Digital Transformation in Marketing: Personalization and Customer Insight

How is marketing changing? Robert Tas, vice president of McKinsey & Company, tells CXOTalk about digital transformation in the marketing operating system. How and why is it changing? What should a company do? Tas shares practical advice for personalization, insights, design, tech and speed.


Sep 29, 2017

How is marketing changing? Robert Tas, vice president of McKinsey & Company, tells CXOTalk about digital transformation in the marketing operating system. How and why is it changing? What should a company do? Tas shares practical advice for personalization, insights, design, tech and speed.

In his current advisory work, Tas helps financial-services companies reinvent marketing for a digital world. He has designed agile marketing organizations that can operate at a faster pace, using best-in-class marketing technology, including next-generation measurement systems. The goal is to digitally enable the entire customer decision journey. He previously served as CMO at a leading software company, and as head of digital marketing at a top-ten U.S. bank.


Michael Krigsman: Digital marketing: everybody is talking about digital marketing. Everybody is trying to do digital marketing. Today we are speaking about the state of the art in digital marketing, how to do at scale, and how to do it right. I'm Michael Krigsman, an industry analyst and the host of CxOTalk. You are watching Episode #256.

I would like to say thank you to Livestream for being a great video streaming partner for us. If you go to, they will give you a discount on their plans.

Right now there is a tweet chat going on. Go to Twitter using the hashtag #CxOTalk and join us.

Our guest today is a very interesting man. He's been a guest on CxOTalk in the past. He is Robert Tas, who leads the digital marketing practice at McKinsey. Hey, Robert. How are you? Thanks for being here.

Robert Tas: Hey, Michael. Great to see you. I'm doing well. Thank you. Thanks for having me. Congratulations on the great success that you guys are doing.

Michael Krigsman: Hey, thank you so much, Robert. Well, you know it's the guests that make this show. Robert, you lead the digital marketing practice at McKinsey. What does that mean and what do you do?

Robert Tas: Great. I'm one of the leaders of our digital marketing practice, and my work is really at the intersection of marketing, technology, and analytics. It's really putting those three things together to help companies drive growth through their marketing programs. I have a bunch of colleagues across our practice that do all kinds of things. We actually have a really extensive set of practitioners at McKinsey. Our Digital McKinsey, in fact, has been growing at exponential rates and includes people that do design work, analytics, development, all kinds of digital work to help companies really get the most out of their digital programs.

Michael Krigsman: Well, I'm very excited to talk with you. You work with a lot of different clients from very large organizations who are doing sophisticated things with digital marketing and with data and analytics. Maybe a good place to begin is, when you're out there roaming the world providing advisory service and working with your clients, what are some of the key digital marketing trends or issues? What's really important to your clients?

Robert Tas: Good question. I think there's a lot of buzz out there, and a lot of people are trying to figure out a number of things. I like to think of them in some categories.

  • The first one that I look at and I hear a lot of people talking about is personalization. I think the idea of not treating every customer the same is really, really important in today's world. A lot of companies are trying to figure out how to do that better.
  • The second one is data. You talked about it a little bit in the beginning in your intro. Data, data, data: everyone is trying to figure out how to harness the volume of information we now have and actually put it into action.
  • The third is design. I think this is one of the newer areas that's getting a lot of traction. Really understanding how to do user centric design and how do I make my experiences relevant to my customer base.
  • The fourth that I like to talk about is marketing technology, one of the biggest buzzwords going there, but really understanding the components of the martech stack, and CMOs are now becoming integrators.
  • Then the fifth one, which is probably the most evolving one, is this new concept of the operating model, the speed at which we work. The reality of digital marketing today is the tools we have. We can do things a lot faster than we've ever done before.

I think CMOs are trying to figure out all five of those things to really transform their marketing organizations.

Michael Krigsman: That's really interesting. I think you began with personalization. I think everybody knows, at a basic level, what personalization is. But when you think about it, what is your frame of reference, what's really important, and how do we do it well?

