“In some ways, I’d say ‘the more it [marketing] has changed, the more it stays the same’.” Interview with Keynote Speaker Eileen Campbell, Founder, Womintuition and Former CMO, IMAX & Former Global CEO, Millward Brown

 -Eileen Campbell, Founder, Womintuition and Former CMO, IMAX & Former Global CEO, Millward Brown

With just a few weeks to go until the Transformational CMO Assembly, we sat down with Keynote Speaker Eileen Campbell, Founder, Womintuition and Former CMO, IMAX & Former Global CEO, Millward Brown to get her insight into the complex marketing environment.

Having held several top marketing positions at Millward Brown, IMAX and more, how has marketing evolved during your career?

EC: In some ways, I’d say “the more it has changed, the more it stays the same”. Marketing’s primary role has always been (and always should be) to build a sustainable advantage for brand owners. Those of us in the private sector should never forget that the ultimate measure of marketing success is our ability to make money through successful brands. To do that, we still rely on big ideas, effectively communicated through consistent marketing support. That’s a good segue into the many things that have changed. We think way more expansively about “big ideas” today. Fifteen years ago, we would have thought of Apple as a computer hardware company, not a major player in entertainment, which they will certainly be with their upcoming billion dollar investment in original content. And we have massively more channels by which we can communicate these days. That’s a bit of a double-edged sword as channel proliferation provides targeting and intimacy that we couldn’t imagine 20 years ago, but we have far fewer opportunities to reach massive audiences. I also worry about over-targeting and “preaching to the converted” with some of our micro-addressable media. Who hasn’t had an ad for something they already bought follow them around the internet for weeks?

Another thing that has changed a lot over my years in the industry is the rise of the “numerate CMO”. CMOs remain accountable for creativity, but that creativity is increasingly driven and supported by data and requires proof of effectiveness. CMOs need to be able to comfortably hold their own with CFOs if they don’t want to see investment in their brands choked off.

Digital technology has been driving marketing over the past few years. As we head towards what some call a ‘Digital Industrial Revolution’, how do you stay ahead of the latest trends and technology?

EC: No rest! Seriously, it is really important for marketers to stay well-read and well-connected to what’s going on in the digital world (and in the “real world” for that matter!) I subscribe to lots of feeds that aren’t just marketing related, but that appeal to my target audience. So, when I was with IMAX, the internet probably thought I was a 24-year-old guy…subscribing to Vice, Thrillest, Gizmodo, following Spotify playlists, reading Reddit threads…anything that immersed me in my target audience’s world. I’m also a big believer in reverse-mentoring. I will rarely be the first to discover what’s new and exciting on the web! When I was at Millward Brown, we had a fantastic, young workforce. We created a “digital futures” group that briefed me on a regular basis about what was new and cool and forced me to actually learn and use these tools. In the earliest days of Snapchat, I was probably their oldest living user. And to be honest, I didn’t get the appeal at all. The fact that I didn’t get it is EXACTLY what appealed the Snapchat user base. As Facebook became more like an awkward dinner party with your parents, Snapchat was where kids went to hang out with their friends, knowing they’d never be discovered by their parents. That all said, I always try to maintain a healthy skepticism about new digital channels as a medium for brands. In the early days of Snapchat, a million-dollar marketing spend for a bit of content that disappeared in ten-seconds just didn’t make economic sense to me. Now that there are more financially accessible ways to use Snap, I’m a lot more open to experimentation.

With this ‘industrial revolution’, comes the emergence of numerous technology, giving rise to the term ‘MarTech’. Automation software, Virtual Reality, and Artificial Intelligence are just a couple of examples. How do marketers cut through the buzz, understand and become fluent in the language of technology?

EC: I see MarTech in quite a different bucket than things like VR & AR.  MarTech and various forms of automation technology have contributed a great deal to marketing efficiency and to building powerful, data-driven feedback loops. But they also have a huge inherent risk. Badly used, they can result in a form of “push button marketing” and that’s quite dangerous. We start to accept algorithmic decisions with no understanding of the underlying logic or recognition of some built-in biases. So, while tools like HootSuite, Sprinklr, Salesforce and the more than 5,000 other MarTech/AdTech tools out there can be incredibly helpful, they are just that…tools. You still need a great architect before you start hammering nails! 

