Marketing shifts from the view of the CMO

From the C-Suite Newsletter: In a roundtable talk, marketers share how they're adapting to the changing consumer landscape.



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The industry’s top marketing minds gathered for the Marketing Evolution: C-Suite Summit (MES) in Toronto today to discuss and reflect on the changing role of the CMO and how to future-proof their brands.

Ahead of the event, Strategy welcomed several MES advisory board members for a roundtable dinner to discuss some of the key themes explored at this year’s summit.

At the roundtable were advisory board chair Deborah Neff, VP of marketing at Sephora Canada; board members David Bigioni, chief commercial officer at Canopy Growth, and Antoinette Benoit, SVP and CMO at McDonald’s Canada; as well as Axel Schwan, global CMO at Tim Hortons and Judy Davey, VP of media policy and marketing capabilities at the Association of Canadian Advertisers (ACA).

The roundtable discussion was edited for clarity and space.

How do you predict what consumers want in the future? Is it having a place where you can comfortably take risks in a controlled environment? Or are there other ways that have helped you predict where consumers’ desires, demands and behaviours are going?  

Deborah Neff: In beauty, there used to only be three or four brands that drove everything. Now there’s 100 brands, because you can be a startup and you can be Kylie [Jenner] and sell billions of lipsticks. So it’s changed in the sense that the Lauders, the L’Oreals, and the Revlons [of the world] are trying to figure out their [place in the beauty category], because they’ve been there for years and someone can just come in and create a billion-dollar brand. How do you compete with this ease of entrepreneurship? There’s just so much that I think is affecting the large brands and small brands.

Antoinette Benoit: I’m always wondering whether in the near future, the world will prefer small brands to big brands. How do you [compete] when you’re a big brand? A&W in Canada is magic. It’s still a small brand [in people’s minds] and I think it will remain [that way].

So how do you deal with that, being the prototypical big brand? 

Antoinette: You try to be close [to your customers]. You try to show that you’re close to what they have on their minds. I think, in Canada, you try to show that you’re Canadian, a part of their everyday life, and then you work on this notion of scale for good, that the fact that you’re big can also be an advantage when it comes to doing good.

David Bigioni: You have to learn from big brands how to stay small. When I think back to my experience at Molson, back in the day, Molson reps were like the mayor of their town. It’s where people came to get coupons for stag and does, and [to ask to] sponsor local community events and baseball teams. It was a big business, but a small, local approach. And then through lack of growth or [other factors], there’s been this consolidation that says, ‘We don’t do that anymore. We’re just going to talk at people.’ There’s lots to learn from that, because it creates that opportunity for other brands to come in.

What are your strategies for recruiting the right talent, especially in this age of startup culture, where many people want to work at new and exciting challenger brands?

Schwan: For us, a big step was moving from Oakville, where we had been since 1964, to downtown. We heard it over and over again in our interviews: ‘I want to work for you; tell me when you’re not in Oakville anymore.’ That was one step. Some things will never change. Ideally, people should like the content [of] what we do. You need to be passionate about this stuff. The second one is culture. You have to love the people that you work with, and the values the company stands for [need to match up]. And then compensation. It’s part of the whole mix. That’s at least what we see: content, culture and compensation. Culture is probably evolving the most.

At the other end of the spectrum, how have your roles as chief marketers changed? 

Neff: On the brand-side and the retail-side, marketing is very different. When I was at Revlon, it was more about wearing a corporate hat; you were still the head of marketing, but you had a very strong voice and operating team. On the retail side, when I got here, I was in a support function, reporting into merchandising. My role was new, so they wanted me to build a team, and it was [about] shifting the retail mindset. All of a sudden, [the customer] has options; she doesn’t have to pick Sephora. That was a shift for retail culture [overall]. We need to build our own brand, and that means investing in it.

Benoit: More often now it’s about being the one who asks the right questions. Sitting back and identifying the questions that your team has not asked. Also, making sure that you have a few partners – for us, it’s Cossette, because we run 60 campaigns per year. The more you grow in the job, the more you realize your value [as CMO] is choosing talent, making sure they’re well coached, and coaching them yourself. Every time there’s a newcomer, if I was not part of the recruitment process, I spend 30 minutes with the person, get to know who they are and connect, so that I will be able to coach them every time there’s an opportunity and build a relationship with them independent of their own managers.

Some of you work at the Canadian outpost of a global company. What challenges and opportunities does that present when needing to market locally? 

Neff: The challenge is figuring out what strategies you are going to localize versus leverage, working with organizations that appreciate localization and the value it brings, but not localizing for the sake of localizing. We were a leveraged model when I came in. It was painful for me [when I arrived at Sephora], because I saw all these opportunities. But Canada was just Canada [for them].

Eventually, they saw the growth, and then everyone was paying attention, including the global CEO, something seemed to be working. You just have to start with a mindset; how do you set yourself up for success so that you can localize in the countries in a meaningful way? Our global CEO of Sephora I think has four people on his executive committee, because he wants all the talent in the countries. He appreciates localization.

David, you’re in a bit of a unique position, because your company has made its global intentions known. But your product is in various stages of legality depending on what state you’re looking at. 

David Bigioni: It starts with a portfolio approach, not a single brand approach, that’s more consistent with a CPG company around value brands, discrete brands, connoisseur brands, emotional brands, functional brands. It all starts with global insight. Are you grounded in local insight that will travel?

Tweed, which is our anchor brand, is rooted in a Smith Falls [Ont.] story. Well, that’s a small town story. A small town story and small town values and this notion of inclusivity – it travels. But it’s also taking it one step at a time. We’re not Heineken, going from country 133 to 134, where the playbook is understood, has been tested, and we know it’s going to work. We’re going from country one to country two. It’s test and learn. This isn’t a category that I can put in a basis test and come out with a projected volume. Brands aren’t as well understood; i’s more grassroots in nature.

It’s about using the fundamentals that we all use around consumer insight and having a point of view on the world, and ensuring that it’s a point of view that travels, that is global in nature. I can’t tell you how it’s going to turn out. I don’t have stores and countries just yet. But I think that’s the journey – to learn from others, make sure you have the fundamentals, collaborate and evolve.