Robert Tas: I appreciate the question because I think people think they know what it is. I'm going to start by saying what I don't think it is. The first thing [is] that people, when they talk about personalization, often confuse it with targeting. Absolutely every client that I talk to and every person in the industry, we all want to do better targeting. I think personalization has a piece of that, but I think of personalization as really helping manage a customer through their journey. That could include advertising. That could include experiences, both physical and digital. But it's really that end-to-end view of helping the client, the customer get through that journey in a thoughtful way.

One of my favorite examples is when people tease me about [how] I'm a big coffee guy, so I drink a lot of Starbucks. Everybody knows I use my mobile app to go get it every day. Everybody thinks that that's where my personalization example stops.

The reality is, I do love the Starbucks app. But what I think the most impressive piece of personalization that Starbucks does is they put my name on the cup. What an amazing experience that is. Being able to tie my journey all the way through with that little name on it, it just makes that whole experience work.

I think companies need to figure out how to do build their own version of that for their customer. How do you delight them across that journey? That's where real personalization is.

Michael Krigsman: That's really interesting because, you're right, when we talk about personalization, it's much easier to say, "Oh, well, we have emails from this person and that person. We know that person is on Facebook, and we're going to send them an ad." For almost everybody I talk with, that's personalization. That's extent of it.

Robert Tas: Yeah, it's interesting, and I've seen a lot of work on this where we have to stop thinking about that last conversion, that ad unit. We have to start thinking of the customer journey a lot more thoughtfully. We have to understand how to help the customer navigate.

I feel like we're under clubbing in our nurture programs, in our upper funnel programs. We have sort of brand building at the high end, so we do a lot of that. Then we go right to an offer. The in between is something where I think there's huge opportunity for brands to really take advantage of modern technology and take advantage of these ecosystems out there that are providing amazing opportunities to help connect those dots.

Michael Krigsman: How do you do that? This means you actually have to understand the customer. Targeting is easy, right? You get their email, and you send them an offer. This is much more tricky.

Robert Tas: I don't know that I would say targeting is as easy as it sounds. I think your question is a good one because I think it actually lays the foundation [that] understanding measurement is a really important battleground area. My second point on my list was that insights piece, and I think this has a lot of connotation.

Number one, we have to move away from this last click model. Today I see so many companies still in that silo of making decisions in one of their channels. They judge a campaign by a click, and that's how they deem success or not and are spending lots of money to do that. We have to move away and understand how the customer buys.

 I came, as you know, from financial services where people are not buying a mortgage on the last click, yet Google search does extremely well for mortgage buyers because that's where we start our journey. Being able to, as you said, understand our customer across the journey, mapping those out, and understanding how they work and expanding our measurement systems is really paramount to doing personalization and doing great modern marketing.

Michael Krigsman: When you talk about that, that leads into the insight piece, which you mentioned as the next in your five steps or five components.

Robert Tas: Yeah. I think there's got to be a real culture change in the way we seek and use data. I think we've been in this culture of reporting, and we've got to be in this business of insights. I want to see my clients really step up their game in terms of building out their data strategies, building out the number of data sources they're using, building out how they're connecting all those data sources, and really testing and learning their way in.

There are no silver bullets.  It's not one tool that you can buy. There's a combination of things that you have to do to really understand what works for your customers and your specific segment of customers, and really being able to drive that test and learn culture through your organization.

Michael Krigsman: Can you give us an example of this, of how data, when used in the right way, can help drive a better understanding and insight of the customer?

Robert Tas: Sure. Of course. I think the one that comes to mind is a simplistic one, but one of my customers had run a program where the search team was about to cancel a set of keywords that they were judging based on its cost per acquisition value. Somebody went off and did a little bit of analysis to understand customers that were buying through other journeys, and suddenly realized that people started with that search term, but fell off if they didn't get enough product information.

What was deduced out of that was that by connecting the dots of how the customer's journey was and changing some things in that landing page, the keywords were right. They were performing really well. It's the journey that needed to be optimized. I think that's a simplistic example, but one that happens way too often.

I think we must connect the way our customers buy. We must structure our teams that way so that they're incented to connect those dots because the technologies are out there now where it's easier to connect those pieces. I think there's a huge opportunity if we start thinking of that customer centric view and run our marketing programs that way.

