The NEXT Level CMO is a multi-skilled team player

If you want to get your marketing career to the next level, you need to master conflicting skill sets — and build a team that can support you.

In many computer games, as you level up, you gain more and more skills. Defeating the higher levels of the game requires deploying these skills with situational agility, switching between them fluidly. It turns out that’s a pretty good metaphor for life as a next-level CMO, too.

Do you need performance marketing, or brand marketing? Trick question: it’s both. You need both. Data insights or empathic intuition? Both.

This is a challenge because you don’t only need some awareness of those skills yourself, you need them in your team. And that could be a challenge, as Gucci’s Maria von Scheel-Plessen told NEXT22 back in September.

Next-level hiring

While she relishes the generation shift, and the challenges that come with managing a mixed Gen Y and Gen Z team — “It demands clear, honest conversation with the team” she explained —, it also needs to be led by data. And that’s where the trouble starts: hiring the people who can do that.

“Who I would like to hire and who applies, they can be different things,” she said. She wants more data-driven females, but gets 80% of her applications from men. It’s forcing her to take more time for hiring, and she’s using headhunters more and more.

Her hires need to live in a fluid, agile world. Sometimes they only know two or three weeks ahead what products are coming from the design side of the business. That means they have to be super agile in pairing creative vision with the data insights they’re collecting, to deliver a market for those products.

“Our key differentiation is to be very vocal, edgy and super-direct,” she said. But behind that voice is a network of common dashboards for creative and performance teams. Dashboards are an objective form, that facilitates discussion.

Can you have a KPI for emotion?

That’s an experience shared by Zalando’s Laura Eschricht. She pointed out that, while some companies choose to be shocking and provocative, Zalando is very conscious of the emotions they’re generating, and they go in with a values-based approach. They have a lot of first-party data to inform that.

While it’s clearly difficult to have data on human emotions, they have next-level “proxy KPIs for human emotions, convincing stakeholders to invest in long-term strategy,” she explained. And that sense of the human within the data extends to diversity and inclusion efforts, which can be a challenge to stay true to.

“We break fashion gender stereotypes – but also stereotypes of body type, race, sexuality, and age. In some countries, we can only show two men kissing after 10 pm. It would be easy to cut that out. But we don’t.”

Walk in the shoes of the silenced

She was once told, by a former boss, to put herself in the shoes of those who are being silenced in that way — and that stops her from backing down.

“It’s our job to stand up,” she said.

Gucci, too, has genderless collections. “Our teams are super-diverse and very agile,” said von Scheel-Plessen. And that agility leads them to push beyond the conventional expectations for a fashion brand. They work with gaming influencers. They’re exploring the metaverse. “We’re buying land in there, and selling merchandise,” she said.

Ethical issues in the metaverse

But she’s also conscious that the audience in the metaverse is often around 16 years old – so there’s some ethics issue about pushing luxury fashion too hard there. “It’s a great place to test and learn, and also to have a failing culture – if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter,” she said.

Eschricht agrees. “As marketeers, we can try plenty of things – we don’t make many irreversible decisions.” And, while data should inform those decisions, it shouldn’t dictate them. “You have to listen, but it’s your job to draw the right conclusions from that listening.”

This is a big change she’s seen within her own working lifetime. When she started her career, the internet was still blocked on her work computer. Being an IT manager was a dead-end job. Brand communications were one-sided – the brands talked to the consumers. Now, we’re at the next level up: e-commerce is central and consumers crave two-way communication.

“Brand marketing and performance marketing are just touch-points on the wider consumer journey. Performance marketing is constantly evolving, and you need to keep up – but brand marketing is making a strong comeback.”

You ain’t seen nothing yet

But the changes that we’ve seen pale compared to the changes that are still coming. “It’s not a drop, it’s a wave that’s already coming at us,” she said. That wave is the boss that stands between you and the next level. How do you surf it?

“It’s important to stay on top of trends – even if you don’t have an hour to spend on TikTok each day, you will have members of your team who do,” she said. “Ask them, get them to explain the trends.”

If the next-level CMO knows anything, it’s that it’s easier to beat the level with a team.

This article is based on a session at NEXT22 hosted by Christopher Böhnke. NEXT Level CMO is in shops now. Get your copy here.