All roads lead to digital: How the modern CMO builds a brand


People have been saying 'everything is digital' for years, but has that always been the case? Instead it's now, more than ever, that the modern CMO faces large-scale challenges to harness technology and secure the most valuable of assets: consumer attention.

In the latest in a series of posts from one of our longtime partners Taan Worldwide - a global network of carefully selected independent advertising & communications agencies - Taan member and founder of Ciceron, one of the first digital agencies in the US, Andrew Eklund explores the new landscape (and what it means for those in charge). 

 Andrew Ecklund, a TAAN-endorsed Trend Champion

We joke in this business that, “Someday, this internet thing is really going to take off.” In fact, we’ve been joking about this at Ciceron for the past 21 years.

However, for the past ten years or so, the digital Pied Pipers of the marketing industry have claimed that “everything is digital”. But let’s be honest — those who said this had something to sell you.

A decade ago, everything was not digital. There were clear divides between digital marketing channels and 20th-century ones. The integration of the two was clunky at best and took monster efforts to bring about seamless experiences. Frankly, the returns on that work were suspect. (Can anyone say, “QR codes?”) But those hackneyed days are over, and I can give you a couple of fresh examples to prove it.

The symbiosis of online and offline.

A few weeks ago, I met with one of our agency partners, MacDonald Media, which has been in the out-of-home (OOH) market for nearly two decades. We’re talking billboards, subway stops, and retail. Together, we’re utilizing the incredible, emerging tech of OOH to drive consumer actions on mobile devices. The targeting capabilities from our tech partners, who use latitudinal and longitudinal data, combined with beacon technologies, and the interactivity of mobile apps provide consumers with unparalleled potential for very real and valuable experiences in ways that transition from creepy to cool.

TAAN for TW, Andrew Ecklund 

That same afternoon, we met with a new client from a recognizable record label (can’t name names yet). This discussion centered squarely around how to allow record labels to share data among themselves to identify cross-genre appeal and more effectively generate awareness of emerging artists. Then, drive ticket sales and digital downloads. And if the consumer wants to buy good old-fashioned vinyl? Go nuts. The tech is killer. And it’s all about marketing.

What this experience, and other client work, clearly indicates is that the ‘all things are digital’ claim is indeed very, very real.

The role of marketing, traditionally, has been to reach people — plain and simple. Mass media did this well through television, print, and radio. Digital taught us the power of one-to-one, segmentation, and transactional adroitness. Not everyone needs mass, or, shall we say, ‘mass’ is relative to the size of the market you are trying to connect with.

Digital is also increasingly becoming less about attracting and more about transacting.

These decisions to buy are immediate for consumers. Awareness of a brand’s product can now come from anywhere, clearly, but the desire to transact is no longer solely an event that happens later at a retail store or in the comfort of one’s home. There’s simply too much time between initial awareness and the transaction for a competitive brand who’s more nimble to intercept a consumer’s attention and provide a perfectly simple way to interact and transact.

Q: What does this mean for the modern CMO?

A: Adaptation out-trumps experience.

The CMOs who cut their teeth in mass media without the benefit of digital now find themselves squeezed uncomfortably between a world of tech and the consumer. The case of the CMO who was vaulted into office primarily for ushering in the winning television campaign rarely happens anymore. The new CMO is now a fully integrated role that oversees creative, technology, analytics, and the totality of consumer experience across all consumer interactions. It’s decidedly high-tech. It’s unavoidably data driven (just look at a recent WSJ article on the topic). It’s still fully baked into the creative realm, yet redefined to fully immerse creative applications of technology and experience to realize a brand’s potential.

Suffice it to say that the most successful CMOs today are largely self-taught when it comes to technology and its impact on consumer experience. There ain’t no MBA for this, and if there was, I’d be highly suspect of its credentials. The CMO who’s thriving today is doing so because she has experimented, taken risks, learned, adapted, and discarded a thousand different ways of reaching the consumer. The thriving CMO isn’t swinging for the fences on most days, but galvanizing the team around continuous innovation and metrics. She’s adaptive to technology and highly nomadic. She recognizes what digital platforms do well and do not do well, and doesn’t try and force any one of them to do something they’re not designed to do.

The dawn of the new CMO is clearly now.

If I hadn’t started a digital agency at the dawn of the Web, I’d like to be a CMO today. What a fascinating role that merges some of the most exciting changes in behaviors, loyalties, and technologies to hit us in the past 100 years. But the CMO’s exhilarating ride is not for the weak of stomach.


Andrew Eklund is the founder of Ciceron, one of the first digital agencies to establish itself in the US. He's also a prominent member of TAAN—one of the world’s largest and most successful networks of carefully selected independent communications agencies. Operating since 1936, TAAN exists to enhance the intelligence, expertise, reach and effectiveness of their members, through cooperative learning and shared capabilities. Want to know more? You can contact Andrew right here.