Michael Krigsman: How prevalent is it that companies are doing as you're describing, and what are the challenges that companies face when trying to implement this type of cultural shift?

Robert Tas: Yeah. Listen, I think the best in class marketers are leading the way in the use of data in the way they approach their marketing programs. They're leading the way in testing and learning. They're leading the way with agile approaches to their marketing where they're constantly thriving for more information around the customer to be smarter about it.

Like you said, there are challenges. The first one that comes to mind is the data silos that exist in organizations, especially larger organizations. It's hard to connect all those customer touch points.

The second piece is understanding who owns the customer experience and how is that managed and implemented across the board within my organization. Often we have silos that create the upper brand, the upper funnel team, the bottom funnel team, the post customer experience team, and things like that. We've got to figure out how to build our strategies more holistically.

The third bucket is, there's a lot of technology, a lot of legacy systems in these organizations that need to be cobbled together. You really need a diligent strategy to go do that.

Then fourth, like you said, is you've got to start thinking more from that last click conversion campaign thinking to really enabling the customer journey. How do you go about delivering that? How do you remove friction through that process? How do you get more data to enhance it and help the customer get what they want?

Michael Krigsman: Okay. We have now this more sophisticated sense of marketing and of personalization looking at the customer as a whole. We have the data to give us that insight. But you also mentioned design. Where does that now fit into this picture?

Robert Tas: Yeah. It's a really interesting piece because the creative guys have always been on either the ad side or certain pieces of the journey. I think it's really important that we start getting them involved into the entire journey and understanding how to map those pieces together.  It's no longer enough for the marketer to say, "I drove the traffic to the website and I did my job." You've got to be able to design those experiences and have consistent experiences end-to-end.

When I was in banking, for example, we had amazing digital products that really delivered the customer value proposition and honestly made the marketer's job easier. Really having that end-to-end experience allows us to have significant impact, but I think you have to be thoughtful about it. I see so many organizations that invest hundreds of millions of dollars in marketing and driving people to a traffic page that suddenly isn't optimized or has too many fields on it because it was written by somebody else in the organization, or it wasn't optimized in the same look and feel. It's connecting those dots and using user centric design to really understand the entire experience and being able to leverage it.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. I see what you're talking about, about the end-to-end that involves not just the technologists, but the entire team, thinking about that customer, what is the journey, what are the touch points, and so forth.

Robert Tas: Yeah. We all have had horrible service experiences, right? What a difference those make than the advertising side of getting to the product conversion. It's really critical because the amazing part in today's world [is] our customers have lots of choice, right? The digital natives have set the bar around experience and really being transparent and being consistent in how they navigate their customers through this.

I think the more traditional companies have to do a better job of connecting that end-to-end and using opportunities to engage their customers through service channels that are usually viewed as cost centers. We must change our mindset to how we engage our customers and at those most critical touch points.

Michael Krigsman: You also mentioned technology. Where does that fit into this broader picture?

Robert Tas: Well, Michael, technology in the martech world is a big buzz right now. There's a lot of discussion. People immediately start to think about programmatic from an advertising perspective. If you really look at the LUMAscape of 35 or 4,000 or infinite number of technology companies, there are a lot of different slivers of martech in the ecosystem that a CMO now has to think about.

The number one point is, they have to have a strategy. They have to start really thinking about, what are the systems that they're going to make their bets on? What are the systems that are going to yield impact to their business?

Then how do I put them together? Do I do off the shelf? Do I do best of breed? Do I do a one vendor approach? [There are] lots of big decisions that they need to start really making strategically.

It used to be outsourced, candidly. Many of these things were bundled into media purchases. Well, that world is changing really, really fast. CMOs have to own that martech and data stack and really harness the power of that to be successful today.

Michael Krigsman:The team has got to include a variety of different skills. This is not a solo sport.

Robert Tas: Absolutely. As somebody who has been a CMO, the first two people I want to go hire is the head of martech and the head of analytics. Those are my right and left, sitting next to me, because they're the foundation of modern marketing today. They're the ones that are going to feed all my program people, all my strategists. If I get them executing well, that's my secret sauce.

Michael Krigsman: We hear about account-based marketing.

Robert Tas: Mm-hmm.

