Today’s chief marketing officer has to be a jack of all trades and master of all. Boingo Wireless CMO Dawn Callahan has watched this role evolve over the past 20 years from an age of tedious AB testing to real-time data analysis.
At Boingo, Callahan is in charge of consumer-driven revenue and leads marketing across all lines of business, as well as corporate marketing, branding and PR. Callahan sat down with AList to explain the role that data plays in today’s marketing world and why trust is a CMO’s biggest challenge.
How has the nature of your work changed in the last five years?
A lot. (laughs) The biggest thing for me is investor relations. You’re still a storyteller but now you’re telling a story to the analysts, investors, that sort of thing. Every quarter you have to find a new way to tell that story.
What are the most important qualities of a modern marketer?
There are three things: they’re intensely curious, they’re great storytellers, and the third thing is that they’re data-driven.
Typically when we see a CMO, [people think you’re] in charge of the brand and advertising. I run 50 percent of our company’s business. Marketers today almost have to be a CTO or CEO. In fact, I recently read an article saying that CMO is the next step to CEO. That’s definitely true from where I sit. More than anything else, marketers are having to become massive data experts.
When I think about how I started my career, a lot of it took place in direct mail. That’s the original data-driven [strategy]. We’re doing that but now it’s on a digital platform and it’s so much faster. Synthesizing that data depends on what you’re trying to do. For example, if you want to track a customer journey from beginning to purchase, that’s hard to do—it doesn’t matter how many systems you have in place. But if you talk about using data for things like UX design and A/B testing, [that’s different]. Going back to when I was doing direct mail, you sent out a lot of A/B tests and it took forever. Today, you can do all that stuff in literally 24 hours so you can iterate, iterate, iterate.
What is the biggest challenge facing marketers today?
Trust is the biggest issue that marketers have today. We’re in this environment where news is fake and truth isn’t truth, and so people don’t know what to trust anymore. We also live in this world that is increasingly online so it’s dehumanized in a way. For example, we don’t go to a brick and mortar [where] you can come up to me, see my face and have an authentic relationship with a real person. As we do less and less of that, there’s less human contact and less trust. I have Sirius in my car and I can’t go five minutes without listening to a commercial that’s by a founder, [telling the story] of why they founded the company, etc. It’s cool, but it’s because we have to create trust. One of the ways we do that is by trying to personalize the company. Trust is the biggest thing we all have to worry about right now.
Where do you find inspiration?
It happens everywhere when you’re open to it. For me, it’s definitely art, music, commercials, film or someone wearing something on the street. You can’t stop kicking those ideas around because the cool idea [can come from] idea number 12. We start with a Pendleton shirt and we end up with the patch that goes on a hat. You have to keep going. We’re lucky to have an in-house agency.
Do you have a preference for working with an in-house agency?
Our creative services team does all of our artistic output. But, if we have to do an activation, we’ll work with an activation company because they’re no way we’re going to hire 40 people to go work on it. Depending on what we’re doing, we’ll definitely pick up people—but I cannot imagine working with an outside agency after bringing someone in-house.