Merkle CEO David Williams: ‘The Average CMO Is In A Tough Spot’

Chief marketing officers are surrounded by disruption.

And they’re realizing that the branding skills that got them the top marketing seat aren’t the same skills in data and operations that are going to drive their businesses forward, said Merkle CEO David Williams.

“The average CMO is in a tough spot,” he said. “They didn’t grow up in a world where those skills were highly needed and highly valued.”

Because marketing focused purely on creating a powerful brand, CMOs becoming CEOs was uncommon, he said.

But that’s starting to change, as marketers take on more responsibilities around the customer experience and managing customer data.

“We are in an evolution. Marketing hasn’t owned operations. It’s been tech lite, finance lite. But those are the business skills necessary to drive transformation,” Williams said.

Merkle, of course, is stepping in to help those brands as they use data to show the power of their brands and improve their entire customer experience.

Agencies have been buying data platforms left and right: IPG bought Acxiom and created Kinesso, Publicis acquired Epsilon, WPP has mPlatform and Omnicom has Annalect.

Dentsu Aegis was a few years early to the agency data platform trend, buying Merkle at a valuation of $1.5 billion in 2016.

Now, identity is the No. 1 driver of new business, Williams said.

With identity in place, companies have the potential to reshape critical business metrics. For example, one of Wall Street’s key metrics for a retail business is same-store sales, which exclude the effect of new stores.

“What about same-customer sales?” Williams asks – a metric that can show how a brand is faring in reengaging either its most frequent, loyal customers or its occasional visitors.

Merkle, as a CRM agency, has this type of approach in its DNA. But many marketers think in terms of campaigns, not an ongoing customer experience.

He wants to see more marketers integrate “customer work” with campaign work – not only because it’s good for the brands they work for, but because understanding customer data will help them secure their jobs during an age when marketers are shuffled around after a couple of years of campaign work.

If marketers in the past were judged through “the lens of brand,” Williams pronounced, going forward “the primary metric will be through the lens of economics.”

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