. And for the better. 

From a tactical perspective, I think that we’ve proven that virtual events can be amazing. While nothing compares to the energy of a live event—and we want to get back together in-person with our customers when it is safe to do so—we’ve discovered that virtual events can be fun, engaging, and drive leads.

6. What advice would you share with marketers that are at the beginning of their careers

Marketers often specialize too soon, and then start working straight up a career ladder. I think every marketer should take some detours early in their career to explore adjacent areas and always be open to stretch roles that help them see how the various specialties within marketing are interconnected.

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