November 28, 2023

Is This Thing On? Ep. 19 with Forbes CMO Network Managing Director, Seth Matlins

In this episode, GALE CEO Brad Simms and Forbes CMO Network Managing Director Seth Matlins discuss the challenges CMOs face as they head into 2024, the critical importance of realigning marketing objectives with business goals, and how to avoid every marketer’s greatest competitive threat: irrelevance.


A Business Agency

In this episode, GALE CEO Brad Simms and Forbes CMO Network Managing Director Seth Matlins discuss the challenges CMOs face as they head into 2024, the critical importance of realigning marketing objectives with business goals, and how to avoid every marketer’s greatest competitive threat: irrelevance.

They discuss:

  • (0:44) The need for better alignment among CMOs, CEOs, and CFOs
  • (5:32) How standout marketers are creating sustainable growth
  • (10:50) The difference between creator and influencer collaborations
  • (15:27) The anonymous brand relationship and human context in data
  • (20:16) Breaking down the budget silos
  • (24:20) Why marketing needs better marketing

We’ve included the full transcript of the conversation below for easy reading, plus have a listen on Amazon, Apple Podcasts, Audible, iHeart, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, or wherever else you get your podcasts!


Brad (00:44):
It's interesting. After we spent time together, I had this approach before that I've kind of refined which is when I have an opportunity to meet with a new CMO I ask him or her, I say, what are the top three or four things that the CEO, the board, the CFO, is setting an objective with those three? What are those? It's shocking, frankly, how many CMOs just can't get that off the top. And then the next question is how does what we're about to talk about ladder into that? And I've been surprised at how complicated it is to get that answered in an easy and succinct way in the last four to five weeks as I've kind of been pressure testing this approach. And some folks are very tight on it and some folks really struggle at various levels. And I think that speaks a little bit to how do you know how to drive that if you haven't really settled in it and understand what you're doing connects to it.

Seth (01:54):
I mean, I couldn't agree more, and I think you may have heard me say this in Miami, too often, too many of us as marketers are confusing objectives with strategies with tactics. And all marketing is a business strategy. A marketing objective is a strategy for realizing the articulated goals of the business laid out by the CEO. That's it. That's what we do. And yeah, it does stun me that so many marketers –  because it does have to be embraced across the breadth of a marketing ecosystem, not just at the Chief Marketing Officer's desk – so many marketers are unable to articulate that.

Brad (2:41):
Yeah, it is interesting. I mean, I remember back many years ago, we were doing some work with one of the professional sports leagues and the lady we were working with there said for us there is no distance between a brand strategy and a business strategy, and they're one in the same. But at the same time, it's interesting when a function whose primary role is, one of their primary roles is one of communications, is maybe not able to frame that up. I wasn't at the ANA Masters Summit, but I did hear that there was an extended session one day just about how you make the CMO and the CFO and the CEO Friends and how do you put them on the same page and how do you connect them together and driving that growth agenda. And I wonder if that's been something that's been around for a while or do you think that's the pressure that organizations are under right now with you said do more with less? Do you think that increases the need for connection there or do you think that this is a challenge that we've had for quite a while and just maybe hasn't articulated in the same way?

Seth (3:57)
I think it's a challenge we've had for at least 15 years, maybe 20, but it's not new. But to your point, I think it's exacerbated and made more so by macroeconomic macro socio-cultural conditions. But if everybody isn't aligned, then it gets cliché so quickly. But if everybody's not aligned, then everybody's not rolling in the same direction. If everybody's not rolling in the same direction, growth is mitigated, efficiencies are made less so. But I think the conversation has kind of a renewed place in the marketing community firmament of late because I think it's also a reaction to what is a historically false narrative around the short CMO tenure and which was based on data that simply didn't hold up to scrutiny and lack context. But it's an essential conversation because there is a divide going back to the first point you made, if a CMO and her marketing org can't articulate what the business objectives are, I don't know what shot they have at delivering against them.

Brad (5:32):
I'm interested, when you look out there, who's doing marketing right now that inspires you? I mean, you have a long career on the agency side. Now on the publisher side. When you look out there in 2023. And the client side, Live Nation. When you look out, who are you like, that's interesting. I love what's going on there.

