CMO Brian Kardon Reveals What Today’s Marketers Must Do to Keep Their Chops Sharp

BK_color_headshot_400x400Interview by Jim Gallant

After years as a marketing executive in the publishing industry, Brian Kardon successfully made the transition to leading marketing tech companies like Eloqua (now part of Oracle) and Lattice Engines. Now the CMO of Fuze, a company that makes a cloud-based platform for voice, video, text, and collaboration, Kardon gives his prescription for thriving in today’s complex, sophisticated, and exciting marketing world—and what marketers can learn from the dynamics of jazz bands.

Named a Top 10 Global CMO for companies earning less than $250 million by The CMO Institute and a Top 15 CMO on Twitter by “Social Media Marketing” Magazine, Kardon will share his “Modern Marketing: A Blueprint for Success” at the next BPMA event at Constant Contact on April 28. You can follow him on Twitter @bkardon.

You’ve made the move from The Old World of marketing to hold C-level positions at marketing technology companies like Eloqua and Lattice Engines.  What was most difficult about that transition?

It’s really important to always be curious about and open to new technologies, processes, and ideas.  I think many marketers have their own “playback” that they have used successfully in their careers. Caution: the playbook you used in your last job may not work in your current one.  Marketers need to continuously revise that playbook to incorporate all the exciting new things going on in marketing today.  The rate of change in marketing is so fast that their trusted playbooks can become outdated very quickly.

Let’s say you could redesign marketing education at a Wharton or Northwestern. What disciplines would you add that weren’t part of your undergraduate and graduate studies?

The top business schools are working hard to keep their curricula up to date.  They need to balance the need for theory with the actual practice of marketing.  I would emphasize courses in areas like analytics and data-driven decision-making, pricing, sales force management, global marketing, digital marketing and e-commerce, marketing operations and technology, new product development, and B2B marketing.

There continue to be gaps in these topics. It would also help to bring in practitioners from leading brands and agencies to speak with students and supplement their course work.  Class work, even the case study method, cannot substitute for real experience.  Students need actual experience working on a marketing team.  Internships are a great way to do that.  I would definitely encourage taking a summer internship (even if unpaid) over lifeguarding or other kinds of paid work.  Get the experience.  Employers want to see commitment to the field and actual experience before they hire you.

Once upon a time, graduating from a top marketing program was the pinnacle, but today everything changes so quickly. What regimen do you follow to keep your blade sharp?

I do a couple of different things.  First, I have a great network of CMOs that I meet with regularly.  I sometimes bring them a challenge I’m facing. They’re incredibly generous with their time and energy when it comes to helping me. Perhaps marketers are, by nature, helpful and social people.  But this group has really helped me with things like international expansion and organizational structure.

Second, I’m always asking marketers for the two or three marketing technologies they have recently adopted that are proving very valuable.  We have all seen the explosion of martech software solutions — more than 3,000 by (marketing tech expert) Scott Brinker’s latest count. You need a way to filter the valuable ones from the noise. I’ve found that peer recommendation is the best way to do that.

You have more than 16,000 Twitter followers. If Twitter suddenly went away, what would you miss most about it?

The social platforms, especially Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, are really my window into valuable content and ideas.  Sure, a lot of the retweeting and posting is self-serving and worthless.  But when peers share content with their network, you get a straight line into lots of very relevant news and ideas.  It’s a magical filter that can save time and improve focus.

On your Twitter page, the banner is a musical score, and you’re unabashed about your love of the saxophone. How has learning and playing the sax contributed to the person and businessman you are today?

I have often thought of the musical analogies to business and marketing.  Historically, I think business was really like an orchestra with a conductor directing the tempo and volume, as well as signaling (“cueing”) musicians of their entrances.  The conductor was in charge and there was little deviation from his or her direction.  But today’s organization is much more like a jazz group.

In jazz, there is no one clear leader.  Everyone is a leader/soloist at some point in a performance.  In jazz, listening to others and adjusting to what others are doing is the key to a great performance.  If the soloist starts a crescendo, the rhythm section should play louder too.  If the trumpet starts a triplet lick, maybe the drummer or pianist will imitate or echo that rhythm in some way.  It’s all about performing as a team and collaborating.  That level of collaboration and listening is really what I have learned from my music.

I also play the piano and accompany singers.  In the role of accompanist it is never about you.  It is all about the singer.  You need the right song and key that works best for their range.  You need to stay out of their way and yet, at the same time, give them support.  The best arrangers for Frank Sinatra—people like Don Costa, Nelson Riddle, Quincy Jones, and Billy May— all knew how to stay out of Sinatra’s way.  If you played over Sinatra, you didn’t get to arrange again for him.

Lattice Engines, where you were CMO before joining Fuze, focuses on predictive analytics. Play the part of prognosticator: What disruption in marketing would you like to see most in 2016?

Artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, and virtual reality are emerging quickly in lots of areas of our lives.  Doctors are relying more on analytics to effectively diagnose patient symptoms. We have the emergence of self-driving cars on our roads today. Google Now tells us what to do next. All of these developments are entering marketing in various forms.

For example, virtual reality will let you experience a rollercoaster or front row seats to a boxing match without ever leaving your house. Analytics is letting marketers know who their next customer will be based on a set of predictive attributes and models. It’s a very exciting time to be a marketer!

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