As business evolves in 2021, what are the implications for marketers and how should they plan strategy and make investment decisions? We speak with Bill Wohl, a top marketing and communications leader, about core topics of concern to Chief Marketing Officers in 2021.

This conversation covers a broad range of topics, including:

Bill Wohl is a highly regarded communications and marketing executive, who is globally recognized for leadership in crisis communications. His consultancy helps companies with crisis communications; repositioning brands and products for growth acceleration with differentiated messaging; and for his notable expertise in CEO and C-suite counsel through succession, M & A, activist investors, and litigation.

Transcript

2021 marketing strategy: key trends and challenges

Michael Krigsman: How should marketers think about strategy for 2021?

Bill Wohl: Today's conversation comes at a time when there is a renewed sense of hope that things are going to improve. What has marked the last 12 to 14 months has been this period of unexpected and change. That's required CMOs and communicators to rapidly adapt to an evolving situation really without a playbook.

That, I think, is something that will continue in 2021, because, in your introduction, you talked about the new norm, the post-pandemic norm, the return to norms. Nobody is really quite sure.

I think we can make some good guesses, but no one is really quite sure what the new norm will be. I think the watchword in this period is "continued adaptability."

Michael Krigsman: Adaptability, can you put some color on that?

Bill Wohl: I think that CMOs, in large part, have always had to adjust on the fly. But there's no question that the CMO is really now about revenue, about retention, about acquisition, about managing a tech stack, about analyzing and reacting to data. It's about customer experience, digital e-commerce, CSR, and more and more and more.

All of these things have been pushed to the forefront during this pandemic period where companies have said, "Oh, my goodness. How are we going to operate now?" They've turned to their CMOs and say, "Figure it out."

That's actually good news. It's pushed marketing to the forefront. It's driving the strategic value of marketing in the organization.

I think the challenge on all of us in the profession is to keep marketing there. That's where the work is.

Michael Krigsman: When it comes time to think about marketing strategy and making a shift from marketing to people at home who have been locked down, what do we need to think about as we move to a more open economy?

Bill Wohl: There's no question that buying behaviors continue to change. We certainly saw (in 2020) that digital-first push right to the front. We were forced, as businesses, to be digital-first because of the lockdown.

There is a tendency to believe that business will be digital-first forever, or at least whatever forever is – the next few years.

I think there's a risk, however, that as things open up and people want to return to what they remember to be near normal, that while digital will be the first strategy, it won't be the only one. Just as we (quickly and almost off the cliff fashion) had to go digital-first, as we climb back out of that hole, we've got to remember some of the great marketing disciplines that had to be put on the shelf in the past and be ready to adapt back to those at a pace that makes sense for each individual audience.

I'll build on that, Michael, and say, look; one of the skills that is most required for CMOs, and is often forgotten, is to listen. CMOs need to be spending a lot of time now carefully listening, through data techniques, and actually by talking to customers directly, how do they want to engage with brands?

We'll see some changes to that, I think, in 2021. CMOs who are listening carefully will have the right data to react to that.

What is the role of empathy in marketing?

Michael Krigsman: Bill, I saw an interview with the CEO of Citibank recently. She spoke about empathy as being one of their priorities as they're thinking about customer experience, as they're thinking about their new products and services. How does this relate to this notion of listening, as you were describing?

Bill Wohl: In this country, but certainly on a global scale. In this country, half a million people are dead. People lost jobs. Businesses closed. This is a moment when brands need to be empathetic, to be real, to avoid being tone-deaf to what's going on.

For example, you can think about B2C brands who want to suddenly bring back their advertising, which might show concerts, sporting events, or large gatherings. But it'd be really tone-deaf at a time when these activities are still significantly limited and the government is continuing to advise people to be socially distant.

It's just too easy for brands to suddenly forget that they've got to be aware of the environment around them. That means that CMOs, as the owners of brand, have to help their businesses continue to be patient and deliver messages to market that are in tune with their customers and the overall environment.

Michael Krigsman: We have a question from Ayanar from LinkedIn. He's asking about how the intersection of skills, talent, and skillsets regarding marketing and branding within the context of what you were just talking about in this change and the need for empathy and so forth.

Bill Wohl: I'll give you a perfect example. There is no question that, during the last 12 months, the intersection of marketing programs with social media has really been emphasized. The opportunities that are available in social and the ability to use social to get a pulse on what's happening in the market and translate into demand, into pipeline, and into marketing programs is very much there.

Where we've seen the struggle is brands being willing to invest in the unique skillset and talents required for people who can really take social insights and turn them into campaigns. That's a people investment. It's also a program investment. You want agencies that are capable of doing that.

They want systems within them—marketing, tech stack—that allow you to listen and react to social trends. But in the end, market is a people business and having those skillsets, particularly in social media, is where investments should have been made the last few months but, certainly, if investment wasn't possible during the shutdown and the economic challenges, the first investments in marketing really need to be in that area.

When I talked to CMOs in advance of today's program, just to get a pulse of what they were thinking about, social was at the top of everybody's list. That's a place for skills investment.

Michael Krigsman: Is there too much emphasis on tools, do you think, and less emphasis on these kind of softer skills such as empathy and listening, which, frankly, by their nature, are quite vague?

Bill Wohl: I think the challenge, Michael, is an interesting tug of war between the requirement of CMOs to communicate with the C-suite in terms of true metrics. Most big companies are decision data-driven. To get that data, you've got to have the systems and the ability to report it – given the opportunity.

Those are dollars that are obviously pulled away from external marketing activities and campaigns. If you've got $10 and you put $5 into measurement and data, then that's $5 that you're not reaching out to prospect customers. That tug of war has been going on since the discipline of marketing in business got started.

It's ever more important today because boards and C-suites are demanding data-driven decision-making. Given the choice, my personal preference is always to spend a dollar on talking to the market. That's how you generate business and demand. That's always going to be the tug of war. An effective CMO has got to find a way to strike the right balance there.

"Customer experience is the new brand loyalty"

Michael Krigsman: On this topic, we have a comment from Arsalan Khan on Twitter who makes the point that if an organization is forced to go digital during this pandemic and following the pandemic, it speaks volumes about their culture. To what extent is this also an issue of the culture inside the company and the culture inside marketing? Obviously, the tone of that is going to be set by the CMO.

Bill Wohl: This is both an inside the company and outside the company issue. From an outside-the-company perspective, customer buying behavior, how customers want to engage should be driving marketing decisions. There are certainly legacy businesses (I've worked for some) who struggle to get to a more digital-facing approach, even while the customers were asking for it. That was a challenge. The pandemic has pushed this issue to the forefront.

What I mean by the internal challenge is that it's hard to change behaviors inside the business. Organizations and investments are often a political football game inside. Teams that have traditionally been built around a person to person (not so digital strategy) want to protect that turf.

This is true, for example, with sales teams who have always built their staffing models around those direct human interactions and they see a move to digital as a threat. The reality is that how customers want to engage should be driving behavior here.

In speaking to a CMO just the other day, Michael, she said to me, "Customer experience is the new brand loyalty," which I thought was a brilliant statement. What it says is that, in the past, brand loyalty came from lots of factors but, increasingly, the way a customer is able to engage in a brand may drive loyalty.