Seth (05:46):
I try and, it's a great question, and I try and differentiate between what I find interesting and what's working because I recognize that even things I may not find interesting could be working brilliantly and I'm just not the audience. I'm not the intended audience. But with that said, and this is probably more top of mind based on some recent quarterly reporting, it's hard not to look at what Walmart has been doing. I mean, I think they just had, their stock is trading at an all time high. And while you could say that economic headwinds for everybody else is economic tailwinds for them, I mean what they're doing is just I think brilliant. I think they're unlocking a lot of latent equity in that brand. Similarly, I think what McDonald's has been doing is extraordinary, speaking of unlocking latent equity, and it's been much reported on, but what Tariq and Morgan and their teams have done to create not just a culturally relevant brand, it's been relevant over time, over decades, but a culturally resonant one, you look at what Paulie Dery's doing at Yeti, while I think they may have just recently had a down quarter. I was about to say don't quote me on this, but this is recorded. I'm not sure that's right. What they've done is extraordinary. I look at New Balance, I look at Elf, Elf cosmetics I think just had something like their 17th. They were third quarter results. I think it was their 17th in a row where they were up double digits in sales and it was like seventy-six percent growth. There's a lot of people doing good work. The challenge I think in today's world is how does good work stitch together over time to create sustainable growth?

Brad (7:53)
Yeah, it is. It's also, I've been reflecting on this. One of the things we talked about at the event that you had was this performance mentality, performance, performance, performance. And I always say performance marketing works until the day it doesn't. So as long as you're at $1 and 1 cent of ROI on $1 spent, you're happy. And then when you're on ninety-nine cents, you're like, whoa, what's happened? Performance is a very lower funnel. And then there's a lot of brand conversations going on, and a number of folks talked about kind of leaning back into brand.

But there's an interesting thing in some of the examples that you provided, the New Balance one, the Yeti one, the McDonald's one is I think they figured out a way to unlock the middle value. You look at McDonald's and one of the things I think that's really interesting is they're leaning into their loyalty program, the lean into more relevant communications. You look at Yeti, which leans into that community. I just read about them mapping trails and their fund around creating content, the fund that they provide to creators to create Yeti-based content. There's this kind of like, maybe it's not just brand and maybe it's not just performance, but maybe there's something in the middle when we have to do more with less, can we get more out of the middle?

Seth (9:10):
Well, I mean, we talked about this in Miami, which is the middle is where decisions are made. And I have quite a strong bias that brand is the greatest performance engine in the history of performance and the great amongst the greatest disservices to this industry, to this practice, and thus to growth has been the false narrative and false bifurcation of brand and performances as if they're mutually exclusive. But yeah, I think your observation about those working in the middle is on point and that's where the decision gets made.

Brad (9:58):
And it is a very messy spot. It is the spot I think when folks throw up that picture of the funnel and they're like, well, the funnel is not a funnel anymore. It's interesting. I say to folks all the time, I actually still believe in the funnel. If you're not aware of something, you can't consider it.

Seth (10:14):
And if I completely agree with you, what it isn't is uniformly linear. And what it doesn't is necessarily take the time that we might have at once assumed it took. But if you're not aware and if you're not familiar and you don't understand what it's going to do for you, you're not going to buy. And I think that's an issue and an opportunity

Brad (10:50):
I think it is. And I think the brands that have figured out that that is an opportunity are maybe some of those examples that you had articulated there around businesses that are growing by doing creative marketing that hits the middle, but also tells the brand story.

I'm a little bit of a student of the game and I love to watch the trends come and go and come back. It was Web3 and that's disappeared, and Web3 was never anything anyone could explain. And now we don't really talk about it, and it's kind of moved on. And then right now we're in this AI thing, which has been around for a decade, but we're really keen on it. And the thing that I'm also really aware of is this reemergence of the creator influencer in the marketing conversation back, you don't have to way back, but five or six years, everyone was influencer, influencer, influencer. And then it kind of became a little became discipline that maybe wasn't as respected or there were some issues. And so folks shied away from it. And now you look at brands we had American Eagle on, they talked about how they have 200 influencers at any one time telling their story.

Seth (12:14):
And Craig's also done a great job bringing their associates into that mix, which makes that 200 exponentially greater.

Brad (12:22):
And coming from a background at CAA, which was the ultimate of embedding talent into a narrative and then looking at what I think is this really interesting, maybe not epic reinvention, but definitely a slight reinvention between creator and creative, which I think there's a tension there, which is good. How do you think about that, where do you think that space is going? Where do you think the opportunities are there for brands or agencies or creators or creatives?