Michael Krigsman: It sounds like this is a kind of similar philosophy where you're viewing holistically that customer and, therefore, viewing holistically the steps that you need in order to reach that customer and do the right thing.

Robert Tas: Michael, I hear a lot about account-based and CRM. I believe that, in the consumer world, in the B2B world, every impression can be addressable. What I mean by that is that I should be using data to influence every impression, every message that I deliver across all my channels. We now have the analytics and the capabilities to be able to impact every form of communication. We need to start thinking not just about advertising, but about engagement. The way we approach that is through the power of that martech and data activation that I talk about and really being able to scale that across organizations.

Michael Krigsman: For a company that is listening and wants to do this, how do they make that shift to adopting this more sophisticated perspective that you're describing?

Robert Tas: Well, I think there are a couple things. One is, they have to get in the game and learn it. They have to get a seat at that table, understand it, and not rely on somebody else to do it for them. The first thing, as I mentioned, is, I think there are a lot of new, emerging roles in the marketing suite. That martech person is a new role that has to be there to drive data activation at scale, thinking about how they're sourcing data, thinking about who they're sourcing data from, thinking about how it's being integrated, thinking about how it's being activated across different channels.

The martech team is not about digital marketing, this little thing off to the side. Digital is the centerpiece to empower call centers today, to empower retail branches, retail stores. The power of the data is unbelievable across the entire customer experience. The CMOs need to build teams that can harness that and think of this as a strategic weapon to go after.

Michael Krigsman: It requires a strategic direction together with the execution at multiple levels inside the organization.

Robert Tas: Yes. This is where the industry is evolving. If you look at our ad tech category, today it's charged like an advertisement. It's bought that way. That's kind of the history of it because CMOs typically haven't spent technology dollars that way. But that's changing where CMOs need to invest in marketing data platforms that are harnessing the power of all their first party and third party data at a granular ID level and leveraging that so they can test and learn their way into effectively spending their marketing dollars. That includes all marketing dollars, not just the digital dollars, but impacting their television spend, their promotional spends across the entire funnel.

Michael Krigsman: There's a lot of rethinking. I want to remind everybody we're talking with Robert Tas, who is a leader in the McKinsey digital marketing practice. Right now there is a tweet chat going on using the hashtag #CxOTalk, and you can ask Robert questions. It's a rare opportunity to ask someone like Robert directly and get answers.

Robert, we have a few questions from Twitter, some really good ones, actually. First, Shelly Lucas, @pisarose, is saying, "Designing an end-to-end CX strategy requires," as you were saying, "collaboration among specialists." What recommendations do you have for companies to meet this challenge?

I just want to mention that Shelly Lucas is one of the best content marketers that I know. I don't know if she's still looking for a position, but she was. And so if you're listening and you're interested in somebody doing content marketing, go to @pisarose because Shelly Lucas is great.

Anyway, Robert, how do you get these specialists to work together?

Robert Tas: I think [of] a couple things, and I love the way the question was written. I think, first of all, you need to organize your teams around an outcome, around a specific either segment [or] journey, something that's measurable that I can then assemble a cross-functional team against. I come back to testing and learning. We've got to go away from our press the campaign button and come back next year and do better. We've got to test and learn our way in.

What's amazing in today's world is, one, the technology that gives us almost, if not, real time feedback in some cases, but near real time. We have the ability to change things really, really fast, and that's everything from copy and creative, delivery, placement, but even experiences. We can change forms. We can do all those things through iteration and be a lot more impactful, so creating the right cross-functional team.

In some cases I've seen clients who have assembled teams that include a strategist, an HTML developer, an analytics person, a copywriter, [and] a designer. They're able to drive test and learn programs at incredible throughput. When I tell people it's ten times faster, ten times the number of tests that they're probably used to, people think I'm crazy because organizations aren't typically set up that way. But with the right structure, you can empower these people around a specific outcome to drive great impact.

Michael Krigsman: Talent management, therefore, and hiring becomes a critical component of this as well.

