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Unpredictability is the New Consistency


A lot has been written lately about the changing profile of the CMO, a role which faces an increasingly complex set of stakeholders and expectations (“10 Great Expectations: What CEOs Want From Their CMOs”) as it is engulfed by empowered consumers, big data, digital media pervasion, and accelerated technology innovation cycles. While CMO tenures have slightly increased to an average of less than four years, the role remains a hot seat. Technology savvy, analytics prowess, and strict ROI measurement are almost unanimously heralded as the key attributes of a successful marketing leader. The CMO is expected to be a business strategist, innovator, and change agent, while at the same time also acting as the brand evangelist, inspirational communicator-in-chief, and cross-functional collaborator. Tough one. How can today’s CMO succeed in times of hyper-connectivity when long-held beliefs are shattered, audiences are transient, and “software is eating the world” (Marc Andreessen)?

The Futurist CMO conference, hosted by former Wipro CMO Jessie Paul and her indefatigable team in the high-tech cluster of Gurgaon, near Delhi, last week, discussed this very question. Paul Writer, the name of Jessie’s venture, is devoted to fostering the Indian marketing community, and provides online and offline forums for a lively exchange on emerging marketing trends. Their newsletter is a fantastic resource for marketing professionals worldwide, and the equally sophisticated conference gathered some of India’s brightest marketing minds (from brands such as Coffee Day, Citibank, Essar, Reliance, Godfrey Phillips, NIIT, Aircel, Makemytrip.com, IBM, and Capital Foods) for an exhilarating two days of thought-provoking presentations and panels.

In my presentation in Gurgaon, I took a slightly contrarian view, outlining the idea of Smart Brands to debunk the four big marketing myths of strategy, control, consistency and data. I proposed a super-flexible portfolio of readily adaptable initiatives instead of a single-strategy approach, argued for understanding marketing as a state of permanent crisis only to be tackled with a deliberate design for the loss of control; made the case for unpredictability as the new consistency, and contrasted Big Data with Big Intuition. My talk spurred an animated debate. One attendee objected: “If we follow your advice, we will never have a seat at the table.” But which table do you want to have a seat at, and at whose mercy? Our expertise runs broad not deep, and by the nature of our role we are comfortable with ambiguity and paradox, can make sense of disparate information, and turn data into meanignful stories. We are the "air traffic controllers" of the connected age, as Pinstorm’s Mahesh Murthy aptly put it. It’s time for us marketers to determine our own fortune and capitalize on our unique strengths: insight, intuition, and imagination.

Here's my deck on Slideshare: 

For a comprehensive write-up of the conference, check out this blog post by my colleague Mitali Darbari Prakash.

Photos from the conference (by Naina)

Press: 'More than 60 Percent of Google Searches Are From Rural Areas'

Image credits: AP (above), Naina (CMO conference)

Tim Leberecht is the CMO of frog and the publisher of design mind.