Seth (12:57):
I mean, I think it's hard to say that it's not going to get more so. I think that too often, too many of us confuse influencer and creator. And a creator is truly a collaborative creative partner. If we think about influencer, what I've long said, having been in the talent space really since the beginning of my career, whether on the buy side, sell side, partner side, I guess that's a three sided relationship is when I was on the agency side, I would have clients say, oh, our talent budget is only X. We can't afford Y. I'm like, you shouldn't have a talent budget. You should have a media budget and you should take it out of your media budget because talent is going to make your media buy more efficient. The quote influencer is going to bring eyes to your work more quickly than it would otherwise. So it's really a media strategy. And then you wonder whether there's a creative application. I think on the creator side in today's world where really the obligation of so many brands, not all of so many businesses, but not all, is to continually refresh the feed literally and metaphorically. You need creators and you need creators who understand their audience intimately. And it is a collaboration. It's other people's money, it's other people's media. It's again, metaphorically, other people's ideas. But if to use a reference point, as we had a conversation with Dylan Mulvaney in Miami a few weeks ago when AB I, when Bud Light worked with Dylan, they didn't work with her as a creator. They worked with her as an influencer. She didn't create much besides check out this canned video. They were just borrowing her audience, borrowing her appeal to an audience, but they weren't borrowing her talent. But I can't imagine we don't see more of it because audiences, I'm sorry, attentions are as fragmented as short and the data we all know as they are. And so leverage other people's ability to attract and retain eyeballs.

Brad (15:27):
It is an interesting conversation. I think there's this landscape that is out there where you have a consumer and a consumer wants to interact with a brand, and frankly, the consumer doesn't care about anything except consistency from that brand. Do I want to be known? Do I want to be anonymous? Do I want them to tell me what to order? Do I not want to, the consumer has a relationship with the brand and then over here on the others,

Seth (15:50):
Maybe. Maybe. I want to just push on that a little bit. I don't know how many brands in our portfolio, our individual portfolios, our individual, let's use pantry as a metaphor. How many things in our pantry, and I include our closet, our garage, on our bodies, do we really want to interact with, do we really want a relationship with?  No, we just want 'em to meet our needs and sometimes our wants and wants and needs collapse. But I don't know, I can't think of that many brands. I have a quote-unquote relationship with. And as it turns out, I'm just thinking about this now, some of my favorite brands, which may or may not be brands I buy, but brands I admire, I don't follow 'em on socials want relationship with you.

Brad (16:43):
But isn't the fact that you don't want a relationship, the relationship you want? So for me, that's the anonymous.

Seth (16:50):
Well, now I don't know. That's interesting.

Brad (16:55):
But when I think about a consumer, you could say something like 80% of the brands that I interact with, I actually want to be anonymous. Don't try to be personalized or relevant to me. I just want to be anonymous. And then there's a small set of brands that I've decided I want them to know me or I want to make them part of my story or I want to follow them or advocate on behalf of them. But the large amount of brands, I just don't really care.

Seth (17:22):
It's funny what you say, I'm sorry to interrupt, when you talk about wanting brands to know you actually this weekend found myself kind of with a void of time and I was trying to figure out what to watch. I was on Netflix and I realized that they kept serving me up, we think you'd be interested in this show that you've already watched. And they served me up another show with a sixty-five percent, whatever it is, likelihood of my enjoying it. And I'd watched all four seasons. So like I actually took time this weekend and went through the Netflix feed and started rating shows that I'd watched because I never do that, hoping that their algorithm would become more relevant to me if they had more data. We'll see what happens. But yeah, I think you're right. I think most of the time the relationship we want is no relationship.

Brad (18:27):
Yeah, I know. I mean, that's a pretty big commitment to getting the recommendations from Netflix.

Seth (18:33):
It was a half hour.

Brad (18:45)
Yeah, yeah, that's a half hour, but that's a trip for coffee. And I think it's interesting, back in the day folks, when Amazon first started making recommendations, everyone is up in arms. How do they know me? What are they tracking about me? And now often if you go into the world and you Google it, folks are like, how does Amazon not know me better? Almost the exact conversation you had, which was how are they recommending things that I've just recently purchased. There’s this interesting shift with some brands in you that you do want them to know you and you want them to be relevant. And then some brands, you track them and you're interested in them and you are fascinated by what goes on, but you're not necessarily interested in relationship with them.

Seth (19:19):
Totally agree. And yeah, I remember years ago, my mother-in-law got sick and she was bedridden. And so I bought a commode on Amazon, had it sent to her, and I kept getting served up ads on Amazon for commodes. I was like, I don't know how many you think I might need. But it brings the conversation back to context, which is I do believe on us when we choose the quote consumer, the customer, to provide that context. But I also think, and I think this is the conversation you and I had on stage in Miami, we too often ignore the human context and our data doesn't reflect and our marketing doesn't reflect the human context.

