Monday, November 28, 2011

Can you answer the No. 1 Q on the minds of most Desi CMOs?

"No conference on marketing today goes without a discussion dedicated to social media. But have these left the custodians of marketing any wiser?" was the opening line of a recent article published in the Business Standard Strategist last week. The cover feature also includes interesting perspectives from several Indian Marketing Leaders, including Shivnath Thukral of Essar Group and Abdul Khan of Tata Teleservices, amongst others. I also spent the last week at 2 separate conferences in Mumbai - Gartner Symposium and the Brand World Congress where social media took center stage, even in sessions that didn't major on the topic! Social Media is the talk of the town, for marketing and IT alike! So these conferences just drove home the key finding from IBM CMO Study that social media is the area where Indian CMO see highest marketing impact, yet feel the least prepared.

I did ask several speakers, CIOs, CMOs, Academics and Agency Heads alike what CMOs can do to be better prepared for social media. There was little consensus on the topic. Some said they need to hire a senior digital strategist (ideally a 'youngster' whatever that means), others said they should themselves get comfortable using the medium. Others, including many CIOs, said that it has to come down from the top - basically, the CEO has to endorse and start using social media. Of course, others simply went down the usual path of blaming CMOs for not investing enough in digital and being too above the line focused and therefore not giving agencies enough of headroom to "pitch" social media holistically and effectively. The way I read into the last explanation is that the agencies are asking early adopter CMOs takes all the risk and fund all the experimenting the agency wants to do with social media and everyone else then benefits from building smarter agencies? Hmmm.

Many of my CMO friends who attended the conferences left dissatisfied with this lack of consensus. After all, we take time out of our work schedules to come looking for answers. So if you had advice to give to a CMO on how to be better prepared for social media, what would it be?


  1. Advertising agencies and Media buyers have their vested interests in keeping the focus on the highest dollar media mostly ATL.
    Social Media being cheap and new, people specially who haven't grown up with the internet or still look at it as a "technology" will have the biggest trouble.

    As a CMO one should not think of Social Media as a compromise on what they've been doing all these years. It is an extension and the success of brands like Old Spice suggests how powerful the media can be. In India especially where the growth has only begun, there are no real big successes and the audience is very hungry. So if the question is what should the CMOs do, the answer is establish good metrics, hire the right people, train them well on the brand, make sure they are great friends with the rest of the marketing team and every now and them manage the updates etc themselves..

  2. For social media to be successful, the company needs to be "social" read friendly. In a country where a telecom firm with a "friendly" brand decides to take a customer to court for his social media activities, we need to relook at the social architecture of the firm. No point in investing in social media if the firm isn't interested in having a conversation with its customers!

    Re the events, most marketing events are not designed by CMOs or marketers but by event companies. So the agendas don't deal with the issues real marketers face. Moreover most are funded by mainstream media and FMCG firms so the focus tends to be mass media, not social.

  3. My take would be that since you need to move ahead in the sea of social media, the boat (any of the social media channels like fb, twitter) would have smooth sailing at times and at times would face the rough weather. Thus, brands would need to invest time, money and resource to strategize and see which boat(social sites) to take which will be effective. There are no straight paths(answers) and it needs to be chosen based on the skills of the navigator(company management/brand) and other key assistants(employees, agents, partners) to have a successful sail.
    Not sailing is an option (dont take it ;-)) which will keep you stranded at the same position far behind your competitors at the cost of losing out to whoever wins/lead the race to conquer the sea.
    My one advice would be to "Fish where the fish is" by defining the objective of what you want to achieve; Is it customer service, brand awareness (freebies need to come), brand connect, crowd sourcing, listening to users, etc?
    Social Media is a medium not an end to achieve; its a path to travel with your fellow consumers, customers, prospects. To me there is more risk (and notional loss which could be associated as a future cost to company) by not going on social media; since irrespective of whether you are there or not, people ARE and people WILL talk about you which SHALL influence the OPINION of others about YOUR brand.

    What do you say Virgina?

  4. I read the IBM CMO report and what stand out was that, its taking ownership of social media which seem to be the gray area. Personally, apart from having social media strategy closely knit to business objectives, brand should focus on governance and policies, and integrated social media into different verticals, not just communications and PR.

  5. Many marketing heads run away from technology, they do not invest properly in online/Digital infrastructure thinking this is IT/CIO's job. For an organisation to adopt social media in the right way they have to create proper integration with existing online platform (website). Marketing or Digital marketing team should create a proper social media usage policy and guidelines as per their business requirement and org. structure. Social media/digital platform is not just marcom or PR tool its a face of an organisation where customers expect quick response.
    Some organisations have invested in Chief Listening Officers at par with CMO and CIO and social media/response mgmt is their responsibility where they have knitted stake holders for response management.
    Many agencies in India are not matured enough to understand the nature of the business and organisation structure of the client where they fail to integrate Digital landscape. Most of the marketers also fail to evaluate digital agencies' capability as they do not have right resources in their team to understand integrated digital landscape.
    My advise would be to adopt and understand digital landscape used for marketing and usage of tools available for engagement, analytics and marketing automation etc.

  6. Social media – the way it has taken on the world, I strongly feel its not just another trend and will impact the marketing across all industries in more than one ways .
    How can a CMO use it effectively – Its important that a social media strategy is thoughtfully prepared and implemented not as another online/ digital initiative but as an effective component of overall marketing strategy of company . I feel social media can empower brand , enforce customer loyalty and achieve more if it is blended with the marketing objectives of the firm. Also, its important to make appropriate investments hire the right people to do it rather than giving it as an additional task to existing team, may be hire a social media agency , the results /ROI will in anycase depend on how well it is done ..
    Today the media and sponsors together have bombarded the industry with too many events ,its nice to seek insights and give them on a forum of CXOs /VPs , but in my personal opinion I think the CMOs should be prudent enough to judge which event would be worth attending and which would not , I am sure there are quite a few forums which can be done away with ..& of course some are brilliant forums…

  7. Wow - very interesting and diverse perspectives and advice for CMOs! Thanks for all the comments! I will use some of these and share in the CMO community extensively! I think the point about engaging with the CIO from Mahim was particularly interesting. I am seeing gaps between CMOs and CIOs in several organizations. How can we engage better?