As a former Forrester senior analyst, B2B marketing leader and Senior Director of Digital Experience at global marketing technology vendor Acquia, David Aponovich has earned his place as a respected industry voice and in this article he shares what makes a CMO successful.

If you’re a CMO or high ranking marketing exec, it’s not just the competition you and your teams need to worry about these days. It’s your customers, whose rising expectations and fluid loyalties challenge even the most savvy chief marketers.

There’s no single way to win the hearts and minds of customers today. Great products and services have always been money in the bank. But those are table stakes now. As companies move fast to digitally transform, it’s got to be with both eyes squarely on the customer and their experience with your brand.

Digital Transformation Isn’t a Simple Project

Thank brands like Apple and Amazon for this reality. Although few organizations compete directly with these giants, we’re all competing with them in the arena of customer experience. Companies and their CMOs realize now that the transformation effort required to win and retain customers isn’t just another project with a few small tweaks here and there; it’s a major process of ongoing innovation, in service of giving customers the best possible experience whenever they encounter your business.

Organizational Change Ranks with Technology Investment

Investing in more or new digital and marketing technology has long been the standby prescription. But this is only part of the cure to the new competitive reality. The new must-have “capability” is strong executive leadership, providing clear mandates to align investments and actions to focus on customer needs.
It’s a challenge to get above the noise and identify what makes a strong CMO. I’ve been looking at the qualities today’s most innovative marketers bring to the table and found commonalities that can be boiled down into three core areas that make up what you might call the “digital DNA” of successful CMOs. Map these three elements back to everything else — personalization, customer journeys, digital experience— and you’ll recognize today’s leaders.

The DNA of Winning CMOs

These leaders have:

Data in Their Veins

Data is the lifeblood of any organization trying to compete based on experience. Much like blood in our veins, this rich information flows through every part of an organization, picking up and depositing intelligence everywhere. However, many organizations lack the means to interpret this information and, as a result, miss valuable insights that could be harnessed to inform their digital strategies.

Today’s successful CMOs urge their teams to go beyond rich data gathering and focus on effectively understanding and applying the insights within. Otherwise, the time and energy spent collecting and cataloging every newsletter open, chatbot conversation and purchase history will be rendered useless.

Just as we rely on blood testing to gauge our health and make better lifestyle choices, like cutting out certain foods or exercising more, CMOs must use the data streaming through their business to dictate their next digital experience moves. Data is the key to greater personalization, richer one-to-one experiences, and more intelligent, predictive, and well-informed next actions or offers along the customer journey. Without an informed action plan, organizations cannot make lasting improvements to their customer experience model. Businesses driven by CMOs with data in their veins will recognize this and be poised to remain at the front of the pack.

Experience in Their Soul

Experience in the soul is a real thing. Some CMOs get it, many don’t.
The CMOs that truly understand and embrace this are the ones who put the customer at the center of every action they take. These leaders see beyond the marketing funnel and have a keen eye toward building meaningful, long-term relationships with their customers that go beyond a transaction. CMOs who have experience in their souls aim for larger and more ambitious goals: to leave a clear impact on their customers by making their lives easier, better and more satisfying.

Technology alone cannot accomplish this, though it plays a key role. CMOs who embrace this thinking look for unique ways to leverage technology in the experience building process, creating new, relevant ways for customers to meet their needs in every interaction with an organization — from the purchase of a specific product or service, to obtaining effective service and support, to becoming a loyal customer. Amazon Go is a great example of this mindset, with these revolutionary grab ‘n’ go stores using mobile and sensor technology to deliver a frictionless journey to customers that satisfies their demand for quicker and more convenient shopping.

Customers in Their Heart

For way too long, organizations have approached customer experience from the inside-out — where it’s all about your company, not about the customer. A successful CMO with customers in their heart approaches marketing differently, employing a purposeful, outside-in mentality that puts the customer first in every aspect of their marketing strategy. And their approach can help inspire the whole organization to act this way.

These CMOs are adept at putting themselves in someone else’s shoes, so they can realistically understand where their company fits into the lives of customers. For example, grocery delivery company Shipt keeps customer relationships at the heart of its organization. In fact, the company was founded to solve a specific problem for busy professionals and parents who struggled with hectic in-store shopping experiences and now has a loyal and growing user base.

Leaders who keep customers close to their heart understand their business is just one part of a customer’s life. And they know customers contend with many other things vying for attention every day. Recognizing this enables CMOs to effectively strategize, developing offers, implementing promotions and curating touchpoints that seamlessly fit into the lives of their customers. They solve a need. The focus remains on being helpful – knowing that bottom line success will follow.

The New CMO Mandate

For years marketers have put blood, sweat and tears into their work, but as customer expectations continue to rise, it’s time for a different approach. It may seem daunting, but it’s likely that once you embrace one of these values, the others fall into place.

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