Brad (20:16):
Absolutely. I mean, I've thought a lot about that. And I think one of the things that I've been noodling is on the brand side, I think one of the long-standing frustrations as a consumer that can't articulate it, but it as an agency that works with brands is the silos in which they operate in. And you just mentioned something a few minutes ago about don't think about your talent as talent or content. Think of it as media, which is a very long-standing point to make, but frankly, I think is becoming more relevant as we lean into creators and influencers and how you view those folks. And I actually wonder if there's actually some type of metric that could be created or some type of study that talks about brands that collapse the silos and therefore are more relevant, whether that is being anonymous or not to consumers are more successful. So you look at Yeti and you ask yourself, frankly, I look at it all the time, and I'm like, where's that? Where's that coming from? Where's that money coming from? Do they view that as content? Do they view that as media? And the fact, and I'm an insider, so I'm trying to think through that, but you just feel the brand, right? They do such a great job there.

Seth (21:34)
Look, years and years ago, beginning of my career, so this could be this probably early 90s, a book came out from two school professors called Integrated Marketing Communications. And I had gone to Northwestern, I knew who the professors were. So I pick up the book early in my career, teach me everything you can about integrated marketing communications, oh sage. And I was like – I know this is a no cursing podcast, so I won't –  oh f-word, this is just common sense. Which is, I use a metaphor a lot, which is today's modern marketing has become a lot like modern medicine, which is for many of the same reasons at a macro level, which is say technology broadly. We've become so specialized that anytime there's a condition or a circumstance or a situation, you have a doctor who's treating the condition but not the patient. And that's one of the biggest complaints with our current healthcare system is people feel like they're a kidney, not a human. They feel like they're a broken thumb, not a patient. I think we're seeing that in marketing also. I actually had an interesting conversation this past week with the CMO of a huge, huge company who has almost daily meetings with their CFO and head of operations. They are a team. They are a triumvirate because they are together responsible for moving the business forward. And which doesn't mean that they will agree nor that they should. If everybody's agreeing, you're rarely going to get better. But the silos, the over specialization has I think just done such a disservice to the overall practice and to the intent.

Brad (23:36):
Yeah, I mean, I was standing at an event yesterday at the New York City Marathon for our client Milk, and I was standing there with Yin, who is the CEO of MilkPEP, and they did the “Got milk?” work and she has Campbell's and all of that. And we're at this recovery lounge venue and the Alice Tully Theatre and Janelle Monáe is playing this set and all these runners are coming in and doing all this, consuming all this food and massages and all of that. And I turned to Yin and I said, part of what I think we figured out how to really crack is we merge the budgets. We merge the budgets, and it's one marketing budget.

Seth (24:19):
It's one marketing budget.

Brad (24:20):
It's one marketing budget. Yup. So I suppose just to round this out, so you talked a little bit about the uncertainty in 2024 from an economic perspective. You talked about do more with less. We've talked about what matters most. When you look out, and I think you have a really unique position. If you were to be overly optimistic and say, this is where I think I'd love the space to go, this is what I'd like to see 2024 to be about. If you had a magic wand, what would that be about? When you go back to your Summit next year, assuming it's annual, what would you like to have seen change? What would you like to have seen moved? Seth (25:08):Well, it is annual. Next year will be our 20th annual. Look, I think you heard me say, and I've published a piece on it: marketing needs better marketing. In fact, marketing needs much better marketing. And there are two sides to that. One is internally the Chief Marketing oOfficer needs, by and large, needs to do a better job of explaining to their CEO and CFO and C-suite colleagues, what they can and should expect from marketing and what they can and cannot expect necessarily, which is to say, one of our biggest mistakes, I believe, is that we are measuring everything except what matters most. And there are some things inside of marketing that you just simply cannot measure. Certainly not quantifiably. We look to last click and first click and multi-click attribution knowing that who actually knows what they mean and where they contributed. And so I think that marketing is at a very serious inflection point. And unless we help our colleagues who tend not to come from the marketing ranks, understand what it is, what it does, and what it can do moving forward, we're at some risk of a continued diminution in support for the practice, which to me is an albatross on global GDP, right? Because if a CEO or a CFO isn't looking to their CMO to drive growth, I don't know what the job of the CMO is. That said, and to much of the conversation we've had Brad, it's like we got to put better work into the world. And that doesn't just mean work that works more often, but of course that, but work that doesn't miss the point. It's easy to miss the mark, right? That's the nature of marketing to an audience as idiosyncratic as human beings are. And I think there's an expectation of predictability that I just don't think marketing can deliver to a perfect extent, but our work is not very good. The data makes that clear. An abundance of data makes that clear. We need to do a better job of thinking about the human context we spoke of earlier, of being less conventional and recognizing that indifference and irrelevance are every marketer's greatest competitive threat.