I know this from my own experience in the last 12 months, buying so much stuff online. When you work with a company that makes returns and exchanges seamless and easy—when those exchanges, as soon as you push the button on the exchange, a label is created and your account is credited, or the moment that Federal Express picks up the return, the system indicates to you that your return has been processed and your money is coming back—those are the kinds of brands we want to work with. We know that from our own behaviors. Why is it so hard (sometimes) for brands to see that kind of consumer signal as a way to react from a marketing perspective?

Michael Krigsman: I guess that begs the question, why is it so hard for some brands to see that and then act upon it?

Bill Wohl: We've always know that some brands are fast movers. They're willing to take the risks and make the investments to change into the buying behavior trends that are always apparent to us in the market.

Some brands are in a wait-and-see mode. They want to let others make the experiments and make the mistakes.

Then there are always the laggards who either don't have the leadership and decision-making muscle, or they don't have the resources to make the change.

All three categories of business then tend to look at the markets, but what do you know, Michael, from your own experience as an analyst? Fast-moving brands have bigger market share. Brands that are willing to take risks and make mistakes are the ones that tend to be moving on a faster pace.

This points back to social media because one of the things that social media gives CMOs the ability to do is to test messages, test campaigns, get immediate feedback from the marketplace. That was always tougher to do before social, and that's why having those skills in-house are so important.

Michael Krigsman: Bill, there is an intersection then between the people (cultural dimension), the ability to move quickly, take risks, and also having the skills in-house to have the appropriate tools in place and know how to use those tools. There is a bunch of different dimensions that have to intersect in order to accomplish this agility goal that you were just describing.

Bill Wohl: Yeah, but there is something that's not so sexy in that, Michael, and it's a point that I think is worth making, which is, CMOs have a lot of things that they need to do, but they can never forget one of their first priorities. They are people managers. They run a team.

Marketing team members are exhausted. They are exhausted over the last 14 months. They have been working 24 hours a day to rapidly make the shift to digital-first. They've been throwing up all kinds of online events – some successful, some disastrous. They have scrambled to replace a wealth of tools that were always useful to them that weren't effective and try to keep the pace of business going.

I think really good CMOs are now taking time, as we're suddenly able to take a breath, and give their people a break. Make sure they're properly rewarded and thanked because I think marketing people have really borne the brunt of a lot of the effort to reshape business in the last 12 months. The CMOs that forget that will lose their most valuable people to other opportunities. That's why it's so important.

How does consumer behavior affect marketing strategy?

Michael Krigsman: Bill, if we then overlay where we are with the pandemic and the changes that marketing has gone through, driven by the changes in consumer behavior and consumer interests, where does that leave us?

Bill Wohl: We're still in a period of uncertainty. This program being recorded in early March, we'd all like to think that change has arrived. People are getting vaccinated. Business leaders are saying in surveys that they are now very confident about a return to normal, but the decisions about will people go back to the office, will buying behavior shift from heavily e-commerce back into more traditional methods like will retail businesses begin to reopen, for those people that have that channel, those questions still remain a big question mark.

Some of that is geographically driven. Some states, some portions of the market (even globally) are going to be very slow to recover because the pace of vaccinations is going to be slow. Countries that have been exceptionally hard hit like the UK and Italy will take some time, and they're on a different schedule than, say, the United States is. Marketers who operate at global scale are going to have to adapt to the fact that the pace of business change, meaning the pace of their marketing initiatives, may be different in 12 different locations around the world.

That's going to require this constant ability to adapt. The only way to actually do that is to be really good at listening to the signals that are coming from customers. Whether they're consumer or B2B, that's going to be a very important component of CMO activity in 2021.

Michael Krigsman: We have another question from Twitter. Chris Peterson likes the idea of testing social media messages, but he's asking, "How do you hedge against a message that really backfires?"

Bill Wohl: We all have to have judgment about taking it too far. Part of that judgment comes from having your brand be realistic to the company's culture. If you feel it in your gut that you might be going just a little bit too far, you probably are.

It's like that moment when you get ready to send the angry email. You've got to pause for a second and reflect: Is this authentic to the brand? Does it feel like it makes sense? Is it authentic to the current circumstances?

There is nothing wrong with making mistakes in marketing. You just don't want to stumble badly. Social gives you the ability to have a little license to do that, but you've got to make sure that you're not being tone-deaf to the market, too.

That's where the CMO earns his or her paycheck in understanding what filters do I need to put on it. As I said earlier, I think businesses who are willing to take just a little bit of risk are the ones that will often be a step ahead of their peer competitors.

Michael Krigsman: You're talking about taking risk within the framework of controlled culture where people are on the same page, and you don't have folks that are tone-deaf out there hitting social media.

Bill Wohl: Well, that's true, but remember where the CMO sits. The CMO sits as a trusted advisor to the C-suite about brand.

The CMOs that make a brand mistake are winding up polishing their resumes. They've got to help the organization understand the right conduct.

Individuals will make conduct mistakes all the time on social media. If they're within the company, they'll get their hands slapped or get fired.

Brands have no excuse to make a public mistake. That's the difference between an effective CMO, CCO, or CEO. We've all seen incidents where companies have just gone too far, are embarrassed, and it costs CMOs and even CEOs their jobs.

That doesn't have to be that way. I think, in a period of experimentation, certainly on social media, really being authentic to the brand—not making a sudden, aggressive move, for example, when the company isn't known for aggressiveness—is simply a matter of proper filtering.

That should come from experience, and that's why CMOs earn the big paychecks. They've got to be the ultimate determinant of when the brand is appropriate and when it goes too far.

Michael Krigsman: You raise a very, very interesting point that the CMO needs to teach the organization about the right conduct for their brand. That seems very difficult during a period of time that is genuinely unprecedented and where the expectations of brands from consumers have just changed and continue to evolve.

Bill Wohl: Well, that's true. I tend to think of the CMO as the ultimate champion of brand. For me, brand is what a business says to the market about itself.

I think the chief communication officer is the ultimate champion of reputation. Reputation is a little different. It's what the market says about you.

Often, communication sits inside marketing, so the CMO has to play that dual role. I can effectively argue, I think, that the CEO (at the end of the day) is the ultimate owner of reputation. However, those organizations are settled in, everyone needs to play their role to keep those two things in mind.

The market is the ultimate source of reputation. It's going to react to you in a way that you can't totally control. Lots of forces will drive that, including your competitors and outside stakeholder audiences, even analysts.

All you can do with brand is to try to influence how the market thinks about you with effective programs, which is why finding a balance between taking a little bit of risk and staying authentic to brand is where the CMO makes his or her living.

Cross-functional alignment between marketing, sales, and finance

Michael Krigsman: Bill, you mentioned earlier, you alluded earlier to the CMO needing to be engaged with sales to influence sales. That implies a cross-functional type of behavior and organization, which not all companies are ready for. Tell us about that.

Bill Wohl: One of the CMOs I've worked for (that I respect a lot) said to me the other day, "Growth is a team sport." That means that the subject of growth really requires sales, marketing, services, and executives to all be working together. I think the pandemic has accelerated a sort of blurring of the lines between all of those organizations.

Aggressive sales leaders are being demanding-demanding. I could use demanding twice in that sentence. They are being aggressive about demand targets and feel like they should set them for marketing, whereas CMOs believe they have a responsibility to be appropriate about demand levels. Services organizations are suddenly carrying revenue targets.

I think the CMO has to really be a person to promote internal alignment around those targets. If those folks are not working well together, then the tension will slow down the pace of growth. I've seen that at companies I've worked at where there seems to be a competition between marketing and sales. In the end, that sales leader lost out and wound up leaving the organization.