When it comes to AI, it will be very interesting to see how it evolves in marketing. Right now, it is the penultimate buzzword and I’m stunned at what is passing for AI, including a lot of pretty basic machine learning. Interestingly, some of the techniques that have been used in the research industry for literally decades –things like clustering and text analytics — are being rebranded as “AI”. There is undoubtedly great power in machine learning, and “conversational business” using tools like chatbots will get us closer to systems that can actually learn and make intelligent, autonomous decisions. But most of what’s out there today is not yet true “artificial intelligence”. And some of the emerging data on AI is a bit scary.  Facebook recently discontinued an AI experiment when chatbots quickly learned to create fake accounts and seem to have invented their own language.  And there is the famous (or infamous) experiment where chatbots being fed Twitter data quickly adopted racist and sexist language.  You can see where these systems have a long way to go before they are safe for marketers!

How do CMOs maintain a level of authenticity, whilst leveraging tools of automation?

EC: This is quite a tricky one and why I get nervous about “push button” marketing automation. We need to be really clear about our brand’s voice and make sure that every consumer interaction speaks in that voice – whether it is machine-generated like an automated e-mail response, or generated by human beings who might be jumping into a social media conversation.  We’re often in uncharted territory when we directly engage with our customers. For me, this always made our legal team and to a lesser extent, even my own corporate communication team, very, very nervous. They often wanted to use language that I felt was inconsistent with our authentic brand voice, particularly for automated responses. You have to make sure everyone in the company, not just the marketers, are onside and accept that your brand must be relatable and authentic.  While conversational business holds great promise, we all feel a little dopey or even duped when we know we’re conversing with a machine.  I’m actually a fan of transparency, letting people know when they’re getting automated responses vs. when a real person has jumped in. Again, I go back to chatbots. I’m rarely convinced that I’m having a digital exchange with that sunny looking blond wearing a headset whose picture shows up on my screen!

Are there any brands whose marketing strategy stands out to you?

EC: This is always such a tough question because of course there is the temptation to go with the brand we all know and love, but it’s such a clichéd answer. Of course, Apple and Nike and BMW are fantastic marketers!  But who amongst us has those budgets or these amazing legacies to work with? I’m always looking at what exciting smaller brands are doing. The guys who are often doing it on a wing and a prayer. In fashion, I think Everlane has done a fantastic job of combining stylish basics at reasonable prices with radical transparency on sourcing. It feels so on-target for young professionals. Brands like Soul Cycle who have created a movement as much as a brand, using very little above-the-line advertising spend but focusing relentlessly on design and brand experience. They aren’t for everyone and that’s OK. For those who love Soul Cycle, it is almost their church, which is an amazing achievement for a brand. Dollar Shave Club is a great example of a product no one knew they needed – razor delivery! But they launched with a brilliantly simple, funny video that hit on every pain-point associated with shaving and helped guys recognize a need that didn’t know they had. On the B2B front, Adobe has done a fantastic job of becoming an indispensable source of information for both the creative community and design-driven CMOs. When I reflect on this list, all these brands have gotten content marketing right and most have a strong design sensibility. I’m a real sucker for design-driven brands!

Culture and leadership can make or break a company’s digital transformation. What advice would you give to leaders who are leading the digital charge in their businesses?

EC: Make everyone part of it! It can’t be some “out there” thing happening in the marketing department. Lead boot camps for your senior execs to make sure they understand the power of the tools you’re using and the necessity of the transformation.  Nothing makes the CEO feel better than seeing his/her brand everywhere he or she looks, but for most of us, our brands don’t live in the same places that our CEO’s live. They need to understand why you’re investing in content marketing, not a Super Bowl spot.

Also, never underestimate the need to repeat, repeat, repeat your strategy. As leaders, we feel like “I explained this already.  No one wants to hear it again!”. But that is simply not the case. We need to consistently and repeatedly explain our strategy and build organizational buy in. It’s pretty easy to feed a machine with a steady diet of “new news”. But it’s more challenging to stay the course on a strategy, particularly if you haven’t clearly articulated it and gotten broad organizational buy-in in the first place  We and our organizations get bored and restless with marketing initiatives well before consumers do.

