The Interim CMO: From Traditional Market Savvy to New Social Media Expertise

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Interim chief marketing execs face a consumer public that is far savvier and well-informed than ever before. With instant access to an unlimited trove of both objective and biased information and messaging there is a lot competing for the scarcest of all assets in the modern world: attention. Walking into an interim marketing engagement requires a broad and deep skill set.

So how does an interim CMO prioritize her strategic and tactical task list? What should marketing execs tackle first? Hands-on learning about the marketing team, about the consumer mindset toward the product, and about competition rank high on any list. The CMO must immediately supplement in real-world terms the advance research she has already conducted before showing up at the door.

Marketing execs say understanding the existing team is a key priority. Questions like “who do I have, what are they working on, what are their priorities, and where are the gaps,” are among the essential early questions. The target: to get a functioning team in place straightaway.

Understanding the brands follows closely.  Who’s buying the product? What insights do they have?

Interim CMO Datta Nadkarni said that talking with customers directly ranks high on his must-do list. He even spies on them when necessary (in a good way).

While under contract with LensCrafters, Datta said he conducted a SWOT analysis early on and realized that one clear strength was the fact that LensCrafter’s one-hour service was 95 percent on time. Competing companies were far behind. Given that, marketing proposed a “one hour or free” campaign.

Datta said he spent considerable time observing customers in retail stores, where one observation helped him realize that the “quality message” wasn’t getting through. He saw one customer tell a clerk that he didn’t want his glasses in one hour.  Datta went to the customer, asked why, and learned that the customer was a surgeon. He was concerned that glasses produced in one hour wouldn’t meet the quality standard he demanded.

What else? “I look at the whole process, identifying what the supply chain looks like and what the competition looks like,” he said. Datta, who has also worked as an interim CMO in India, said there are critical differences between those processes, depending on the country.

Companies that ignore the need for top-notch marketing strategies put themselves at risk: for example, it’s great to see an early-stage company packed tight with engineers and coders, but second-rate marketing can rob the product of its full market potential.

The experienced interim CMO gives companies the marketing might to dig out of sluggish economic scenarios and drive a company forward.

The combination of assessing internal capabilities and evaluating the marketplace ranks high on the immediate “ to-do” list of an interim CMO, and helps them tune in quickly to what leads to success.