I was invited twice now to host a series of roundtable discussions with some of the top CMOs in the country at The Millennium Alliance, and the experience gave me a greater appreciation for high-level conversations and peer-to-peer communication in more ways than I could have imagined.
The Millennium Alliance is a leading technology, business and educational advisory firm located in New York. When I attended, the event covered everything from big data to people-based marketing, loyalty programs, real-time TV measurement and more. Attendees were broken into three categories: delegates, thought leaders and sponsors. The delegates were all C-level executives from Fortune 1000 companies — CMOs from organizations such as ESPN, Bloomberg, Variety, Old Navy, CNN, Sports Illustrated and Adidas, to name a few. The roundtable sessions were optimized for the highest level of discussion, with only 10-15 delegates in each group.
Here are some of the important business takeaways I learned from top executives, based on my experience moderating these C-suite roundtables:
Smart Executives Continuously Seek Education
What stood out during our roundtable discussions was how transparent and open to learning everyone was. I wasn’t expecting senior executives to listen so intently to everyone in the room. The conversation never died. The executives would bring up problems or questions they had surrounding a topic, and others would chime in with answers, or, in some cases, shared that they had the same questions. Everyone was there to learn, not to judge or critique.
By participating in these discussions, I learned that you have keep learning in your executive role in order to continue evolving as a leader. The executives who attended these roundtable discussions were smart enough to understand that they have to stay ahead of the curve, and the best way to do that is to hear from their peers. For me, I was honored to have the opportunity to join in on their educational conversation.
They Understand the Value of Data
No matter what topic was discussed, it always came back to data. We talked about how data supported conclusions, how others are using data, where they’re getting their data from, and how they’ve used it to increase their bottom line.
The conversation was unique in the sense that while some had their own first-party data, others had the budget to spend millions on outside-party data. The conversation surrounding data and marketing is completely different when discussing huge budgets and firsthand data. These companies and their representatives are not playing catch up; instead, they’re gaining a competitive edge. They don’t necessarily want to know what they should be doing now, but, rather, what they should be doing next.
They Put Customers First
I moderated a roundtable discussion that focused on the topic of customer loyalty programs, and how to give customers what they want. This was an interesting session to moderate, because the night before, we had heard a keynote presentation from John Sculley, former CEO of Apple and Pepsi. During his keynote, he talked about how he created the two-liter bottle and the Pepsi Challenge, because it was what the customers wanted. As you may understand, jumping into a customer loyalty discussion with CMOs of Fortune 500 and 1000 companies after a presentation like that was very exciting.
As we dove into the various brands that were there and how they keep their customers engaged, I was excited to hear that every strategy started with listening. Each company focused on what their customers wanted and needed. I found that as the industries vary, so too do the needs: Bloomberg’s strategy was very different than Norwegian Cruise Line’s, for instance. But how they kept their customer engaged with the brand was always chiefly focused on what their customers needed.
The most valuable takeaway I learned from the roundtable discussions is that marketing, especially at the executive level, is not a guessing game. Getting to the top is hard, but staying there is much harder. CMOs and other executives play well and learn from others, use data effectively, listen to their customers, and can tie everything back to the bottom line.
If you ever have the chance, I highly suggest attending executive education events and roundtable discussions. For me, it was an experience that changed my career strategy for the better.