I loved getting all of our employees involved and feeling like they, personally, are part of our marketing efforts. At IMAX, we used to regularly provide employees with fun content like GIFs and memes they could share with their own social media networks, acting as brand ambassadors. It made people feel like they were part of the team and allowed them to get positive reinforcement from their personal networks about where they work and our marketing initiatives.

You recently founded Womintuition, a consultancy focused on helping organizations attract, develop and retain high potential female leaders. What does the future hold for Eileen Campbell?

EC: I’ve been super-fortunate in my career. I’ve worked with amazing mentors and colleagues, had the opportunity to see the world and learn about other cultures and been on the frontline of immense change in business and marketing. At this point in my career, I’m interested in paying it forward a bit. I am a firm believer that diversity in business isn’t some noble social pursuit.  It is good business. But it is an area fraught with emotion. Executives are frustrated by being told they aren’t doing enough.  Women are tired of being told how they need to change. And everyone is perplexed by the slow pace of change. There is a real opportunity to move the conversation to one that is more data-driven than emotionally-driven. I’d like to measure attitudes, behaviors, and practices in companies that meet the dual criteria of fostering diversity AND out-performing their peer group. Using those insights, we can benchmark any organization and diagnose areas where they can change and improve. I want to work with the CEOs who are genuinely committed to diversity but who haven’t seen the sort of progress they’d like or had expected.

I’m joining a few boards of organizations that have challenges or opportunities that are suited to my experience or skill set. I’m also doing some mentoring of women entrepreneurs who are interested in learning from executives with more corporate experience. It is always hard for founders to give up some of the “hands-on” activities they love and that made their businesses successful. But to take their companies to the next level, they often need to learn more about how bigger, more complex organizations operate. 

Finally, I am totally indulging myself with amazing online educational opportunities available. Right now, I’m working on a certificate in creative writing offered by Wellesley. When I finish that, I have my eye on a course in Game Theory from Stanford! Maybe I’ll alternate between left and right brain sorts of courses.  

With only a few weeks until you keynote the Transformational CMO Assembly, can you tell us what you’re looking forward to discussing at the event?

EC: I’m really interested in hearing more about how attendees are communicating and getting buy-in to their marketing agendas, particularly from CEOs but also more broadly in their organizations. As a CMO, I found it interesting and challenging that while most people didn’t think they could do a lawyer’s or an accountant’s job, everyone feels they know something about marketing. In many ways that’s great, but it can also be challenging.  How have others dealt with this constructively? I’m also interested in hearing more about how people are striking the balance between marketing innovation and marketing effectiveness. We all want to experiment, but none of us can afford to squander precious marketing dollars.

What do you see as the benefits for C-Level executives attending an event like ours?

EC: As leaders, we rarely take time for ourselves. I’m guessing many of the attendees spend much of their days dealing with OPP – other people’s problems. So simply getting out of the office and investing time in learning and sharing more about our craft is really exciting to me.

Another real benefit of this sort of assembly is that we step out of the “echo chamber” of our own company or industry. It’s thrilling to come to the realization that something from another industry or sector that you’d never considered could be transformative for your own organization.

You speak at multiple events, what stood out to you about the Transformational CMO Assembly and encouraged you to attend as the Keynote Speaker?

EC: My old friend, Jim Stengel, had been involved in one of your earlier assemblies. He was delighted with the scale and intimacy of the event. When you’re speaking to a large audience, you know you will have so little time to interact with most of the people, and that can be frustrating. The Transformational CMO Assembly is a wonderful opportunity to both share and learn…to talk with and not just “talk at” attendees. I am delighted to get to be a part of such a rich experience!

Eileen Campbell, Founder, Womintuition and Former CMO, IMAX & Former Global CEO, Millward Brown


There is still time to join us at the Transformational CMO Assembly, featuring Keynote Speaker Eileen Campbell, Founder, Womintuition and Former CMO, IMAX & Former Global CEO, Millward Brown

Eileen will be joining fellow Keynote Miki Racine Berardelli, CEO, KIDBOX for a unique Fireside Chat.

The Fireside Chat, hosted by The Millennium Alliance, facilitates debate and discussion around the future of marketing and the ever-evolving role of the CMO.

It could not be easier to sign-up! Simply, visit the website for more information >

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