There has perhaps never been a more difficult time to be a marketer. We are in a period of seismic business change, catalyzed by the digital transformation that is upon us. This is requiring leading brands to reimagine the marketing function in ways that embrace a sense of purpose, uniting brand and product, to create emotionally driven experiences that create market distinction. With this in mind, I have launched an “Ask the CMO” feature where I speak with some of the top marketers in the world to uncover the leading issues and trends driving change in the marketplace.
For my fourth piece in this series, I had the pleasure of speaking with Alain Grant Mahmoud, CMO of ClearCove and marketing veteran who has served leading brands in his 20 plus year career such as Frito-Lay, Microsoft, Chevron and Wells Fargo. We discussed his thoughts on the importance of creativity and emotional connection in the new age of business transformation, along with the need to remember that brand and product must become one in our era of experience. The following is a recap of our conversation:
Billee: It’s probably the most challenging time to be a marketer in history as marketing has become more important than ever before in driving not just brand awareness but performance. What are your thoughts?
Alain: I agree with you in that marketing has become more challenging to a certain extent. More people, more brands, more competition, more technological advancements and so on and so forth. But, I also think it’s probably the most exciting time to be a marketer.
Marketing is more nuanced and complex than ever before as we’re able to engage with people throughout day-to-day life. With mobile devices essentially being an extension of ourselves, we live in an age of marketing micro moments and being able to deliver solutions accordingly, both in the digital world and its relationship with brick and mortar. There’s always been science in marketing and branding but it’s much more sophisticated now. What’s going to be key for companies and brands in order to differentiate themselves, is to figure out ways to authentically resonate with people in a way that facilitates meaningful, emotionally engaging, long-lasting connections. With AI and other technologies, everything is better, stronger faster, but we can’t forget the human component in marketing and the power of creativity.
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Billee: The last thing that you said is very powerful. Everybody is very overwhelmed with this idea of you using the science side of marketing to really change the way it’s done and to ultimately really impact performance. I personally feel that the innovation needed on the creative side is kind of being ignored a little bit. What are your thoughts?
Alain: The creative side should not be replaced but empowered by technology.
Science and automation can only do so much. As much as the technology has evolved, it still has a tremendous way to go. And it’s nowhere near being able to replace human intuition, human emotion or emotional intelligence and creativity. When you put a bunch of people in a room together and you start riffing off one another, there’s really no substitute for that, and I don’t see that being replaced. In the case of the marketing world, it’s become very data-driven and I think that you really need to step back and see the forest through the trees to create and deliver beautiful content that is emotional, engaging and evocative.
Billee: I love that as it’s a really contrarian answer that is so insightful. I agree with you especially because you lead marketing for a B2B brand. Most people would think the inverse-that a consumer brand would rely more on creativity and a B2B brand would perhaps need to rely more on data and science. Can you talk to me about how you are applying that thinking to your work at ClearCove?
Alain: It’s a really interesting question. At the end of the day we’re marketing to people. People have emotions no matter what you’re trying to sell them.When I first started going to work in the 90s, people didn’t really know how to behave. It was like you had two personalities. You had a work persona and then an out of work persona. Today, I think the boundaries to use technology between your business and personal lives have become very blurred. We’re always connected. We’re always working and so on and so forth. So, I think the need to instill that level of awe and that level of emotional engagement into all communications is greater than ever right now. Hence I believe we’ll see greater levels of Account Based Marketing and personalization in the B2B world, which will be driven by the power of technology.
Billee: You are at a startup that’s doing something meaningful in revolutionizing water technology, but a lot of brands, whether they are purposeful in their DNA, or not, have begun to evolve their purpose beyond a brand tool, it’s a business growth strategy. Can you talk a little bit about the power of purpose and its impact on a business and its long-term growth strategy?
