April 15, 2024

Tricia Oak

Business & Finance Excellency

A CMO’s Playbook For Unlearning Traditional Marketing Rules

Zarnaz Arlia is the CMO of Emplifi, a leading customer experience platform. 

As a marketing leader who has spent her career being driven by motivation and the ability to achieve specific marketing objectives, I am drawn to new opportunities — the more challenging the better. That is why, at the height of the pandemic, I accepted the role of CMO for a company that was undergoing massive transformations. 

Customer experience platform Astute Inc. had recently acquired two marketing technology companies and was aiming to unite itself under a wholly new brand that would include a new company culture and mission: to help brands close the customer experience gap by bringing marketing, care and commerce together to optimize digital interactions across the entire journey and build a more empathetic customer experience.

Typically, when CMOs join a new organization, they have a single primary objective they want to achieve. When I came aboard, I had three primary objectives: building the marketing organization, shaping the company culture and launching a new brand under the new company name. Not only was I charged with three major initiatives, but I also had to reach these goals quickly.

At times, it felt as if I was running a marathon while trying to put on my running shoes. In order to navigate such major transitions, I had to unlearn traditional marketing rules and create an entirely new playbook that would enable me to move these three business priorities forward in parallel and as quickly as possible.

Building A First-Class Marketing Organization

A traditional marketing approach involves assessing each objective separately and addressing one at a time. But when you have a hard deadline to launch a new brand, taking your time and focusing on one objective at a time isn’t always an option.

For your organization to embrace a growth mindset, you need a team you can trust to reach daily, weekly and monthly goals with minimal oversight. One of the first moves to make as a CMO in this situation is to begin assessing your existing team’s capabilities, moving key people to critical roles and identifying the gaps. Let go of the traditional rules that dictate that you need an extended recruitment and hiring process. For challenging tasks, you need capable, smart and resourceful marketing — and if you’re like me, you’ll need them right away.

To build an effective marketing organization while launching a new brand, you’ll need to make quick judgments and be a decisive leader. You should also be empathetic to team members who are adapting to new roles and responsibilities. To motivate your team and push your efforts forward at an accelerated pace, you may have to make unpopular decisions and let go of any rules that require a consensus.

Shaping A Company Culture Around Empathy

Bringing together three separate companies is not for the faint of heart. In addition to the logistics of combining separate business functions, processes and technologies, our organization was merging three distinctly different company cultures. To achieve success in this scenario, you’ll need to create one strong culture that unifies your entire organization.

Tradition says successful cultures are created over time and include involvement at all levels of an organization. In our case, we didn’t have time, but we did have support from all levels of the organization. We had to be intentional with our culture-building tactics and ensure the foundational elements were in place as we constructed a culture that included multiple organizations, products and employees from diverse backgrounds.

Instead of waiting for the culture to take shape, you can be calculated and purposeful. The marketing organization can take ownership of your company story and define its vision, mission, core values and messaging. For me, this was a massive undertaking but worth every moment.

Letting go of any rigid rules around your company’s culture is the first step to creating an inclusive and inspirational workplace culture. The trick is to eliminate any confusion around conflicting values, especially when you’re in the midst of a major transformation. I knew it was critical to lay the foundation for our company culture as we began to build our newly unified organization while also allowing the company culture to evolve as we continued to grow and move forward.

Launching A Whole New Brand

Traditional marketing dictates that a company changing its name, brand and logo would fall under the umbrella of a rebranding initiative. But our transformation was well beyond a rebrand. We were combining three separate businesses into a single new platform — we had a new name, but we also had new technology, new capabilities and a new mission.

To launch a completely new brand and brand story, you may have to reverse-engineer your business strategy. For example, the look and feel of a brand built on empathy should reflect the brand’s diverse workforce, varying nationalities, differing ages and inclusivity of all genders. You want your employees, customers and partners to see themselves in your newly created identity.

A brand-building process that relies on reverse engineering involves letting go of traditional, antiquated marketing rules. But one marketing tenet still rings true: A successful brand takes into account the needs of its target audience, addresses customer pain points and anticipates the buyer’s journey to exceed customer expectations. A successful brand should put its employees’, partners’ and customers’ needs at the center of its branding efforts in everything from messaging to visuals.

In the new CMO playbook I am assembling, I now realize the full impact empathy-based leadership can have on the marketing organization. I know that a successful leader is someone who is capable of juggling multiple major initiatives. She is also able to move priorities forward while still giving her team the space they need to grow. And, most importantly, she creates an inclusive environment that recognizes what each member of the team brings to the table. 

Forbes Communications Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?