Forbes Under 30 Summit: CMOs Discuss Alternative Routes to the Top

The Forbes Under 30 Summit is an event that appeals to a broad audience of thinkers, believers, creators and achievers. Attendees gathered in Boston on October 1 searching for inspiration, eager to build relationships with those in the coveted “under-30 club.”

This year’s event was segmented into 24 industry-specific content tracks -- marketing being one of them -- but one session in particular, featuring three CMO’s, piqued my interest. The topic at hand was the evolving role of the Chief Marketing Officer in today’s rapidly changing business ecosystem. Three marketing leaders from entirely different companies took to the stage -- Sophie Bambuck (Converse), Jackson Jeyanayagam (Boxed) and Melina Engel (SimpliSafe).

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The Rise of the CMO

Boxed CMO, Jackson Jeyanayagam, stated that fifteen years ago, marketing was lucky to get a seat at the table. Research conducted by Heidrick & Struggles (2017) supported this theory as only 15% of US CEOs came into their roles from a background in marketing or sales. This is set to change as Jeyanayagam, along with his CMO co-panelists, believe that creativity, mixed with passion and customer centricity, make marketers ideal candidates for the C-Suite.

CMO’s Don’t Need MBA’s

Each marketing leader took an entirely different path to become CMO. Sophie Bambuck left France to pursue an MBA at Georgetown University. When asked about her decision to attend business school by a member of the audience, Sophie proudly stated that, as an immigrant, getting an MBA gave her the best opportunity to have a long-term career in the USA. This passion and determination earned Bambuck an internship with Nike, a brand she’s worked at for over a decade, now leading the Converse division based in Boston.

Melina Engel also earned an MBA, which has helped her speak the language of CFO’s and other technical personnel at SimpliSafe.

Alternatively, Jeyanayagam graduated from the school of hard knocks by helping brands like t-mobile and Chipotle overcome destructive crises involving data privacy and food safety issues. The Boxed CMO made light of these troublesome times by saying “I got my MBA in two years by getting kicked in the a** every day”. He encouraged the crowd to seek an alternative to the traditional ‘business school path’ to success, elaborating that companies are eager to hire people that are used to overcoming difficult challenges on a regular basis.

Authenticity Makes Nike Tick

When asked about the process Nike follows when evaluating partnerships with athletes and other influencers such as former NFL player Colin Kapernick, the audience’s eyes lit up with excitement. Sophie Bambuck remained composed and proudly declared that Nike’s endorsement deals center around authenticity. To work with the swoosh-branded sportswear giant, influencers must live Nike’s core values of performance, authenticity, innovation, and sustainability. If both parties have a different view on life, they simply won’t work together.

Authenticity is clearly paying off for Nike. The brand’s controversial Kapernick campaign proved to be a hit with its liberal consumer base as digital sales grew by a staggering 36% in Q3 of 2018!

CMO - The C Stands for Customer Centricity

Engel is customer-centric to the core. The SimpliSafe CMO states that to be a good direct-to-consumer marketer, you don’t need to go to business school; you need to know how to connect with your customer. Engel harnesses the power of data by constantly testing ad creatives against one another. She warns the audience not to rely too heavily on data as tests will show you which creative performed better, while data will not tell you why one creative performed better than its counterpart.

As the CMO of Boxed, Jeyanayagam is aware that there are many similar brands ready to “eat their lunch” if the brand doesn't continue to innovate. He strongly believes that marketing is a balance of heart and science, and that the CMO’s role is to act as a Chief Culture Officer. Boxed is dedicated to doing the right thing, which is often inspired by data. The wholesale startup runs powerful internal initiatives such as paying for employee’s weddings or college tuition, external initiatives like standing up to the pink tax are equally as powerful. The data shows that these initiatives are effective at driving customer acquisition and retention. Today’s consumer is willing to pay a little more for a brand they believe in, all three CMO’s agree.

Creativity, authenticity, data literacy, and customer centricity are a handful of skills needed to be a successful CMO in today’s rapidly changing world. The role of the marketer is becoming increasingly important to navigate the customer journey and earn even a fraction of the brand love associated with companies like Nike, Converse, Boxed, and SimpliSafe.

Will more marketers progress into coveted CEO roles? Did you attend Forbes Under 30 summit? Share your thoughts by commenting below or starting a conversation on Twitter. Tweet @Localytics to engage with our team!

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Featured Panelists

Sophie BambuckCMO at Converse (American shoe company, founded in 1908, a subsidiary of Nike since 2003)

Melina EngelCMO at SimpliSafe (American home security company based in Boston)

Jackson JeyanayagamCMO at Boxed (American online and mobile membership-free wholesale retailer)

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