Know your audience and other secrets to CMO success.

The 10 Secrets Of CMO Success

CMO EXCLUSIVES | April 24, 2013

by Keith Loria
Contributing Writer


Know your audience. Build credibility. Use the right tools. Granted, tips like those might seem generic, but they are among the “secrets” CMOs and other high-level marketers attribute for their successes.


  • The era of big data, CRM sophistication, and social media affords companies the luxury of listening to their customers more than ever before.
  • Marketing must drive revenue, not cost, for the organization.
  • Value the relationships you build along the way, and lean on the successful ones.

Take Larry Lieberman, CMO of ooVoo, LLC, a proprietary video chat and instant messaging client. His No. 1 secret to marketing success, he told, is the familiar concept of flexibility–which he ensures works up and down the marketing communications chain, specifically with retailers, media partners, agencies, and partners.

“Every marketer understands that our customer has to relate to our product and our messaging–otherwise we cannot make the sale. We painstakingly research and tweak everything we do to make sure we are being flexible enough to connect with our audience,” said Lieberman, who previously served as CMO for Virgin Comics and Virgin Animation and held senior marketing positions with MTV, Comedy Central, and Time Warner. “All too often we forget how important it is for us to be flexible in how we communicate and connect with the intermediaries in our marketing chain.”

When Lieberman worked for MTV, the network was producing Rock N’ Jock, a televised softball game with musicians and other celebrities for which Pepsi was the underwriting sponsor. A problem occurred during preshow production meetings when the sponsor and network couldn’t agree to how the soft drink should be featured in the game.

“Pepsi wanted to make sure that celebrity participants in the game were shown drinking Pepsi on-air. Anything short of this and they would cancel their participation,” Lieberman said. “MTV wanted a natural integration into the event without having to force celebrity talent to do anything they didn’t want to do.”

The breakthrough finally arrived when an MTV producer came up with the idea of recruiting Pepsi spokesperson Cindy Crawford to play in the game. MTV would install a Pepsi machine at second base. Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee agreed to toss as many pitches as necessary to the supermodel until she hit the ball and made it to second base.

“Cindy drank her Pepsi, the brand rejoiced and used the footage around the world, and MTV ‘flexed’ its way to another success,” Lieberman said.

But the “secrets” don’t stop there. spoke to CMOs from Travelocity, The Yankee Candle Company, and Lattice Engines, among other marketers, to find out what they owed their successes to. Their answers touched on everything from relationships, to Big Data, to compassion for the challenges facing customers and employees.


Listen To Your Customers
Brad Wilson, CMO of Travelocity, said that the era of big data, CRM sophistication, and social media affords companies the luxury of listening to their customers more than ever before.

“Build an intelligent infrastructure that allows you to delight your customers across all owned touch points–from Web site, to call center, to mobile, to e-mail,” he told in an interview. “Get the product right first. Not a single dollar of advertising should be spent unless you have a clear and valuable consumer proposition.”

For example, Travelocity recently launched its Let’s Roam social product into beta, created to help customers explore the wonder of new places, create “Roam” itineraries with their friends, and share their experiences during or after they have had the chance to “Go and Smell the Roses.”

“It is a product that was created by listening to customers’ desires for what was lacking in travel,” Wilson said. “It is also a terrific communication post between us and our customers–allowing us to be a better kindred spirit brand throughout their travel dreams and journeys.”

Dissect The Data
Big Data is a hot topic that can also be very overwhelming. With this understanding, a marketer needs to be able to communicate effectively and clearly to internal team members and external customers alike.

“As marketers, we need to be more focused on the customer and understand the data that we have at our fingertips,” said Aaron Magness, vice president of marketing of, the world’s largest online eyewear company, in an interview with “It’s no longer about brands with the largest ad budgets win. It’s more about providing the best customer experience and giving customers the opportunity to tell the brand story themselves.”

Quick Traction
Quick traction, i.e., material wins, within a short period of time does wonders to gain credibility and get people in the canoe with you at a new organization or in a new role in an existing organization, said Brad Wolansky, CMO of The Yankee Candle Company. He told that typical “First 100 Days” advice often includes identifying a couple of “big wins” and making them a priority to get done fast.