The pandemic has accelerated this requirement of growth to be the ultimate determinant of success and the CMO has got a role to play to be the coach of that team not only to make sure his own interests are represented but to understand how it all works together to make it happen.

There are CMOs listening that I'm sure have gone through that painful exercise of watching leads sent over to sales and have the sales organization ignore those leads at the very moment that sales is demanding more demand. That tension is real and I think my friend was right. Growth is a team sport and that means the team has to work well together.

Michael Krigsman: Bill, this is not a new issue, this alignment or lack of alignment, cooperation, or even in-fighting between marketing and sales. How has the pandemic accentuated this set of issues?

Bill Wohl: I don't know if panic is the right word. It might be a bit of a strong term, but if we roll the clock back to March of 2020 (maybe even April) when suddenly the economy went from full speed and very healthy to shut down, brands had to quickly react. There was a lot of finger-pointing about how the heck are we going to solve this problem.

I think the marketing organization found itself in the crosshairs and, I believe, in a good way. It allowed marketers to step forward and say, "We'll figure this out. Stand by," and very quickly make the pivot to digital-first. But it also opened up and exposed those natural lines of tension.

As I said earlier – and I have no bias against sales. Thank goodness for sales. They pay the bills, right? – but some of the traditional programs that salespeople relied on—like events (both local and national, and international) as a source of leads and customer contact—disappeared.

Suddenly, the sales organization was saying, "Hey, marketing. We need you to recreate the experience we had at events without doing events." Everyone went to online events. I think we could all agree, a lot of them were a total disaster.

At the same time, because business was depressed, CFOs were yanking back budgets and marketing didn't have the necessary investment dollars to create experiences that salespeople were screaming for. Those fault lines have been exposed and, in some organizations, they're sort of open wounds.

As we go into this period now of returning to whatever the new normal is, that team sport, the team has to be brought back together and everyone has to now find the area where they can now operate with each other with the organizational responsibilities may be shifted a little bit, given what we've just been through.

Michael Krigsman: You mentioned the shift from in-person events to online events, to virtual events. What about the impact on CMO marketing budgets?

Bill Wohl: This is the topic where I always get myself in trouble with CFOs. CFOs have had a bit of a challenge themselves trying to manage the balance sheet in a down year. One of the techniques that they've used (almost universally) is to claw back a lot of marketing dollars. That's happened for all kinds of reasons.

Events is the perfect topic to talk about. Because big events couldn't be done, those $500,000 sponsorships and expensive booths, that went away. The cost to production companies and exhibition contracts disappeared. All that money went to the bottom line.

If I know anything about CFOs, I can tell you they're really easy to take your dollars. They are exceptionally hard to get them back. CMOs are going to spend the next 24 months trying to claw back their level of spend as business returns.

Michael, the challenge is that most CFOs are going to look them straight in the face and say, "Hey, we managed to do pretty good with your budget at that level. Why does it suddenly need to go back up? If you were effective at doing it with a cut budget, why do you suddenly need a budget increase?"

I think CMOs implicitly understand that investment has to return but clawing back those dollars from CFOs is going to be, I think, a major CMO challenge for the next 18 months.

Michael Krigsman: Talk more about this notion of CFOs clawing back – such an image.

Bill Wohl: We talked about events. Let me give you a second topic, and it relates to CMOs but also to others in the organization – business travel.

Business travel went to zero. For large organizations, business travel could be a $50 million, $60 million line. CFOs love the fact that they didn't have to spend that money on travel.

Now, there's no question that business travel still is not happening. But as we move deeper into 2021, the pressure to support business travel for companies is going to increase. The first time salespeople start convincing their bosses that visiting a customer to land a multi-million dollar deal will open up business travel.

What will follow the beginnings of business travel will be the demand to get customers together. We all know how effective events can be – even small events.

The travel budgets and the production budgets, they don't exist today. Getting those moneys back from CFOs who said, "Well, hold on a second. We did pretty good closing business using Zoom," just like you and I are talking today, right? "Why can't we continue to do that?"

In the end, humans want human contact – more than Zoom. We're all Zoom fatigued at this point. I think marketing always needs to be an H2H business – human-to-human. The pandemic has put an exclamation point on that.

The cost to create human contact in marketing programs is a cost that today the CFO has clawed back, and so had taken from us. Getting those dollars back, prying them out of the hands of a CFO is going to be pretty hard to do.

Authenticity, branding, and marketing

Michael Krigsman: Constance Woodson wants to know, "Can organizational development consultant play a role in that cross-silo, cross-functional border that we were talking about earlier?"

Bill Wohl: Perhaps. As I look back on the big brands that I've worked for, I've seen organizational consultants be really helpful in providing an "I don't have any skin in the game" perspective on the debates about who owns what section of the sandbox. I've also seen brands where organizational consultants came in and just wrecked it, and so I think that you need some caution about how a consultant is used.

I think consultants are a bit like lawyers and they're a bit like chief communication officers. They have opinions. You don't have to take them.

I think a CMO is not the person making the decision on the organizational distinctions. We're having a conversation about CMOs.

Ultimately, how an organization is shaped and who owns what portion of the corporate sandbox is a CEO decision with the CHRO. Where the CMO has to be focused is to make sure that they are able to protect and own the areas that will allow them to succeed. Some of that, Michael, will come from getting agreement on what are the targets for success.

In my CXOTalk preparation, one CMO I talked to made a point about the fact that really what's important is to create agreement on growth measures, real financial metrics to determine success. Once you understand what are the things that will tell us if we're successful, is that new customer growth? Is it retention? Is it customer satisfaction?

If everyone can agree on those financial metrics, the arguments about what does success looks like will fall to the background and who owns what piece of the pie should become a little bit clearer. Very few companies can agree on those. I think now the CMO, given what's happened in the last 12 months, is in a position to really be able to help define what does success for the business look like.

Michael Krigsman: I really try to prioritize the questions that come in from the audience. We get such great questions. Thank you to everybody who participates.

Chris Peterson wants to know, "What lessons should a CMO take away from events like the SolarWinds hack?"

Bill Wohl: Now you're sort of moving into an area that, to a certain extent, I live in as a chief communication officer, which is crisis management. The SolarWinds hack had an impact on lots of organizations in lots of enterprises, certainly the IT organization.

As CMOs have increasingly owned a significant component of IT in the MarTech stack and as CCOs have owned the com stack, they've suddenly understood that they are exposed to these kinds of issues. No question that what we've all learned from SolarWinds is how much effort needs to be put in in protecting our asset base.

If marketers and communicators are going to own technology stacks—not independent of IT, but certainly as drivers—they've got to put the necessary time, effort, and skills to make sure that customer mailing lists, marketing automation systems, and so forth are protected from these kinds of attacks, which is normal business now.

I don't know a brand, a company that is not getting attacked literally every day. If a company is great as FireEye can be attacked, and they're in the computer security business, then your marketing automation system for a mid-level brand must be totally exposed. We kind of know that.

Now, the questions you should be asking are: How are we protected? How are we backed up? What would we do if we faced a ransomware attack? Do we have two-factor authentication on every system?

Oh, a lesson I learned at a brand I recently worked for: Do our vendors, our PR agencies, our creative agencies who tap into our systems, do they have the necessary security protocols at the agency level to make sure that an attack on your brand doesn't come from your partners? These are another challenge sitting on the shoulders of CMOs, particularly those that are operating data-centric tech stacks.

