How Content Marketing Changed the Role of the CMO

For more than two and a half years, Gianni Giacomelli has been the CMO and SVP of product innovation at Genpact, a B2B enterprise company that earns more than $2 billion in revenue per year. Genpact used to fall under the umbrella of General Electric before going independent in 2005 to help businesses manage IT and operations. Like all large enterprises, half the battle for Genpact’s marketing department is staying relevant to their prospects and their customer base. To accomplish that, they aim to provide relevant content through their editorial team, which produces more than 40 articles and case stories per month across a dozen countries.

We got the chance to sit down with Giacomelli to discuss the evolution of the CMO, how companies can use content to stay relevant to their customers, and why the content craze has fundamentally changed the skill sets marketers need to be successful.

(Full disclosure: Genpact is a Contently client.)

It’s been said that content is greater than advertising. Do you agree?

First of all, yes, I agree.

Secondly, at the end of the day, our job is to convince people. There’s propaganda, there’s scale, there’s moving people’s preconceived notions, etc. So that’s the job to be done.

Like many markets, you have an incumbent. The incumbent is advertising, and then you have this little thing called content. It used to be a little thing, but it has actually become a disruptive force in the market.

What’s interesting is that what has happened in the last 10 years is in lockstep with the development of Internet-based creation and consumption of information. Content has become the more important part in the convincing, in the propaganda, than advertising.

So if content is all about convincing people, what role should content play in communicating the larger corporate strategy externally?

I think people today really live and die by relevance. There used to be a time where if you had the ownership of a separate channel, either because you own that channel or you have the money to buy that channel, you could actually say pretty much anything that was somewhat relevant to the audience. It was the corporate strategy of many companies in the past.

Take, for example, the BP campaign “Beyond Petroleum.” They went out with big budgets. Was it relevant to all the people? Not really, but they were very present and the branding was right, so people remember that. Fast-forward to 2015, you have so much competition from other information sources. Unless you’re really relevant, you’re not going to cut it.

That’s where content is really important. Content allows you to be a lot more relevant because you can customize it, and in doing so, you can actually create relevance. When trying to communicate corporate strategy, that’s what you want, right? If you’re not able to do that, your communication gets jammed; your communication is dead.

Does sharing that same corporate strategy look that different when it’s communicated internally?

Interestingly, less so than it used to be. In the past, internal communications were the kind of slow stuff, like manuals, that you could give to your employees and physically contain. The CEO owned the channel of communication to the employees. The employees could not actually get all that much information about their company from external channels.

Today, if you’re an employee of a company, you get a lot of information about your company from the external media, and external media is also social media. It’s a lot more difficult to control all those sources. A content strategy is actually probably one of the best bets that you have as a CEO to control the message that, in the end, is going to come back into your company.

It would also suggest that marketing skill sets are changing. How are the people you hired in the past different from the people you may be thinking about hiring today?

Let’s actually start with the end in mind. My end is creating content propaganda. And the easy test is really how relevant and credible that stuff is. I want people to tune in on my channel, there’s a lot that they can discover there.

There are still a few skills that you need to have. One is: How do I get people to tune in on my frequency? Get people who can write a really strong headline because, at the end of the day, that is what people will see when deciding if they should engage more or less. Planning of social media, programmatic digital, etc. are also very important. Sales is a numbers game. Where do I put my messages? What do I message? It involves a much more complicated portfolio of digital communications than it used to in the past when it was the media agency role. Your digital media people, who may be within your company, now assume a lot of that role.

Then there’s the second skill: to have people who can actually talk proficiently and insightfully about the topic that they are supposed to talk about. If the person clicked on that link and they’re actually tuned in on my frequency, we have to make sure that this audience is exposed to the right info.

Unfortunately, you see a lot of branded content that’s just a lot of blah-blah. I want to be quoted on this: If you have junk food, it might seem okay, but you know that inside it’s not the right food. Good when you eat it, sure, but there’s nothing in there. I believe getting beyond that is a critical skill.

It’s a different skill to be able to create something that generates insight for the people who read it, especially in a B2B environment where the product is complicated and the audience who buys the services doesn’t actually look like the marketer. If you’re selling B2C products, it’s actually a bunch of marketers who probably end up being buyers of the product anyway, so they can relate to it. The B2B environment is a lot harder.

How has this shift in communication had an impact on the role of the CMO? If you were to hire for your own job, what traits would you look for?

It certainly has shifted towards a lot more of a quantitative, technology-savvy profile. The greatest things in our B2B environment are complicated, big decisions, big contracts, and they are sensitive situations. It has swung toward a CMO who doesn’t just understand the content but also understands the client, the client’s motives, the products, and how the products fulfill those expectations.

What questions do you think we need to be asking that the larger marketing population might not be thinking about?

The question that I’d ask everybody and certainly ask myself in private: How can we be helpful solving the client’s problem? It’s how are we relevant in the solution of the problems that they have, beyond just mere awareness. Beyond the “I exist, I’m really cool, look at me” type of thing. How will we create a marketing organization that is incentivized to be relevant to be helpful, as opposed to being loud and in your face?

That’s not to say you don’t need to dramatize stuff, but how do you create relevant marketing? A lot of it comes down to being credible. How do you strike that balance between being provocative and being an agent of change?

Is there any parting piece of advice that you’d give marketers who are aspiring to be CMOs in the next 10 or 20 years?

If you still rely on the old CMO of the past, you better change your path really fast. Nobody knows exactly what the CMO is going to be in 20 or 10 or even five years down the line. We don’t quite know. Certainly it isn’t what it used to be a decade ago. If you’re building in more of the same stuff that you’ve seen in the last 10 years, start to think differently and you will take off.

Image by Ian Sautner

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