Robert Tas: Critical. Critical. We've got to hire them and then empower them. I think it's finding the right set of people with the right outcomes that you're looking for to drive that, driving that. As an example, data people are really hard to find today because it takes a unique person to look at data, analyze it, and put it into action. We really need to push our thinking around that. We need to push our marketing organization across the board to use these new technologies and the capabilities of what's possible out there.

Michael Krigsman: When you're talking about data as being critical in this case, you're not just talking about data scientists. You're talking about that knowledge flowing through the team.

Robert Tas: Exactly. Exactly. Data scientists are really critical pieces to putting data together, but I've got to enable my marketing team to use the data. I've got to enable my marketing team to be able to put it into action and hold themselves accountable to it so that I can see results and I can manage it. I need data scientists to help me figure out what I need to go do. I need my marketers to know what to go do. Then I need the system to give me feedback in a really timely fashion so I can continue to iterate and drive impact around my business.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. We could talk about that feedback loop and speed, but let's get another question from Twitter because Gus Bekdash [@Gus_Bekdash] has been waiting. He has another really good question. He says, "Marketing went from generic to educational to overwhelmingly informational & now to personalized." How do you strike the right balance of these different types of marketing and content?

Robert Tas: Yeah. I think it's evolving, and I come back to that testing and learning. I think it depends on the brand. It depends on the type of product it is. But I think it's really important that we understand our customer. We've got to get away from treating them all the same.

We've got to understand that people buy differently. We have to not judge them the same way. The way I buy a car and the way my wife would buy a car is very different. Yet, we treat that Google search term the same way. I think that's what's got to change in our whole marketing strategies is really understanding the process that somebody goes through, that decision journey that we love to talk about at McKinsey, and really having a perspective on it and measuring ourselves against them to the appropriate outcomes.

That means you're going to tailor different things for different people. You may have a content rich experience for one buyer, and you may just get to a pricing calculator to another. I think it's really important that you understand what you're surgically focusing on.

I think too often we try to cover everything in one campaign. "Oh, we'll reach all these segments. Oh, we'll reach all these types of buyers." We have the tools available now. We have to implement the strategies to execute this personalized approach.

Michael Krigsman: I have to say it's really a breath of fresh air talking with you because so often you hear people; you hear conversations, especially from software vendors, about the tools. "Well, we've got AI that will help you segment down to segments of one, pure personalization." But most of the time what they're really talking about is, we have tools that will help you target everybody and their brother and their son and their dog. [Laughter] It's not strategic.

Robert Tas: It's interesting, Michael, because I spent a lot of time getting pulled in to do diagnostics, as martech is a hot word. One of the things that I'm seeing is that companies have a lot of tools that are underutilized. They're not implemented properly. People aren't trained. They're not integrated. They're not kept up to speed with the latest versions. They have these Ferraris in the garage, but no one knows how to drive them.

Listen. There's a lot of great tech coming, there's a lot of amazing innovation, and I'm a huge proponent of it, but we've got to start doing the 101 and 201 stuff that is out there, that's doable, and could have impact today on your business.

Michael Krigsman: Everything that you're describing can be a process where you develop it incrementally. You're not talking about discarding everything and just beginning with a blank sheet of paper.

Robert Tas: No. I think you're right. The pieces, there are some great building blocks is maybe the way to think about it. But I would issue a little bit of a challenge and say, "We've got to change the way we operate."

When I talked about those five battleground area, those are some really big areas that CMOs have to attack with rigor. We have to change the way we operate. We have to change the way and the speed we operate, the way we push ourselves to be accountable.

I see us still doing the status quo way too much. I still see companies that [say], "This is what our plan was last year. This is what we're going to do again." We really have to sharpen our pencils here to drive impact and, I think, push our teams to use these new technologies [and] to implement these new practices with a lot more rigor than we have.

Michael Krigsman: How do we do that? I think companies are at a loss. It sounds great, but getting from here to there is just harder than it seems, especially in organizations where we're so siloed and our data is siloed. The mindset of working together is nice in theory, but I have to do my job.

Robert Tas: I don't know, Michael, that there's a lot of option not to do this. I think everyone who is going to be successful in their category is going to get there and be driven there, number one. Number two, I understand what you're saying. Change is hard for large companies. But I think there's a systematic way to change the way we do this. Maybe it's starting with a pilot. Maybe it's starting with a specific customer segment that we're going to go and tackle. I think the key is you've got to start using these things and getting the value out of them.

