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Key Learnings from Our First Marketing Leader Peer Group

September 17, 2019   By Joe Ruekert

When it comes to meeting with marketing leaders, one thing is clear. There is never a shortage of things to talk about. This was certainly the case at Fahren’s first Marketing Leader Peer Group.

Yesterday we sat down with 6 marketing leaders to discuss the changing marketing landscape, digital transformation, data & analytics, and keeping up with a younger workforce. These leaders came from various backgrounds. Some were from consultancies, financial services firms, growth-stage companies, retail and financial services. They also varied in experience from small, boutique firms to the Fortune 500.

Here were the themes that emerged.

Digital Transformation is real, and it’s hard

We spent a lot of time discussing the importance and impact of digital transformation, particularly its impact on marketing.

As expected, digital transformation is really hard. It requires a complete culture-shift from the CEO down. It requires new ways of thinking, new ways of leading and new ways of doing business.

Many organizations think of digital transformation as a technical challenge and one that should be led by the CIO. The panel agreed that this couldn’t be further from the truth and that marketing plays a critical role in leading digital transformation.  During times of significant customer behavioral change, Marketing should be in alignment on the customer, the opportunity and the needs with the CIO and operations, as well as Finance and Sales.

The leaders discussed the importance of getting quick wins and building momentum. Digital transformation takes years to implement, and quick wins can help galvanize the organization to keep going.

The changing role of the CMO

No longer can CMOs purely focus on brand and campaigns. They are required to go far deeper in areas previously handled by others, including digital, product management, agile, and data & analytics.

The CMO role is under incredible pressure to drive revenue and results. This comes with a cost, particularly when balancing short-term results and long-term growth.

These changes also require a new, hybrid-approach to leadership. Gone are the days of deciding and delegating. The marketing leader needs to put aside old ways of managing and reach across the aisle to teams they historically wouldn’t talk to. Product, engineering, supply chain, finance, operations, customer service, and sales are all critical stakeholders to the CMO.

Marketing leaders must also be able to articulate the vision and reasoning to other members of the C-suite and communicate those stories in their peer’s language that they understand. More than ever, the marketing leader role is political and requires pulling all groups together to align on a shared vision of the future.

It’s critical to find the human in the data

No CMO is short of data. What the CMO is short on are people who can correctly interpret the data.

Finding the ‘human in the data’ was a key area of focus for our marketing leaders. Many stories were told about different teams debating the meaning within the data they were looking at. To do this, complex data must be distilled into themes and stories to gain a shared understanding throughout the organization.

It’s the CMO’s job to lead and guide their teams on the importance of deeply understanding their customers. This certainly includes evaluating and understanding of quantitative data. Just as important, it’s critical to understand the irrational behaviors, thoughts, and emotions of your customers to be able to connect with them on a human level. And that simply doesn’t show up in data alone.

What we thought about digital was wrong

With the rise of new tools and new platforms that could directly reach our customers at the right time in their purchase journey, digital was supposed to bring us access to our customers that were cheap and easy.

“Digital marketing today ain’t cheap, and it ain’t easy.”

This was a key takeaway for the group. Digital marketing today takes new skills, requires more from our leadership, and takes capital and resources to execute well.

While our digital toolkits have greatly expanded and have given us far deeper access into our customer’s mindsets, these tools still struggle to make marketing easier or cheaper.

Key Takeaways

With great insights from marketing leaders across multiple industries, sizes, and roles, it was clear the CMO role is evolving to meet the needs of the digital era. Guiding digital transformation, reaching across the aisle to build support, building a deep understanding of customers through data and research are critical functions of the modern marketing leader.

Interested in joining the next Marketing Leader Peer Group? Let us know! Reach out to to learn more.

Co-Founder and Product Leadership Practice Lead

Joe helps companies of all sizes transform their businesses by building digital experiences that drive business growth. With deep expertise in digital product management, eCommerce, design & systems thinking and agile transformation, Joe helps organizations move into the complex digital world with confidence. He is passionate about creating digital experiences that start with the customer and his philosophy is built on leveraging data and research to solve real business challenges. When working with clients, Joe focuses on leading with positivity and collaboration. At home, Joe is an avid golfer, skier, and Minnesota Vikings fan and is outnumbered with his wife and two daughters.

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