Michael Krigsman: Another question from Twitter. This is from Libeth Shaw who goes back to issues of authenticity that we were speaking about earlier, and brand. She said, "Brand and authenticity, the importance has existed long before COVID-19. How has this pandemic and the changes we were discussing influenced and forced our thinking to evolve regarding brand and being authentic?"

Bill Wohl: Well, I think we touched on authenticity a little earlier by saying brands need to be empathetic to the macro environment. There was another component to 2020 that had something to do with the pandemic, but really was a very tense election cycle. The election cycle and the pandemic were intermixed because, for any range of issues that we don't need to talk about on today's program, the response to COVID-19 became politicized.

Brands were also trying to understand how do we communicate, to our stakeholder audiences, our point of view on recovery, on politics, on the polarization of the environment. some brands handled that well and some didn't. We certainly saw companies where CEOs wanted to take a stand on certain issues and found themselves being exposed.

We found other brands that had their employees actively involved in the January 6th protests and then suddenly that gave outside stakeholders the opportunity to examine where were the political investments of executives and board members. These are the kinds of risk issues that marketers and communications executives need to be constantly mindful of.

I'm often asked as a communications counselor; can my CEO talk openly about his political point of view? My answer typically is, first and foremost, "Is this the first time that that's happened?" If all of a sudden because we're in the middle of a tense election cycle the CEO decides to be political, that's not very authentic.

However, if you're a brand with an outspoken CEO like Mark at Salesforce, who has always talked about his stance on, for example, liberal issues. Liberal issues: that's the wrong label. Mark was very emphatic about the way the state of Indiana was dealing with the treatment of gay businesses and he threatened to pull his business out of that state because of it. But that is authentic Mark, right?

That was okay for him to do, but if a CEO that's never taken a stand on an issue like that suddenly decides to tweet about it, that's not authentic at all. The risk to brands for there to be blowback, loss of loyalty, loss of customers is very, very real. That's why being authentic to your own culture requires slow shifts, but not abrupt shifts.

Michael Krigsman: Authenticity then relates to consistency of what you've done in the past.

Bill Wohl: Sure it does because history doesn't go away. If anything, social media and the Internet mean that all of your successes—but, more importantly, all of your failures—are always easy to find.

On the crisis communications side, we often talk about the fact that you can't build relationships with the press in the midst of a crisis. You have to build credibility with reporters and industry analysts (like yourself, Michael) over time. You don't earn that overnight and you certainly don't earn that when the house is burning.

The same thing is true about culture. What the outside world perceives of your company—its culture, its reputation—is built over 20 years. Let me give you the perfect example and one which will resonate with you, Michael.

You remember when I worked in a senior leadership role in communications at SAP, when we faced the Oracle challenge, the SAP versus Oracle lawsuit, a multibillion-dollar claim by Oracle about theft of intellectual property, which turned out to be true. SAP succeeded through that period, not because it had a great courtroom strategy but because it had earned the trust of its customers, industry analysts, and reporters over 25 years of managing the business ethically.

Most people said (right out of the gate), "SAP is better than this. We're going to give them the benefit of the doubt." Even though they wound up having to admit that a small business called Tomorrow Now stole some Oracle trade secrets, the company (SAP) continued to generate its quarterly revenues and, at the conclusion of the Oracle matter, SAP's stock price was the highest in its history.

Why? Because it had actually rested the challenges of this crisis on the shoulders of a long-earned reputation and culture for being an ethically run business. That's how I would respond to that question.

Michael Krigsman: Let's shift gears again because we have a question again from Arsalan Khan – thanks for asking your great questions – who talks about the marketing technology stack and how that may be creating Shadow IT. Does the CIO know about that and is it really a problem from a marketing standpoint?

Bill Wohl: I always expect, Michael, when I come on your program that there's an awful lot of IT people listening, so this question is not at all a surprise and I think it's a good one.

Marketing organizations need to build tech stacks and they need to do so in ways that uniquely benefit the requirements of marketing. They shouldn't be operated separate from IT. The savvy CMO and the savvy CIO can figure this out.

Marketers are in the best position to decide what those systems should be and how they should be deployed. But that doesn't mean that they should willy-nilly stand-up applications and programs that don't meet the requirements of the enterprise – for security, for adaptability, for backup.

If the CIO has the ultimate responsibility to protect data and the MarTech stack is not in that stream for backup and recovery, then the risk is on the CMO's head. Why take that risk? There should be a strong partnership between the CMO and the CIO.

My view is the CIO should not get in the way of that innovation at all. The experts on marketing are the CMOs. At the same time, I don't think the CMO is the CIO and should never let the expertise of the CIO be ignored in building a tech stack.

The worst situations are when the two of them get called into the CEO's office and say, "Why can't you two people play well nicely together?" The risk, of course, is that a CMO organization deploys an app to customers that creates a huge risk and exposure to the IT structure.

The smart ones will figure this out. Those that don't will either suffer an outside attack that will take down the enterprise for a week and cost people their jobs, or they're going to get called to the CEO's office. That's something you want to definitely avoid. Good question.

Michael Krigsman: Bill, as we finish up, where do you think the key issues for marketers are going to be during the remainder of this year, as we go through this transition?

Bill Wohl: I'm going to go back to some of the earlier points, Michael, as a way to summarize.

First and foremost, customer experience is the new brand loyalty. I love that expression. But what that points to is the requirement of CMOs to, first and foremost, going into 2021 to be listening.

I know too many CMOs that just don't talk to enough customers directly. They rely on systems and surveys. But the best possible way to measure what customers want and how they want to engage with your business is to talk to them directly about it.

You've got field marketers. They should be talking to customers every day and that feedback should come in. But CMOs should not sit in the big office and not have those conversations regularly with customers. Because buying behavior and the way people want to engage with a brand will continually evolve as the world opens back up in 2021, listening is going to be really, really important.

Secondly, CMOs cannot forget their teams are exhausted. That is a common theme that I hear everywhere. Marketing people have really busted it the last 12 months and they need a chance to be A) recognized and B) to get a break, particularly with reduced staffing.

This has been a crazy 12 months and it's not over yet. The risk of staff burnout and mistakes or, worse yet, turnover is real and CMOs can't lose sight of that.

In the end, marketing is ultimately about communicating, persuading, and influencing. But all too often, we forget the other side of the discipline, which is being responsive to the market and buying behavior. I think adaptability will be the watchword in 2021 for CMOs.

Michael Krigsman: The terms I hear are flexibility and resilience. It all does come down to adaptability. By the way, when I talk with CIOs, the same thing.

Bill Wohl: The same thing, and that business has to be adaptable and change as the watchword in 2020. I don't think that'll be any different in 2021.

What differentiates the two years is 2020 was the unexpected and the down disaster challenges. I think 2021 is all about renewed optimism and a return to better business.

The CMOs that are on top of those changes, as they are occurring across varied geographies where the pace and the approach will be different by customer segment, will be the ones that will win by the end of the year. Those that are really not in touch with that pace of change and are willing to adapt to it and help their organizations—not just the marketing organization, but the whole enterprise adapt to it—will be the ones that'll find themselves with lower or slower growth rates over the next 12 months.

Michael Krigsman: All right. With that, Bill Wohl, thank you so much for taking your time to be with us today.

Bill Wohl: Great to be on the program, Michael. Thanks to your audience for the great questions.