I'm amazed. Like I said, I see a lot of companies with a lot of cool cars in the garage, but they're not getting the value out of them. They're not taking it all the way through. They buy some shiny thing and then they're using 10% of it.

We've got to figure out how to harness the power because, honestly, the digital ecosystem of players is rapidly changing. Your competitors are doing this. Best in class marketers are doing this. They're using extensive use of data to drive their business. They're using tools and testing and learning to drive impact in all major categories, from retail to financial services, across the board. If I'm a CMO, I've got to be pushing my team to do these things fast.

Michael Krigsman: The role then, it sounds like today the CMO is primarily, shall we say, an empathetic orchestrator.  Empathy for the customer and orchestrating the internal organization. Would that be right?

Robert Tas: I like that. I like that a lot, actually. I think that the CMO's role, I always used to like saying that I was the chief customer officer. It was my job to make the customer happy. That means getting them to what product they want, getting them the product they want, and helping them service that product if that was there, but really end-to-end, making sure that their experience was the best because every part of my company touched that customer. As the head of marketing, it was my role to navigate that.

Today, we've moved beyond just building television commercials, brand advertising, and things like that. We've really got to have the CMO play an active role in helping the organization understand the customer, helping them understand their preferences, fighting for their preferences, and how to do business for them. It's hard for a company to understand when I say, "Hey, I want to make an investment in removing friction. I want to do better when I pass it off to the call center. I want to do better to enable those journeys." It's the CMO's job now to fight for that customer across your organization. Then, with all these new technologies, potentially even be kind of an integrator to help orchestrate, which was a great word you used, across the organization to help serve that customer.

Michael Krigsman: Yeah, that's really interesting. It's not just the CMO. Well, it's end-to-end. It is driving that change across the organization. If we said wherever the tentacles of the customer might extend, that's the CMO's job.

Robert Tas: The CMO has to pick the battleground areas, the key places you're going to differentiate. Is that going to be with mobile? Is that going to be with service? Is that going to be in a certain product innovation? The CMO has to help lead that customer need base. We have to really focus our programs on customer needs, sort of this outside view, not an inside view.

One of the challenges we have, Michael, is that most organizations are set up by products. We are in a certain product category. Then we have channel people. Then we might get to a customer insights group.

We've got to flip that on its head. We've got to start with that customer need and manage ourselves through that and how they want to be communicated, how they want to engage with us, and then figure out what the right product is.

Michael Krigsman: Yeah, so I think you hit it on the head. The fact that we're organized around product shapes everything inside a company. It's no wonder it's difficult to make that change to now place the customer in the center. That's the fundamental challenge, right?

Robert Tas: It is, and that's where I come back to why I really love those agile, smaller, cross‑functional pods that are outcome based. I now am no longer in the linear process where it's my job to maybe press that email button. But if I'm in that cross-functional team and I'm focused on a customer outcome, I can now really get excited about what impact I'm driving through that customer journey. I can be thoughtful about how I'm connecting the dots and say, "Oh, well, that's what you want to do. We're not going to send him another email. Let's do this," and really start to optimize my organization's ability to meet that customer need.

Michael Krigsman: Now, Robert, you brought up speed a number of times. Maybe talk about that. What's the issue around speed today?

Robert Tas: Well, it's a little bit of what we just talked about. We're not set up, typically, to manage speed. We have come from this very linear campaign planning process. Now we have all these amazing digital signals that can give us insights into our programs, and we can make changes. The fact that I can test and learn everything from a television commercial before I go out and spend a dollar on television media, we've got to start implementing and taking advantage of these platforms that exist out there.

I can put and test messaging. I can test creative. I can test customer insights. I have all these things now at my disposal, but I've got to ingest that into my operating system the way my marketing programs work. We've got to shift our culture from, here's a big campaign that's going to run for 12 months and we've got it 100% perfect, to here's what things I'm going to go test and how I'm going to optimize for each of these customer needs.

