Despite having been with Microsoft for many years, Hitu Chawla took over the role of Chief Marketing Officer for Microsoft India in 2020 amid the pandemic. The New Age CMO – or CMTO as they call it – has to do a lot of things differently: from learning and reinventing virtual events to overcoming vanity KPIs of clicks and views and responsibility for the business, and much more with it Marketers deserve a seat at the business table
“If you hit a wall, climb over it, crawl under it, or dance over it.”
If the past year has taught us anything, this is it.
When I took over as remote CMO six months ago, I expected challenges, but I never thought how fluid 2020 would be. A pivotal year that changed the way we live, work, connect and communicate. I would say it turned the “digital” into digital transformation, forcing every business function to rewrite the traditional playbook. Marketing is certainly the quickest to adopt this change.
It’s almost like learning and rethinking the building blocks of B2B marketing for a new playbook.
Agility and reinvention will be the way forward
“Learn fast, fail fast” is the name of the game. In a constantly evolving environment, the only way to license your team to experiment is to find out what works!
To encourage agility and the mindset of learners, we at Microsoft have set up “war rooms” to bring salespeople, marketers and engineers closer together. This way, sellers’ needs are traced back to engineering, and marketing gets quick feedback from its frontline sellers and partners on what deals, discounts, product packages are working, and what needs are changing. Flexibility also lies in the use of the collective.
We are also learning and reinventing virtual events, switching from “theater” to “TV production” mode. From humanizing moderators to training for virtual contests, games, surveys, celebrations and celebrity appearances, we are constantly experimenting to improve customer loyalty.
Accountability and agility are very real, physical things to the team that lead us to improvise our offers and go-to-market tactics almost in real time. And they are here to stay!
The New Age CMO Checklist: More Accountability and Less Vanity
The conventional platitudes once attributed to marketing and reserved only for a company’s brand or promotional arm are outdated. Today, the CMO of a digitally-based new age company is seen as the leader of growth, directly responsible for the company’s performance and bottom line.
Marketers get a seat at the business table by making the metrics that directly impact business performance crisp. This means overcoming the vanity KPIs of clicks and views and being responsible for business indicators like the sales pipeline, customer loyalty and satisfaction.
When marketing is embedded in the business dashboard checked by the c-suite, it transforms from a secondary function to a first-class citizen and enables growth. In the future, I see this becoming a norm in both traditional and new organizations.
At Microsoft, we have a business form dashboard that ensures the health of business performance across all customer segments based on current market penetration, long-term growth, and other variables. The team is directly responsible for moving the needle to accounts that have a low retention index and little or no income.
Marketing is increasingly about consent and data protection
Security and privacy went from essential to essential overnight as millions became remote workers.
As a marketer, you might think that this is outside the purview of your role. There couldn’t be a more dangerous guess than this. The reputational damage associated with violating the personal or business information of customers, employees, or other stakeholders is irreparable. Any piece of data we collect and store could be the target of a cyber thief. Therefore, special care is required and the protection of your data.
The recent climate has increased consumer awareness of data protection. Marketers now need explicit consumer consent. Additionally, the lack of third-party data is forcing marketers to rethink the way they share values with customers. What used to be a checkbox exercise now makes you think, “What is the added value if a customer ticks the checkbox and joins my database?”
The birth of the CMTO
Marketing today works at the interface of creativity, technology and data. It’s exciting to see how AI / ML is enabling a new era in storytelling. While human storytellers create scripts with clever plot and dialogue, AI predicts how the audience will react! Disney is a great example of using AI-based auto-encoders to track facial expressions and understand how audiences are reacting to their movies in real time and creating bigger stories!
Another example is technology as a trailblazer for the fan experience in live sports. Microsoft’s partnership with NBA is transforming the way fans experience basketball, allowing them to immerse themselves in all aspects of the game and interact directly with teams and players.
Since AI is the order of the day as avant-garde and mar-tech, there is an urgency to become a CMTO (CMO + CTO). This new reality of balancing and innovating with art and science will be the key to success as a new age marketer.
Marketing is increasingly about inclusion and empathy
The pandemic has put the center on the spot, the need to be empathetic and build honest connections. The past few months have shown us how people and organizations have overcome challenges with resilience, using technology to respond to, recover, and redefine a new world order.
Companies are becoming more attentive to develop inclusive products and engagements. I admire Future Retail for their accessibility efforts. Personally, I learned a lot from a visually impaired member of my team. I am much more attentive and able to empathize with people who live in this additional parallel world, in communication and consumption of content.
Accessibility and inclusivity are built into our products, approach and messaging. It stems from our mission to empower every person and organization on this planet to achieve more. And to keep this empowerment promise, our marketing strategy doesn’t have to be focused on us. less about our products and solutions – and more about what people can do with our products.
Our latest commercial captures that ethos. “Hum Rukna Nahi Jaante”, which means “We are unstoppable”, refers to resilience as a universal truth because that is how everyone responds to the challenges of the pandemic.
The learning curve is steep and we are continuously tested. Unlearning and relearning, mindfulness, humanization, and agility only make me a better marketer and leader.
Hitu Chawla is the Chief Marketing Officer of Microsoft India.