Michael Krigsman: Everybody, thank you for watching. Before you go, please subject to our YouTube channel and hit the subscribe button at the top of our website. We have just incredible shows coming up. Check out CXOTalk.com and we'll see you again soon. Have a great day, everyone.

2021 marketing strategy: key trends and challenges

Michael Krigsman: How should marketers think about strategy for 2021?

Bill Wohl: Today's conversation comes at a time when there is a renewed sense of hope that things are going to improve. What has marked the last 12 to 14 months has been this period of unexpected and change. That's required CMOs and communicators to rapidly adapt to an evolving situation really without a playbook.

That, I think, is something that will continue in 2021, because, in your introduction, you talked about the new norm, the post-pandemic norm, the return to norms. Nobody is really quite sure.

I think we can make some good guesses, but no one is really quite sure what the new norm will be. I think the watchword in this period is "continued adaptability."

Michael Krigsman: Adaptability, can you put some color on that?

Bill Wohl: I think that CMOs, in large part, have always had to adjust on the fly. But there's no question that the CMO is really now about revenue, about retention, about acquisition, about managing a tech stack, about analyzing and reacting to data. It's about customer experience, digital e-commerce, CSR, and more and more and more.

All of these things have been pushed to the forefront during this pandemic period where companies have said, "Oh, my goodness. How are we going to operate now?" They've turned to their CMOs and say, "Figure it out."

That's actually good news. It's pushed marketing to the forefront. It's driving the strategic value of marketing in the organization.

I think the challenge on all of us in the profession is to keep marketing there. That's where the work is.

Michael Krigsman: When it comes time to think about marketing strategy and making a shift from marketing to people at home who have been locked down, what do we need to think about as we move to a more open economy?

Bill Wohl: There's no question that buying behaviors continue to change. We certainly saw (in 2020) that digital-first push right to the front. We were forced, as businesses, to be digital-first because of the lockdown.

There is a tendency to believe that business will be digital-first forever, or at least whatever forever is – the next few years.

I think there's a risk, however, that as things open up and people want to return to what they remember to be near normal, that while digital will be the first strategy, it won't be the only one. Just as we (quickly and almost off the cliff fashion) had to go digital-first, as we climb back out of that hole, we've got to remember some of the great marketing disciplines that had to be put on the shelf in the past and be ready to adapt back to those at a pace that makes sense for each individual audience.

I'll build on that, Michael, and say, look; one of the skills that is most required for CMOs, and is often forgotten, is to listen. CMOs need to be spending a lot of time now carefully listening, through data techniques, and actually by talking to customers directly, how do they want to engage with brands?

We'll see some changes to that, I think, in 2021. CMOs who are listening carefully will have the right data to react to that.

What is the role of empathy in marketing?

Michael Krigsman: Bill, I saw an interview with the CEO of Citibank recently. She spoke about empathy as being one of their priorities as they're thinking about customer experience, as they're thinking about their new products and services. How does this relate to this notion of listening, as you were describing?

Bill Wohl: In this country, but certainly on a global scale. In this country, half a million people are dead. People lost jobs. Businesses closed. This is a moment when brands need to be empathetic, to be real, to avoid being tone-deaf to what's going on.

For example, you can think about B2C brands who want to suddenly bring back their advertising, which might show concerts, sporting events, or large gatherings. But it'd be really tone-deaf at a time when these activities are still significantly limited and the government is continuing to advise people to be socially distant.

It's just too easy for brands to suddenly forget that they've got to be aware of the environment around them. That means that CMOs, as the owners of brand, have to help their businesses continue to be patient and deliver messages to market that are in tune with their customers and the overall environment.

Michael Krigsman: We have a question from Ayanar from LinkedIn. He's asking about how the intersection of skills, talent, and skillsets regarding marketing and branding within the context of what you were just talking about in this change and the need for empathy and so forth.

Bill Wohl: I'll give you a perfect example. There is no question that, during the last 12 months, the intersection of marketing programs with social media has really been emphasized. The opportunities that are available in social and the ability to use social to get a pulse on what's happening in the market and translate into demand, into pipeline, and into marketing programs is very much there.

Where we've seen the struggle is brands being willing to invest in the unique skillset and talents required for people who can really take social insights and turn them into campaigns. That's a people investment. It's also a program investment. You want agencies that are capable of doing that.

They want systems within them—marketing, tech stack—that allow you to listen and react to social trends. But in the end, market is a people business and having those skillsets, particularly in social media, is where investments should have been made the last few months but, certainly, if investment wasn't possible during the shutdown and the economic challenges, the first investments in marketing really need to be in that area.

When I talked to CMOs in advance of today's program, just to get a pulse of what they were thinking about, social was at the top of everybody's list. That's a place for skills investment.

Michael Krigsman: Is there too much emphasis on tools, do you think, and less emphasis on these kind of softer skills such as empathy and listening, which, frankly, by their nature, are quite vague?

Bill Wohl: I think the challenge, Michael, is an interesting tug of war between the requirement of CMOs to communicate with the C-suite in terms of true metrics. Most big companies are decision data-driven. To get that data, you've got to have the systems and the ability to report it – given the opportunity.

Those are dollars that are obviously pulled away from external marketing activities and campaigns. If you've got $10 and you put $5 into measurement and data, then that's $5 that you're not reaching out to prospect customers. That tug of war has been going on since the discipline of marketing in business got started.

It's ever more important today because boards and C-suites are demanding data-driven decision-making. Given the choice, my personal preference is always to spend a dollar on talking to the market. That's how you generate business and demand. That's always going to be the tug of war. An effective CMO has got to find a way to strike the right balance there.

"Customer experience is the new brand loyalty"

Michael Krigsman: On this topic, we have a comment from Arsalan Khan on Twitter who makes the point that if an organization is forced to go digital during this pandemic and following the pandemic, it speaks volumes about their culture. To what extent is this also an issue of the culture inside the company and the culture inside marketing? Obviously, the tone of that is going to be set by the CMO.

Bill Wohl: This is both an inside the company and outside the company issue. From an outside-the-company perspective, customer buying behavior, how customers want to engage should be driving marketing decisions. There are certainly legacy businesses (I've worked for some) who struggle to get to a more digital-facing approach, even while the customers were asking for it. That was a challenge. The pandemic has pushed this issue to the forefront.

What I mean by the internal challenge is that it's hard to change behaviors inside the business. Organizations and investments are often a political football game inside. Teams that have traditionally been built around a person to person (not so digital strategy) want to protect that turf.

This is true, for example, with sales teams who have always built their staffing models around those direct human interactions and they see a move to digital as a threat. The reality is that how customers want to engage should be driving behavior here.

In speaking to a CMO just the other day, Michael, she said to me, "Customer experience is the new brand loyalty," which I thought was a brilliant statement. What it says is that, in the past, brand loyalty came from lots of factors but, increasingly, the way a customer is able to engage in a brand may drive loyalty.

I know this from my own experience in the last 12 months, buying so much stuff online. When you work with a company that makes returns and exchanges seamless and easy—when those exchanges, as soon as you push the button on the exchange, a label is created and your account is credited, or the moment that Federal Express picks up the return, the system indicates to you that your return has been processed and your money is coming back—those are the kinds of brands we want to work with. We know that from our own behaviors. Why is it so hard (sometimes) for brands to see that kind of consumer signal as a way to react from a marketing perspective?