Michael Krigsman: Okay […] Yeah, it's pretty amazing, actually. I'm just thinking about the scope of all of this. There's another aspect, which is the relationship with agencies, PR firms, and digital agencies. As all of this is changing and the operating model of the organization is changing, what happens to the relationship to these agencies?

Robert Tas: It's a really interesting time in the business right now. Agencies are trying to figure out how best to serve their clients' needs. The models are changing. I think that's okay. People sometimes get a little scared of that. The reality is that marketers need to figure out how and what their agencies are best at doing for them. Then also how they can better enable their agencies.

I talked about data, earlier, in those silos. I'm amazed when I go see clients and how many of their agencies don't actually have access to good data. They don't have actionable data. We've got to figure out how to enable our partners. With the technology changing and the new technologies that are now available, marketers have a lot more of the capabilities themselves and have the abilities to run their own programmatic, their own creative production, [and] things like that.

Now listen. I'm a firm believer there's going to be a place for agencies. I think the reality is it's going to change. It's going to change in how we operate and how we enable them.

Michael Krigsman: Is this because, fundamentally, you're advocating very strongly that the in-house marketing organization has to have a different kind of deeper understanding relationship with the customer, and so, therefore, they don't need to rely on the agency as much? Is that correct, or is it something different?

Robert Tas: I think that's a piece of it. I think that [it's] the fundamental operating system and talking about moving faster and being able to have integrated programs. I am no longer just buying a search campaign. I'm buying an integrated program for a specific set of customers that includes search, my website, [and] my call center. I need to have those touches together and, as the CMO, I need to be that orchestrator better.

I want to bring things closer to me. Anything that can fuel my marketing organization to deliver faster, I want to do. It still doesn't mean that I'm not going to have agencies building me great creative or pieces of that stack. I just need to figure out where I can operationalize to build my competitive advantage.

Michael Krigsman: Essentially, you're not going to outsource the intelligence.

Robert Tas: Yeah. Listen. I'm a big proponent of insourcing data, especially, because I think that's the secret sauce of every company out there is really understanding their customers, what they're doing, how they're doing it, and learning from that at every step of the way. I think that's a foundational piece to my unique IP as a brand. Being able to harness that and being able to exploit that for myself is really critical. I want my team members, every single one of them, to be those data junkies that we talked about earlier, and really being able to use that information across the entire funnel, across all the marketing disciplines. 

Michael Krigsman: In other words, you need to have those skills in house. They're core. Then you supplement those skills with external folks and agencies of all different kinds.

Robert Tas: That's right. That's right. Again, I think there are specialists. I think there are research firms that do great work and are much needed. But I think you have to be accountable with your own, as a marketer today, to be a data junkie, to want to be more curious every day, to drive how you learn about your customer. We are about driving customer impact and figuring out how we connect those dots to use the resources we have to reach our business.

Michael Krigsman: Well, it makes sense that you should have real clarity around your own competitive differentiation and the components of that.

Robert Tas: You would think. But again, I think what I struggle with sometimes is that customer centricity and personalization. These are some big buzzwords. But to really walk that walk is hard. It's hard work. It's a cultural discipline that has to take place within an organization, not just in marketing, by the way.

This is not something that marketing can do by itself, in my opinion. It's something that has to permeate across the organization. I've got to be able to deliver that end-to-end experience. I've got to listen and understand how my products are meeting my customers' needs. I think marketing can help spearhead that data throughout the organization, but the organization has to embrace it.

Then I think, again, there's a lot of great third parties out there that I should be using to help me drive that, help me refine it, and make it better. I still have to be accountable to it.

Michael Krigsman: Robert, we only have about five minutes left and there are still a couple of really big topics that I want to talk about. One of them is privacy. You mentioned buzzwords. The other is, where does AI fit into all of this? Which one do you want to pick off first?

Robert Tas: [Laughter] Well, let's do privacy.

Michael Krigsman: Privacy. [Laughter]

Robert Tas: I think that's one that people ask me a lot about.

Michael Krigsman: How do we manage the privacy with all of this personalization and slicing and dicing of data?

