Lessons in Meaningful Marketing from the ND CMO Summit

Apr 26, 2018


ThinkstockPhotos-654454404In marketing, there may be no better resource for keeping pace with change, innovation and best practices than our marketing peers. The insights of those who have “been there, done that,” provide valuable input for finetuning our own marketing strategies and tactics.

That’s why, earlier this month, I jumped at the chance to hear from the CMOs of some of the world’s most successful brands at the Notre Dame Chief Marketing Officer Summit 2018. The event, which was presented by the Mendoza College of Business, Nestle Purina PetCare, Forbes CMO Network and Google, was built around the theme, “Meaningful Marketing: The Future of Customer Engagement in a Digital World.”

Throughout the summit, we heard from thought leaders who have strengthened well-known brands and executed successful marketing strategies in today’s challenging digital landscape. Among the key themes they addressed were consistency, simplicity, relevance, talent and leadership – all of which we particularly value and emphasize at Vya. There was also a focus on purpose and emotion in many of the presentations.

In the spirit of peer-to-peer knowledge-building, I’m sharing some of the specific insights and advice I took away from the ND CMO Summit.


When it comes to consistent customer experience, Andrea Brimmer, Chief Marketing and Public Relations Officer for Ally Financial recommended creating frictionless cross-device experiences. This is because 62 percent of people expect a consistent brand experience every time (source: Think with Google).

Denise Karkos, CMO for TD Ameritrade, urged brands to move beyond buying transactions to building relationships with customers. She said, “We work to connect with people on a more emotional versus rational level. Trust is built through consistent, positive interactions – it’s important for us to make every conversation count.”

A brand is a promise that requires consistent, persistent fulfillment, suggested Clive Sirkin, Chief Growth Officer at Kellogg. “Great brands deliver on that promise day after day and keep it fresh. You need to create a seamless, frictionless experience.” He also reminded attendees that “You are only as good as your weakest link. Does everyone in the company understand their part in the customer experience?”


When it comes to the discipline required for keeping it simple, Sirkin explained, “We pull the consumer in different directions, we create complexity. We need to think about how what we do looks to the consumer. Start with the right idea, put it on the table, and nurture it.”

Emily Culp, CMO for Keds recommended providing “snackable bites of content.” She advised, “It takes discipline to tell your brand story in chapters – and remember they could be read in any order.”


Ally Financial’s Brimmer put relevance front and center when she asked attendees, “Do you want to be cool or relevant? What defines cool is constantly changing. Relevance is never forgetting who you serve. Cool is just chasing the latest thing.”

 Matt Walsh, Chief Experience Officer and Founder of Green Stone suggested we are now working in a post-product world, in which everything is a service. In this context, “modern customer loyalty is earned, not bought. You need to prove the brand promise across the customer journey though meaningful, personalized engagements. You need to think through the customer journey – keep thinking “then what, then what, then what?”

 “Authenticity is the new standard,” according to Tim Rae, Principal, Client Strategies Group – Marketing at Edward Jones. Today’s “customer default is distrust. You need to think like your core customer, not about them. Relevancy is everything.”


 As Roger Adams, Former CMO of USAA said, “Purpose is something that differentiates you and can’t be taken away.”

 Andrea Brimmer also recommended brands “Have a purpose – most people will do business with a brand that shares their values. Develop more emotional, engaging content to give your brand dimension.”

 Steve Fund, CMO for Intel talked about how, as your business undergoes transformation, your brand needs to go through transformation. “Brand health and business health go hand-in-hand,” he said. He told the Intel story of brand transformation, explaining, “Change was an imperative.” The company has worked to re-engage youth and to let the “Inside” out, ultimately showing how pervasive Intel technology is in our society.


 A number of speakers touched on emotions role in building a brand today. Kellogg’s Sirkin suggested, “Ideas should be predicated on an understanding of people. Consumers don’t make rational decisions. We, as marketers, think consumers think more than they really think. In reality, consumers ‘feel,’ which leads them to ‘do,’ following which they ‘think.’”

 Lucas Watson, Chief Marketing and Sales Officer for Intuit, shared the Intuit story of “unlocking the soul of a 35-year-old company.” He urged attendees to, “Get clear on what you promise. The clarity of who we are trying to serve informs everything we do. Before others can know you, you need to know yourself.”

 By refining its mission statement, Intuit changed the entire mood of the company, and ultimately impacted the overall business and brand. Watson added, “If you integrate doing business and doing good, and doing good and doing business, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. What the company is matters when you need to win the battle for talent.”


 The only investment worth making is in talent, according to Kellogg’s Sirkin, who said, “I spend 25 percent of my time on talent – acquiring it and unleashing it.” By mastering the creation of ideas, he said you can get beyond the “battle of attributes.” He also cautioned against creating an environment of fear, which kills thinking. He suggested that rather than saying “that didn’t work last time,” instead say, “When we did that last time, this is what we learned.”

 Roger Adams, Former CMO of USAA advised attendees, “It’s important for marketing leaders to create the safe space for their teams to be innovative and try new things.”

 This idea was echoed by Kristen D’Arcy, Head of Performance Marketing and Media for American Eagle Outfitters, who revealed she gives her team a half-day off each month to go be curious. Her belief is that “You can’t be innovative and creative sitting at a desk all day.


 Colette LaForce, previously SVP & CMO, ICF, & Board of Directors EXTEN Technologies recommended CMOs get out of the day to day and focus attention on the bigger strategy. “Marketing leaders are now custodians of culture. As a leader, it’s our job all day long to help everyone be their best selves across departments.”

 Ally Financial’s Brimmer shared a number of pearls of wisdom for CMOs. She said CMOs have to be the “Chief Dot-Connector.” She also explained how she spends one-third of her time aggressively learning. “If you’re not learning, you’ll be left behind.” She also advised, “Don’t lurk in your own shadow, marketers. Bravery is critical in this day and age.”


 The breadth of functional demands placed on today’s CMO’s, while overwhelming at times, provides an opportunity for marketing executives to make meaningful impacts on their business like never before. The insights and advice shared throughout the ND CMO Summit were, for me, motivating and energizing. I left the Notre Dame campus ready to march “onward to victory.”

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Vya Staff

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Tags: executive leadership, CMO, marketing strategy

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