Michael Krigsman: I guess that begs the question, why is it so hard for some brands to see that and then act upon it?

Bill Wohl: We've always know that some brands are fast movers. They're willing to take the risks and make the investments to change into the buying behavior trends that are always apparent to us in the market.

Some brands are in a wait-and-see mode. They want to let others make the experiments and make the mistakes.

Then there are always the laggards who either don't have the leadership and decision-making muscle, or they don't have the resources to make the change.

All three categories of business then tend to look at the markets, but what do you know, Michael, from your own experience as an analyst? Fast-moving brands have bigger market share. Brands that are willing to take risks and make mistakes are the ones that tend to be moving on a faster pace.

This points back to social media because one of the things that social media gives CMOs the ability to do is to test messages, test campaigns, get immediate feedback from the marketplace. That was always tougher to do before social, and that's why having those skills in-house are so important.

Michael Krigsman: Bill, there is an intersection then between the people (cultural dimension), the ability to move quickly, take risks, and also having the skills in-house to have the appropriate tools in place and know how to use those tools. There is a bunch of different dimensions that have to intersect in order to accomplish this agility goal that you were just describing.

Bill Wohl: Yeah, but there is something that's not so sexy in that, Michael, and it's a point that I think is worth making, which is, CMOs have a lot of things that they need to do, but they can never forget one of their first priorities. They are people managers. They run a team.

Marketing team members are exhausted. They are exhausted over the last 14 months. They have been working 24 hours a day to rapidly make the shift to digital-first. They've been throwing up all kinds of online events – some successful, some disastrous. They have scrambled to replace a wealth of tools that were always useful to them that weren't effective and try to keep the pace of business going.

I think really good CMOs are now taking time, as we're suddenly able to take a breath, and give their people a break. Make sure they're properly rewarded and thanked because I think marketing people have really borne the brunt of a lot of the effort to reshape business in the last 12 months. The CMOs that forget that will lose their most valuable people to other opportunities. That's why it's so important.

How does consumer behavior affect marketing strategy?

Michael Krigsman: Bill, if we then overlay where we are with the pandemic and the changes that marketing has gone through, driven by the changes in consumer behavior and consumer interests, where does that leave us?

Bill Wohl: We're still in a period of uncertainty. This program being recorded in early March, we'd all like to think that change has arrived. People are getting vaccinated. Business leaders are saying in surveys that they are now very confident about a return to normal, but the decisions about will people go back to the office, will buying behavior shift from heavily e-commerce back into more traditional methods like will retail businesses begin to reopen, for those people that have that channel, those questions still remain a big question mark.

Some of that is geographically driven. Some states, some portions of the market (even globally) are going to be very slow to recover because the pace of vaccinations is going to be slow. Countries that have been exceptionally hard hit like the UK and Italy will take some time, and they're on a different schedule than, say, the United States is. Marketers who operate at global scale are going to have to adapt to the fact that the pace of business change, meaning the pace of their marketing initiatives, may be different in 12 different locations around the world.

That's going to require this constant ability to adapt. The only way to actually do that is to be really good at listening to the signals that are coming from customers. Whether they're consumer or B2B, that's going to be a very important component of CMO activity in 2021.

Michael Krigsman: We have another question from Twitter. Chris Peterson likes the idea of testing social media messages, but he's asking, "How do you hedge against a message that really backfires?"

Bill Wohl: We all have to have judgment about taking it too far. Part of that judgment comes from having your brand be realistic to the company's culture. If you feel it in your gut that you might be going just a little bit too far, you probably are.

It's like that moment when you get ready to send the angry email. You've got to pause for a second and reflect: Is this authentic to the brand? Does it feel like it makes sense? Is it authentic to the current circumstances?

There is nothing wrong with making mistakes in marketing. You just don't want to stumble badly. Social gives you the ability to have a little license to do that, but you've got to make sure that you're not being tone-deaf to the market, too.

That's where the CMO earns his or her paycheck in understanding what filters do I need to put on it. As I said earlier, I think businesses who are willing to take just a little bit of risk are the ones that will often be a step ahead of their peer competitors.

Michael Krigsman: You're talking about taking risk within the framework of controlled culture where people are on the same page, and you don't have folks that are tone-deaf out there hitting social media.

Bill Wohl: Well, that's true, but remember where the CMO sits. The CMO sits as a trusted advisor to the C-suite about brand.

The CMOs that make a brand mistake are winding up polishing their resumes. They've got to help the organization understand the right conduct.

Individuals will make conduct mistakes all the time on social media. If they're within the company, they'll get their hands slapped or get fired.

Brands have no excuse to make a public mistake. That's the difference between an effective CMO, CCO, or CEO. We've all seen incidents where companies have just gone too far, are embarrassed, and it costs CMOs and even CEOs their jobs.

That doesn't have to be that way. I think, in a period of experimentation, certainly on social media, really being authentic to the brand—not making a sudden, aggressive move, for example, when the company isn't known for aggressiveness—is simply a matter of proper filtering.

That should come from experience, and that's why CMOs earn the big paychecks. They've got to be the ultimate determinant of when the brand is appropriate and when it goes too far.

Michael Krigsman: You raise a very, very interesting point that the CMO needs to teach the organization about the right conduct for their brand. That seems very difficult during a period of time that is genuinely unprecedented and where the expectations of brands from consumers have just changed and continue to evolve.

Bill Wohl: Well, that's true. I tend to think of the CMO as the ultimate champion of brand. For me, brand is what a business says to the market about itself.

I think the chief communication officer is the ultimate champion of reputation. Reputation is a little different. It's what the market says about you.

Often, communication sits inside marketing, so the CMO has to play that dual role. I can effectively argue, I think, that the CEO (at the end of the day) is the ultimate owner of reputation. However, those organizations are settled in, everyone needs to play their role to keep those two things in mind.

The market is the ultimate source of reputation. It's going to react to you in a way that you can't totally control. Lots of forces will drive that, including your competitors and outside stakeholder audiences, even analysts.

All you can do with brand is to try to influence how the market thinks about you with effective programs, which is why finding a balance between taking a little bit of risk and staying authentic to brand is where the CMO makes his or her living.

Cross-functional alignment between marketing, sales, and finance

Michael Krigsman: Bill, you mentioned earlier, you alluded earlier to the CMO needing to be engaged with sales to influence sales. That implies a cross-functional type of behavior and organization, which not all companies are ready for. Tell us about that.

Bill Wohl: One of the CMOs I've worked for (that I respect a lot) said to me the other day, "Growth is a team sport." That means that the subject of growth really requires sales, marketing, services, and executives to all be working together. I think the pandemic has accelerated a sort of blurring of the lines between all of those organizations.

Aggressive sales leaders are being demanding-demanding. I could use demanding twice in that sentence. They are being aggressive about demand targets and feel like they should set them for marketing, whereas CMOs believe they have a responsibility to be appropriate about demand levels. Services organizations are suddenly carrying revenue targets.

I think the CMO has to really be a person to promote internal alignment around those targets. If those folks are not working well together, then the tension will slow down the pace of growth. I've seen that at companies I've worked at where there seems to be a competition between marketing and sales. In the end, that sales leader lost out and wound up leaving the organization.

The pandemic has accelerated this requirement of growth to be the ultimate determinant of success and the CMO has got a role to play to be the coach of that team not only to make sure his own interests are represented but to understand how it all works together to make it happen.

