Valos Advantage: skills and implementation challenges around insights and accountability

The Valos Advantage examines the technical skills needed and the implementation challenges CMOs face. This time Michael Valos focuses on the areas of consumer insights and marketing accountability.

This is the fourth in a series of articles that look at the six key specific marketing skills required by CMOs to be successful in the contemporary environment: strategic insight, digital strategy, marketing innovation, customer insight/marketing metrics, commercial/ financial acumen and brand management.

Unlike some articles on marketing skills, the focus in this series is a strong implementation link. Typically, implementation issues include: emotional intelligence, communication, employee engagement, conflict management, training and recruitment.

The assumption underlying this series of articles is that senior marketers need more than technical skills to be successful. As they rise to leadership they become managers of other people and must be able to link marketing processes to a wider organisational implementation context.



The six key skills to be examined were derived from focus groups I conducted with CMOs and marketing leaders from such organisations as ANZ, AGL, Telstra, L’Oréal and Deakin University. Next, the skills were validated by two highly respected industry experts: Chris Khor, managing director of Chorus Executive, and Anna Whitlam, managing director of Anna Whitlam People.



New opportunities for insight and performance measurement 

Teresa Sperti, marketing manager – digital, online and loyalty, Coles, makes the following point concerning customer insight and marketing metrics: “While tried and true traditional research methodologies are still an integral part of the insight manager’s toolkit, digital provides an array of new tools to gather,” analyse and deduce patterns in real time and at a fraction of the cost.

“Digital is the driving force behind the need for organisations to listen to consumers across all touch points, analyse and respond quickly to signs of changing needs.”

Sperti believes this is putting marketing budgets under greater scrutiny and requires marketing to be more accountable. The move from traditional research, which had greater time lags and was more about measuring attitude intention than measuring behaviour, has provided a great opportunity for CMOs.

Enhancing the CMO role as the voice of the customer 

Executive director of marketing at Deakin University, Andrea Turley, highlights the role of insights in linking customer’s employees and organisational leadership: “As the voice of the customer within an organisation it is imperative for a CMO to drive the collection and use of customer insights to inform and influence marketing and business strategy. CMOs need to

lead marketing teams to instil a culture of ‘customer first’ and employ staff with the skillsets to drive and implement this approach.”

Turley considers the skill of data interpretation critical in achieving customer satisfaction as well as delivering successful marketing strategy. The challenges associated with the collection of and the ability to interpret and action customer insights can influence a CMO’s attitude towards the best use of customer data, but the expectation from organisation management to drive a effective customer focused marketing strategy requires a CMO to have a positive attitude towards customer insights.

Data insight acumen versus financial acumen

Anna Whitlam answered the question, ‘Why are some CMOs more successful in using customer insights and data?’ in the following way: “Although the majority of CMOs present with P&L capability, those that can actually use data to demonstrate effectiveness and efficiency of marketing activity are harder to identify. The ability to use numbers and metrics to add real business value is a rarity and considered a standard expectation by their employers.”

It’s becoming more apparent that in order for marketing to justify its role in the organisation, the ability of the CMO to link data-driven evidence to financial outcomes is critical. Unfortunately, marketers seem to struggle with using empirical data when linking strategy to financial outcomes. While the promotional pyramid within the organisation structure narrows significantly to marketers without financial acumen, an even smaller group at the top of the marketing pyramid can combine financial acumen with qualitative data acumen.

Asking the right questions of data

“The modern day CMO understands that data is critical, but the skill lies in understanding the actionable insights that will drive business growth and improve customer experience. Those with inquisitive and analytical minds tend to ask more questions and demand their teams dive deeper into the data,” says Paula Parkes, head of marketing for Adobe Digital Marketing in Asia Pacific. Unfortunately, and fortunately, the modern CMO is drowning in data. But they need to develop the skill to sort through the massive amount of data now available without getting lost or side-tracked. If they do this they have the source of a major competitive advantage.

Parkes says digital marketing provides demonstrable and immediate ROI and campaigns can succeed quickly or fail fast. “This allows marketers to alter campaigns in real time to optimise performance. Successful CMOs are able to balance instinct with data. They are able to take evidence-based risks and react quickly to what the data is telling them.”

In other words, the faster the decision- making and the more agile the organisation, the more likely an organisation can seize customer opportunities and thwart competitive actions.

Align business outcomes with market intelligence

Daniel Aunvig is head of customer intelligence at SAS and sees CMOs facing challenges in terms of both customer insight and marketing metrics. His advice to marketers is more about perspective and process rather than a skill.