Robert Tas: At the end of the day, I think brands have to do and stand for protecting their customer. A very senior executive once told me, "If you wouldn't do this to your grandmother, you shouldn't be doing it." I think that's a pretty good guideline in privacy. I think we've got to make sure we police ourselves. I think we've got to be truthful and honest to where that line is and be transparent, be overly communicative to our customers, and be very thoughtful.

I've spent a lot of time on the privacy side, cookies, and behavioral targeting. I started my career in the Internet working in that space with some great people like Dave Morgan and folks like that. I'm very passionate that data enables us to remove friction in a thoughtful way. I have no problem that I can log back into a website and don't have to enter my credentials because it remembers me. It saves me time. That's a really useful part of my day‑to‑day experience. There are sites that have earned that right from me: The Wall Street Journal, places like that.

It's the same principle that applies. I have a trust relationship. I've got to earn that right to use data in a thoughtful way and make sure that I, as the brand, help my customers understand how I'm doing it. I think we'd be surprised if we took that approach of how much willingness people are willing to do to share their data in a thoughtful way that has great value exchange.

Michael Krigsman: If they trust you, so the trust is key, as you said, doing the right thing.

Robert Tas: We can't screw up trust. That's the biggest tenet in my mind in today's business world, forgetting even digital marketing. We are judged by trust. It's amazing people think millennials don't care about that, but it's actually the opposite. They do care about trust. They care about authenticity. They care about if you make a mistake that you fess up to it, admit it, and be thoughtful of how you're going to fix it. I think those are the types of brands that people want to do business with and are willing to exchange information for better product, for better service, and things like that.

Michael Krigsman: Yeah, I love that. Trust is it. Now, what about AI? Then we have a question that's popped up from Twitter.

Robert Tas: Sure.

Michael Krigsman: We're running out of time, but what about AI in marketing?

Robert Tas: Listen. I think AI has a lot of application. It's really going to dictate the algorithm and taking the human gut out of how we make decisions. I think that there's a place for it across our marketing tech stack. I think there's a sophistication that we're bringing to how we're messaging, especially across multiple channels.

AI is an amazing enabler to help us deliver the right message to the right person at the right time in context, which I think is really pivotal. It moves us away from targeting and just pounding you with offers to being thoughtful about how I nurture you through experiences. I think AI is going to be a very meaningful piece of technology in the CMO toolkit.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. Again, we're so close to being done, but I like to get the questions in from Twitter.

Robert Tas: Sure.

Michael Krigsman: Mike Prest [@Mr_Prest] asks, "How does digital transformation with SaaS and Cloud change how you manage," and think about, "the digital marketing experience?"

Robert Tas: That might be a whole other show. That's a big question. [Laughter] I mean I think it's obviously connected. There are so many transformations going on in organizations. I really think that you have to think about how you're enabling your customer through your organization. I think digital transformations, marketing transformations, experiences, and all those things are connected.

I think we need to figure out where are the areas that we're going to make bets on. Where is our organization best suited to compete? Where can we add value to that customer through that process? Then use technology and digital to help empower that and enable that. Use digital marketing.

But it's got to be connected, especially at a data level. We've got to have one set of data. We can't all be continuing to build more silos. We've got to think about experiences across multiple channels. We can't just be thinking about digital alone. We've really got to be thoughtful of the customer, at the end of the day, and these transformations, to me, are all about really taking the organization to have that customer lens.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. We are just about out of time. I think you've covered a range of topics. How would you sum it up? What's the kind of distilled sum of your advice based on your experience working with so many customers, so many clients now?

Robert Tas: I think that the two big things I tell people is really be curious and get involved in understanding what's possible with data and all these new technologies. You, as a marketer, have to get in the game, and don't expect others to do it for you. Become a data junkie. The insights that you get will radically change the way you run your programs and drive your business.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. I love it. Become a data junkie. Well, we are done with Episode #256 of CxOTalk. We've been speaking with Robert Tas, who is a leader in the digital marketing practice at McKinsey. Robert, thank you so much for taking your time to be here with us today.

Robert Tas: Thank you for having me. It's great to talk to you again.

Michael Krigsman: Everybody, be sure to like us on Facebook and subscribe on YouTube. Go to, and you can see the episodes coming up. Have a nice day. Bye-bye.

Published Date: Sep 29, 2017

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 471