There are CMOs listening that I'm sure have gone through that painful exercise of watching leads sent over to sales and have the sales organization ignore those leads at the very moment that sales is demanding more demand. That tension is real and I think my friend was right. Growth is a team sport and that means the team has to work well together.

Michael Krigsman: Bill, this is not a new issue, this alignment or lack of alignment, cooperation, or even in-fighting between marketing and sales. How has the pandemic accentuated this set of issues?

Bill Wohl: I don't know if panic is the right word. It might be a bit of a strong term, but if we roll the clock back to March of 2020 (maybe even April) when suddenly the economy went from full speed and very healthy to shut down, brands had to quickly react. There was a lot of finger-pointing about how the heck are we going to solve this problem.

I think the marketing organization found itself in the crosshairs and, I believe, in a good way. It allowed marketers to step forward and say, "We'll figure this out. Stand by," and very quickly make the pivot to digital-first. But it also opened up and exposed those natural lines of tension.

As I said earlier – and I have no bias against sales. Thank goodness for sales. They pay the bills, right? – but some of the traditional programs that salespeople relied on—like events (both local and national, and international) as a source of leads and customer contact—disappeared.

Suddenly, the sales organization was saying, "Hey, marketing. We need you to recreate the experience we had at events without doing events." Everyone went to online events. I think we could all agree, a lot of them were a total disaster.

At the same time, because business was depressed, CFOs were yanking back budgets and marketing didn't have the necessary investment dollars to create experiences that salespeople were screaming for. Those fault lines have been exposed and, in some organizations, they're sort of open wounds.

As we go into this period now of returning to whatever the new normal is, that team sport, the team has to be brought back together and everyone has to now find the area where they can now operate with each other with the organizational responsibilities may be shifted a little bit, given what we've just been through.

Michael Krigsman: You mentioned the shift from in-person events to online events, to virtual events. What about the impact on CMO marketing budgets?

Bill Wohl: This is the topic where I always get myself in trouble with CFOs. CFOs have had a bit of a challenge themselves trying to manage the balance sheet in a down year. One of the techniques that they've used (almost universally) is to claw back a lot of marketing dollars. That's happened for all kinds of reasons.

Events is the perfect topic to talk about. Because big events couldn't be done, those $500,000 sponsorships and expensive booths, that went away. The cost to production companies and exhibition contracts disappeared. All that money went to the bottom line.

If I know anything about CFOs, I can tell you they're really easy to take your dollars. They are exceptionally hard to get them back. CMOs are going to spend the next 24 months trying to claw back their level of spend as business returns.

Michael, the challenge is that most CFOs are going to look them straight in the face and say, "Hey, we managed to do pretty good with your budget at that level. Why does it suddenly need to go back up? If you were effective at doing it with a cut budget, why do you suddenly need a budget increase?"

I think CMOs implicitly understand that investment has to return but clawing back those dollars from CFOs is going to be, I think, a major CMO challenge for the next 18 months.

Michael Krigsman: Talk more about this notion of CFOs clawing back – such an image.

Bill Wohl: We talked about events. Let me give you a second topic, and it relates to CMOs but also to others in the organization – business travel.

Business travel went to zero. For large organizations, business travel could be a $50 million, $60 million line. CFOs love the fact that they didn't have to spend that money on travel.

Now, there's no question that business travel still is not happening. But as we move deeper into 2021, the pressure to support business travel for companies is going to increase. The first time salespeople start convincing their bosses that visiting a customer to land a multi-million dollar deal will open up business travel.

What will follow the beginnings of business travel will be the demand to get customers together. We all know how effective events can be – even small events.

The travel budgets and the production budgets, they don't exist today. Getting those moneys back from CFOs who said, "Well, hold on a second. We did pretty good closing business using Zoom," just like you and I are talking today, right? "Why can't we continue to do that?"

In the end, humans want human contact – more than Zoom. We're all Zoom fatigued at this point. I think marketing always needs to be an H2H business – human-to-human. The pandemic has put an exclamation point on that.

The cost to create human contact in marketing programs is a cost that today the CFO has clawed back, and so had taken from us. Getting those dollars back, prying them out of the hands of a CFO is going to be pretty hard to do.

Authenticity, branding, and marketing

Michael Krigsman: Constance Woodson wants to know, "Can organizational development consultant play a role in that cross-silo, cross-functional border that we were talking about earlier?"

Bill Wohl: Perhaps. As I look back on the big brands that I've worked for, I've seen organizational consultants be really helpful in providing an "I don't have any skin in the game" perspective on the debates about who owns what section of the sandbox. I've also seen brands where organizational consultants came in and just wrecked it, and so I think that you need some caution about how a consultant is used.

I think consultants are a bit like lawyers and they're a bit like chief communication officers. They have opinions. You don't have to take them.

I think a CMO is not the person making the decision on the organizational distinctions. We're having a conversation about CMOs.

Ultimately, how an organization is shaped and who owns what portion of the corporate sandbox is a CEO decision with the CHRO. Where the CMO has to be focused is to make sure that they are able to protect and own the areas that will allow them to succeed. Some of that, Michael, will come from getting agreement on what are the targets for success.

In my CXOTalk preparation, one CMO I talked to made a point about the fact that really what's important is to create agreement on growth measures, real financial metrics to determine success. Once you understand what are the things that will tell us if we're successful, is that new customer growth? Is it retention? Is it customer satisfaction?

If everyone can agree on those financial metrics, the arguments about what does success looks like will fall to the background and who owns what piece of the pie should become a little bit clearer. Very few companies can agree on those. I think now the CMO, given what's happened in the last 12 months, is in a position to really be able to help define what does success for the business look like.

Michael Krigsman: I really try to prioritize the questions that come in from the audience. We get such great questions. Thank you to everybody who participates.

Chris Peterson wants to know, "What lessons should a CMO take away from events like the SolarWinds hack?"

Bill Wohl: Now you're sort of moving into an area that, to a certain extent, I live in as a chief communication officer, which is crisis management. The SolarWinds hack had an impact on lots of organizations in lots of enterprises, certainly the IT organization.

As CMOs have increasingly owned a significant component of IT in the MarTech stack and as CCOs have owned the com stack, they've suddenly understood that they are exposed to these kinds of issues. No question that what we've all learned from SolarWinds is how much effort needs to be put in in protecting our asset base.

If marketers and communicators are going to own technology stacks—not independent of IT, but certainly as drivers—they've got to put the necessary time, effort, and skills to make sure that customer mailing lists, marketing automation systems, and so forth are protected from these kinds of attacks, which is normal business now.

I don't know a brand, a company that is not getting attacked literally every day. If a company is great as FireEye can be attacked, and they're in the computer security business, then your marketing automation system for a mid-level brand must be totally exposed. We kind of know that.

Now, the questions you should be asking are: How are we protected? How are we backed up? What would we do if we faced a ransomware attack? Do we have two-factor authentication on every system?

Oh, a lesson I learned at a brand I recently worked for: Do our vendors, our PR agencies, our creative agencies who tap into our systems, do they have the necessary security protocols at the agency level to make sure that an attack on your brand doesn't come from your partners? These are another challenge sitting on the shoulders of CMOs, particularly those that are operating data-centric tech stacks.

Michael Krigsman: Another question from Twitter. This is from Libeth Shaw who goes back to issues of authenticity that we were speaking about earlier, and brand. She said, "Brand and authenticity, the importance has existed long before COVID-19. How has this pandemic and the changes we were discussing influenced and forced our thinking to evolve regarding brand and being authentic?"