“Prioritise the desired business outcome, then work backwards to data and analytics,” he advises. “If improving retention is key, give the required data and analytical models first priority and expand to other challenges later.

“Too many organisations start major projects – building large data repositories and integrating everything – without clearly focusing on the business objective. In the era of social media and marketing technology, and its rapid evolution in unforeseen ways, a mindset of continual learning is critical.”

Aunvig also says CMOs must embrace the test and learn imperative to ensure results can be monitored quickly. “Track what treatments customers have been exposed to and how they responded. Competitive advantage comes from learning and adapting quickly.”

CMOs taking others on the insights journey

Damian Anderson, in his role as vice president of AMI Victoria Council, is currently leading a study in conjunction with Deakin University into the professional development and skills required of marketers. “The CMO of the future will need to be an educator who not only interprets data, but can take stakeholders on a journey to collaboratively uncover how insights can be used to create, communicate and deliver new value to customers and the business,” he says.

“Defining the benefits of data, as well as sourcing and interpreting new data, needs to happen using a co-creation process, so that the entire business (board level down) owns and drives this journey.”

In the focus groups I used to identify the six key skills underlying this series of articles, the need for the marketer to be persuasive due to the ambiguity of marketing and the simplistic views of marketing by other functional areas was emphasised many times.

Hence, it’s no surprise that Anderson alludes to the relationship between the skill of persuasion and the skill of obtaining insight in order to leverage the insights throughout the organisation.



The remaining section of the article provides insights into the implementation of more evidence-based decision-making and identifies barriers to the CMO obtaining customer insight and making marketing more accountable.

As mentioned earlier, this series of articles attempts to bridge the link between six key CMO skills and organisational and implementation with the purpose of ‘making strategy happen’.

Cross-functional links

Teresa Sperti of Coles says, “With ever- increasing unstructured and structured data and feedback available, the challenge for CMOs and insight functions is to determine how to move towards operating in an environment of live intelligence.”

The link between marketing and other parts of the organisation is apparent. Sperti implies that to be successful, nimble and agile organisations are required to utilise these new opportunities of customer insight.

Would you rather be paralysed or drown?

According to Deakin University’s Andrea Turley, there are two barriers to successfully achieving and leveraging customer insight and marketing metrics: “First, with the plethora of information that has become available, the challenges for a CMO are the ability to read, interpret and act on this data in a timely manner,” she says.

“Second, there is also an overwhelming amount of data that can be sourced, requiring a CMO to understand and prioritise data use.”

With so much data available, will paralysis by analysis be the downfall of some CMOs? Or will they drown in data?

Organisational structure Paula Parkes of Adobe highlights organisational structure as a challenge. “Operational silos are a significant barrier to successfully using data and insights to deliver improved customer experience.

A customer can touch any part of an organisation and the ability to pull all activity data into a single view is crucial.”

If functions or departments don’t allow a marketer to access timely relevant information, the marketer loses the power of a single view of the customer and strategy implementation is constrained.

Parkes highlights the problem as well as the solution. ”Incumbent marketing solutions and disjointed integrations continue to be a barrier to holistic ROI insight. Alignment across an organisation will foster agility and nimbleness and drive business growth.”

Data quality

The problem of accessing clean, high- quality, reliable, up-to-date data is one that CMOs need to overcome. Daniel Aunvig of SAS says, “Loading low quality data leads to low quality output and a lack of trust in the decision support that business needs from insights and metrics. Fixing basics, such as missing variables and duplication, can significantly improve marketing communication reach and quality.”

If data is of low quality it will hinder the CMO’s attempt to satisfy the organisation’s need for marketing accountability and hinder the CMO’s ability to make accurate insightful strategic decisions. It will also reduce the CMO’s ability to monitor performance.

Psychological barriers “CMOs need to eliminate any anxiety in relation to being scrutinised by the business regarding the value of marketing activity,” says Anna Whitlam. “Embracing metrics and knowing exactly how and what to measure is step one! Using tools and language that align with their company is essential to their success.”

This barrier is a psychological trait Whitlam has identified in some marketers. It appears there are two types of marketers: those that embrace transparency and those that fear it. Accountability is all about dealing with transparency and marketers must accept this now more than ever.



These interviews highlight both the importance of using customer insight in achieving marketing outcomes, but also the need to adapt to new forms of customer insight in this new era of marketing accountability.


Michael Valos’ next article will examine brand management in terms of strategic formulation and execution. 

Michael Valos
BY Michael Valos ON 14 July 2014
Dr Michael Valos is senior lecturer in the School of Management and Marketing at Deakin University, co-author of Integrated Marketing Communication 3rd edition, and chair of Marketing's industry advisory board.