Alain: You know that that’s a really good question in terms of what I do. We essentially mine resources out of wastewater. We transform wastewater into valuable resources, primarily clean water and energy. I love what we do at ClearCove; it doesn’t get much more inspiring than sustainably recycling critical resources that feed, fuel and water our planet.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to pull the wool over peoples’ eyes today. Authenticity is paramount in an age of transparency. Stakeholder knowledge and power is at an all time high. And I think having an inspiring purpose is incredibly important in terms of building a business; not just with your external customers, but internally, too, in terms of building your brand from the inside out and creating an inspiring rallying cry across both employees and other internal stakeholders that they can engage with. Brand is no longer separated from product. They are one in the same and have to be equal parts of the overall experience.
Billee: I couldn’t agree more. Something you just said ties back to something you mentioned earlier, which was super insightful: ‘in essence, the brand and the product used to be separate and now they need to be one in the same.’ As a result, I’m seeing different adjustments taking place in the C-Suite. The CMO is now much more closely linked to the CEO. We are also seeing more Chief Brand Officers because increasingly the overall experience of the brand is connected to performance. Do you have any thoughts on all that and how it pertains to you personally?
Alain: I’m encouraged by the change that has transpired over the last 20 years. We used to talk about marketing or branding as very much a tactical downstream tool. I think that’s really changed now. In today’s world, the entire C-suite needs to be a marketer and needs to be brand savvy. From a CMO standpoint I think you really need to be a little bit of everything these days. I think you need decent business acumen because ultimately branding is a bridge between the business or the business strategy and the marketplace. As a result, you really need to understand the business side of it and how to integrate the brand throughout an organization.
CMOs absolutely need to be savvy when it comes to the digital arena. If you don’t get digital you’re a dinosaur. I think there’s a need for CMOs to have a higher level of emotional intelligence in the world that we live in, and have a keen understanding that everything is exposed in these micro moments. Marketers of today are very different than even 5 or 10 years ago. When I look at a lot of the younger marketers starting out in their careers now, I’m super impressed. I think there’s a real need for senior level marketers to up their game.
Billee: Is there anything that you’re doing that demonstrates this new type of approach at ClearCove that you think would be illustrative of your thinking?
Alain: Yes. We’re in the planning stage right now for a campaign, a kind of ‘Pepsi Challenge’, that will demonstrate ClearCove’s technology leadership in the wastewater resource recovery space. The plan is to roll out this campaign platform out across multiple verticals in the food and beverage space, which is our core focus, with a view to building understanding and buy-in for our patented technology. Our technology is very different compared to every other resource recovery or wastewater treatment technologies in that we do not use biology, which is highly volatile and energy-consuming. Every other single technology has been around for 40, 50, 60 years, which is pretty scary. To highlight our unique approach, we will be taking the thinking of the ‘Pepsi Challenge’ product comparison concept, applying it to resource recovery and then using that platform to engage our audiences emotionally and intellectually across multiple channels through programmatic, social, earned and influencer media tactics. There’s a lot of skepticism and a lot of naysayers now. The technology is proven. It’s out there, it’s working and our customers love it. But, there are still a lot of people that are sitting on the fence. We need to address this, at least from a brand and communications perspective.
Billee: You mentioned this idea of emotion and the idea that neuroscience will continue to emerge in marketing because the need to emotionally connect is so important. I’d really be interested to have you share your thoughts with our readers about that.
Alain: That’s a really good question. Granted, I’m not a neuroscientist, but in today’s world we can connect and engage with customers 24/7. In many ways, life has become a vertical scroll. Consumers are completely and utterly saturated at any given moment in the day. They are continually consuming media or buying something online etc., hence the greater need to differentiate brands and personalize communications. I think neuroscience only becomes more and more important and in that context; the science is great, but it needs to inform the creative to create emotional connections. I see the evolution of neuroscience in marketing being catalyzed by the advancement of mobile and sensor technologies. As we migrate more toward wearables and embedded microchips, engagement solutions will be rooted in peoples’ emotional and physiological states.
Note: This article was first published on Billee’s Forbes blog.