“At Yankee Candle, our Web site was doing a fine job transacting business, but was light on brand-leveraging value. Within 100 days, we launched ‘The Learning Scenter,’ which enabled us to differentiate in the marketplace, support the brand, and begin to move to a more balanced approach,” Wolansky told “Getting this launched quickly, without going through a lot of red tape and delays, got me off to a fast start.”

Expect Nothing
Brian Kardon, CMO of Lattice Engines, a cloud-based Big Data company, believes that a top CMO should be generous and expect nothing in return.

“I have seen too many CMOs try to ‘network’ their way to success, carefully considering who can help them the most,” Kardon told “They do not have time to give career advice to someone starting out in marketing, or they will not contribute to a blog post because the audience is too small. My big secret is to be generous to everyone. You will surprise them, and they will tell other people. Your generosity will be rewarded–if not soon, then eventually and in unexpected ways.”

The Importance Of Sales
Viewing sales as your top customer is the secret for Gary Brooks, former CMO of AltaVista and current CMO of Cortera, which provides business-to-business credit information, data, and insights on more than 20 million U.S. businesses.

“Companies invest in marketing for one simple reason: to increase revenue or make their sales teams wildly successful. CMOs that understand this and view their sales teams as their No. 1 customer will be more successful than others,” Brooks told “It’s all about revenue.”

With that in mind, he said, marketing must drive revenue, not cost, for the organization. “Next to headcount, marketing is our largest discretionary investment,” Brooks added. “As stewards of this investment, CMOs and their departments are accountable for delivering a positive ROI. CMOs who view marketing as an investment and develop processes to track and measure marketing performance and ROI will earn seats at the executive table and earn the respect of their CFOs and CEOs.”

According to Brooks, aligning compensation plans and tying them to published revenue, pipeline, and lead goals lets the sales and marketing teams know they are focused on the same objectives.

“Over the past 15 years I’ve insisted on leveraged, variable compensation plans for my marketing teams with bonuses representing up to 35 percent of their total compensation,” he said. “Bonuses are paid quarterly and are tied to quarterly revenue targets and specific, quantitative individual performance objectives, which are typically tied to lead acquisition and conversion goals, PR and social media goals, and other measurable objectives.


Make The Brand The Story
The world is full of marketers who love being the center of attention–so much so that often it seems as if they’d like to be bigger than the brand. It’s important to make the brand the story.

“The best example of success is when everyone knows the brand, but no one knows the head of marketing,”’s Magness said. “The goal is to highlight the best customer experience and let the customers tell the story. I’ve been very lucky to have worked with brands such as Zappos and, where we just need to focus on doing what’s right by the customer and let the customer tell the story.”

Work With Those You Know
It’s important to value the relationships you build along the way, and lean on the successful ones. For any CMO, a great database of names you can reach into is worth a pile of gold, accelerating the pace and bringing reliable results.

“Over my career I’ve developed relationships with vendors and service providers, who I trust, know my style, and I can always count on to deliver for a fair price,” Yankee Candle’s Wolansky said. “As my roles have progressed, I’ve repeatedly reached back into that bag of tricks and put these folks to work, saving time and trial and error along the way.”

Take A Step Back
According to Travelocity’s Wilson, a savvy CMO should take a step back–and then take another step back.

“In the era of digital marketing, CMOs are too often trying to solve the math equation that unlocks the multitouch attribution thesis,” he said. “While it is important to understand the go-to-market economics, it is more important to understand where your brand can deliver a world-class customer experience and innovate with new and unique product offerings for consumers. Don’t get lost in the economics of a marketing channel. Find truth in your brand identity.”

One-Word Question
Kiran Mohan, marketing director at Mindtree, a leading global information technology company, notes what has helped him and the organization–answering a one-word question: “Why?”

“If we know the answer to this simple question, then the success of marketing campaigns more often than not is achieved,” he told “In the daily grind to achieve results we tend to forget the basics: Why do we need to execute the marketing campaign? Why is this the right time? Why is this the right tool? Why is this the right message? Why is this the right channel? Mindtree marketing follows a simple philosophy of answering the why,” he added. “In other words, knowing the purpose. The purpose gives us the clarity and clarity drives the simplicity in messages, channels and simplicity drives effectiveness and efficiency. This delivers results.”

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