Think having a Chief Marketing Officer is just an empty figurehead, created to shift blame onto when companies fail to meet their online goals and attract the attention of new customers? Think again. 

Besides the CEO, the CMO may be the most powerful person in the C-Suite, and has the ability to impact everything from the bottom line to shareholder value. 

Such was the topic of a panel hosted by the National Press Club in Washington, DC on Wednesday. Get It Online: Digitally-Savvy CMOs Increase Shareholder Value featured an all-star panel of CMOs including:

  • Kevin Alansky, former VP Marketing at Blackboard Inc.
  • Rory Channer, Chief Marketing Officer at CEB
  • Russ Glass, CEO and Co-Founder of Bizo
  • Erik Rogstad, Managing Director at AKQA

Panelists (L-R): Kevin Alansky, Rory Channer, Russ Glass, Erik Rogstad and Anthony Shop

Moderated by Anthony Shop, Managing Director of Social Driver, the panel sought to offer insights about the role of the chief marketing officer, while highlighting trends and lessons learned.

Throughout the discussion, several themes emerged. These themes not only confirmed many of the emerging trends and predictions that we’ve been covering for 2013; they also served to reinforce the fundamental elements of successful marketing.

Is Digital Marketing Like an Electric Iron?

When anyone talks about digital marketing, it can seem a little redundant. Doesn’t most marketing encompass the digital space by now? The panelists agreed that digital marketing implies multichannel opportunities, which undeniably impact the buyer’s experience.

As to whether all marketing is about being online, two very interesting insights were put forth. According to Mr. Rogstad, digital marketing is more about digital, less about marketing, highlighting the fact that consumer relationships drive more online experiences. As a result, Rogstad maintains that smart companies must be agile in order to create innovative marketing solutions.

For Mr. Glass, Mr. Channer and Mr. Alansky, digital marketing is closely aligned with content marketing. The idea that marketing today involves different channels than it did ten years ago doesn’t mean that content goes away. In fact, it actually makes content more important.

For Every Dollar Spent, What Am I Getting in Return?

You can’t have a panel of CMOs without addressing metrics and ROI. When asked “what are you measuring” the responses placed strategy before outcomes, while highlighting the need to dig deeper into your data. Thanks to big data, there’s more information to analyze, but much of it requires an advanced skill set. Don't be afraid to outsource to an MIT Ph.D to search for intricate trends and patterns, as one panelist does.

Big data aside, the “just because you can measure it, doesn’t mean you should” mantra was loud and clear. Instead, the panelists were adamant about setting goals that were focused on changing behavior, so that you can set benchmarks and measure something worth measuring.

Ultimately, they were encouraged that the culture of digital marketing was making it more acceptable to experiment with metrics and ROI, rather than have to live in fear of not making next quarter’s goals. As Alansky put it, “don’t let goal setting get in the way of experimenting.”

Replacing Silos With a Complex Matrix

During the Q&A, I asked the panelists about how well integrated the role of marketing needs to be within the entire company and if they thought the CMO was helping to make it a more universal goal.

The panelists agreed that marketing had become more integrated within companies than ever before, a concept they described as 'inside selling' where the goal is to sell the company's goals inside its own organization. Inside selling helps sales and marketing teams, notorious for their tentative relationship, to work together to ensure that they are selling, connecting and building relationships with the right people using the same key messages.

Mr. Glass spoke to the power of the CMO, who has the power to move the needle more than any other. Good CEOs, in his opinion, should look to their CMO to help drive the company forward. As such, the CMO has the responsibility to lead. Not everyone has the necesary social and digital skills, nor might they understand how digital marketing works. CMOs and their team members must offer mentorship and guidance to drive performance.

What Do You Want to Achieve? How Do you Want to Get There?

Good chief marketing officers know how to help their companies answer these questions and can help define a strategy that gets it done. Considering that digital marketing has many more channels through which to generate leads and cultivate relationships, CMOs and CEOs alike need to embody a digital savviness that is not only authentic, but sustainable and a part of the company’s content strategy.

The panelists agreed that the CEO is best champion the company has to position itself positively in the marketplace. But it won’t happen without the CMO, who needs to incorporate the chief executive’s passion and strengths into the marketing strategy.

Going forward, a company’s digital marketing strategy is the sum of a million parts, all of which work together to complement the company as a whole. Whether it’s how you respond in real time to customer inquiries, your CEO's tweets, the cohesiveness of the sales team' LinkedIn pages, or how well your company adapts to new technologies and market trends -- all of it impacts the customer experience.

The Way Ahead for Digitally-Savvy CMOs

Over all, the panel validated that the future of digital marketing belongs to data savvy marketers, as well as confirm that content marketing is as strong as ever. Without a strong CMO at the helm, companies can still exist, but they won't thrive.