Bill Wohl: Well, I think we touched on authenticity a little earlier by saying brands need to be empathetic to the macro environment. There was another component to 2020 that had something to do with the pandemic, but really was a very tense election cycle. The election cycle and the pandemic were intermixed because, for any range of issues that we don't need to talk about on today's program, the response to COVID-19 became politicized.

Brands were also trying to understand how do we communicate, to our stakeholder audiences, our point of view on recovery, on politics, on the polarization of the environment. some brands handled that well and some didn't. We certainly saw companies where CEOs wanted to take a stand on certain issues and found themselves being exposed.

We found other brands that had their employees actively involved in the January 6th protests and then suddenly that gave outside stakeholders the opportunity to examine where were the political investments of executives and board members. These are the kinds of risk issues that marketers and communications executives need to be constantly mindful of.

I'm often asked as a communications counselor; can my CEO talk openly about his political point of view? My answer typically is, first and foremost, "Is this the first time that that's happened?" If all of a sudden because we're in the middle of a tense election cycle the CEO decides to be political, that's not very authentic.

However, if you're a brand with an outspoken CEO like Mark at Salesforce, who has always talked about his stance on, for example, liberal issues. Liberal issues: that's the wrong label. Mark was very emphatic about the way the state of Indiana was dealing with the treatment of gay businesses and he threatened to pull his business out of that state because of it. But that is authentic Mark, right?

That was okay for him to do, but if a CEO that's never taken a stand on an issue like that suddenly decides to tweet about it, that's not authentic at all. The risk to brands for there to be blowback, loss of loyalty, loss of customers is very, very real. That's why being authentic to your own culture requires slow shifts, but not abrupt shifts.

Michael Krigsman: Authenticity then relates to consistency of what you've done in the past.

Bill Wohl: Sure it does because history doesn't go away. If anything, social media and the Internet mean that all of your successes—but, more importantly, all of your failures—are always easy to find.

On the crisis communications side, we often talk about the fact that you can't build relationships with the press in the midst of a crisis. You have to build credibility with reporters and industry analysts (like yourself, Michael) over time. You don't earn that overnight and you certainly don't earn that when the house is burning.

The same thing is true about culture. What the outside world perceives of your company—its culture, its reputation—is built over 20 years. Let me give you the perfect example and one which will resonate with you, Michael.

You remember when I worked in a senior leadership role in communications at SAP, when we faced the Oracle challenge, the SAP versus Oracle lawsuit, a multibillion-dollar claim by Oracle about theft of intellectual property, which turned out to be true. SAP succeeded through that period, not because it had a great courtroom strategy but because it had earned the trust of its customers, industry analysts, and reporters over 25 years of managing the business ethically.

Most people said (right out of the gate), "SAP is better than this. We're going to give them the benefit of the doubt." Even though they wound up having to admit that a small business called Tomorrow Now stole some Oracle trade secrets, the company (SAP) continued to generate its quarterly revenues and, at the conclusion of the Oracle matter, SAP's stock price was the highest in its history.

Why? Because it had actually rested the challenges of this crisis on the shoulders of a long-earned reputation and culture for being an ethically run business. That's how I would respond to that question.

Michael Krigsman: Let's shift gears again because we have a question again from Arsalan Khan – thanks for asking your great questions – who talks about the marketing technology stack and how that may be creating Shadow IT. Does the CIO know about that and is it really a problem from a marketing standpoint?

Bill Wohl: I always expect, Michael, when I come on your program that there's an awful lot of IT people listening, so this question is not at all a surprise and I think it's a good one.

Marketing organizations need to build tech stacks and they need to do so in ways that uniquely benefit the requirements of marketing. They shouldn't be operated separate from IT. The savvy CMO and the savvy CIO can figure this out.

Marketers are in the best position to decide what those systems should be and how they should be deployed. But that doesn't mean that they should willy-nilly stand-up applications and programs that don't meet the requirements of the enterprise – for security, for adaptability, for backup.

If the CIO has the ultimate responsibility to protect data and the MarTech stack is not in that stream for backup and recovery, then the risk is on the CMO's head. Why take that risk? There should be a strong partnership between the CMO and the CIO.

My view is the CIO should not get in the way of that innovation at all. The experts on marketing are the CMOs. At the same time, I don't think the CMO is the CIO and should never let the expertise of the CIO be ignored in building a tech stack.

The worst situations are when the two of them get called into the CEO's office and say, "Why can't you two people play well nicely together?" The risk, of course, is that a CMO organization deploys an app to customers that creates a huge risk and exposure to the IT structure.

The smart ones will figure this out. Those that don't will either suffer an outside attack that will take down the enterprise for a week and cost people their jobs, or they're going to get called to the CEO's office. That's something you want to definitely avoid. Good question.

Michael Krigsman: Bill, as we finish up, where do you think the key issues for marketers are going to be during the remainder of this year, as we go through this transition?

Bill Wohl: I'm going to go back to some of the earlier points, Michael, as a way to summarize.

First and foremost, customer experience is the new brand loyalty. I love that expression. But what that points to is the requirement of CMOs to, first and foremost, going into 2021 to be listening.

I know too many CMOs that just don't talk to enough customers directly. They rely on systems and surveys. But the best possible way to measure what customers want and how they want to engage with your business is to talk to them directly about it.

You've got field marketers. They should be talking to customers every day and that feedback should come in. But CMOs should not sit in the big office and not have those conversations regularly with customers. Because buying behavior and the way people want to engage with a brand will continually evolve as the world opens back up in 2021, listening is going to be really, really important.

Secondly, CMOs cannot forget their teams are exhausted. That is a common theme that I hear everywhere. Marketing people have really busted it the last 12 months and they need a chance to be A) recognized and B) to get a break, particularly with reduced staffing.

This has been a crazy 12 months and it's not over yet. The risk of staff burnout and mistakes or, worse yet, turnover is real and CMOs can't lose sight of that.

In the end, marketing is ultimately about communicating, persuading, and influencing. But all too often, we forget the other side of the discipline, which is being responsive to the market and buying behavior. I think adaptability will be the watchword in 2021 for CMOs.

Michael Krigsman: The terms I hear are flexibility and resilience. It all does come down to adaptability. By the way, when I talk with CIOs, the same thing.

Bill Wohl: The same thing, and that business has to be adaptable and change as the watchword in 2020. I don't think that'll be any different in 2021.

What differentiates the two years is 2020 was the unexpected and the down disaster challenges. I think 2021 is all about renewed optimism and a return to better business.

The CMOs that are on top of those changes, as they are occurring across varied geographies where the pace and the approach will be different by customer segment, will be the ones that will win by the end of the year. Those that are really not in touch with that pace of change and are willing to adapt to it and help their organizations—not just the marketing organization, but the whole enterprise adapt to it—will be the ones that'll find themselves with lower or slower growth rates over the next 12 months.

Michael Krigsman: All right. With that, Bill Wohl, thank you so much for taking your time to be with us today.

Bill Wohl: Great to be on the program, Michael. Thanks to your audience for the great questions.

Michael Krigsman: Everybody, thank you for watching. Before you go, please subject to our YouTube channel and hit the subscribe button at the top of our website. We have just incredible shows coming up. Check out CXOTalk.com and we'll see you again soon. Have a great day, everyone.