Interview: Margaret Molloy on Simplicity and Influence in the CMO World

As part of our blog series with thought leaders in the marketing space, we took some time to speak to Margaret Molloy, global Chief Marketing Officer at Siegel+Gale.

A strategic marketer with a tech profile, she has over 20 years experience as a B2B growth instigator, achieved by uniting brand building with demand generation.

Recognized by Forbes as one of the most influential CMOs on Twitter, her work has been published in HBR, Fast Company, Forbes and beyond.

During the interview we discussed simplicity, influence, social data, key skills needed for success and much more.

Let’s dive right in.

Hi Margaret, I’d love to learn about your role and how you arrived there.

I’m the Chief Marketing Officer at Siegel+Gale, one of the world’s top strategic branding and design consultancies. We are part of the Omnicom Group, and I have been in this role for four years.

Previously I spent most of my career in client side marketing roles at technology and services companies.

What made you want to work in marketing? And have you, as a woman, come up against many roadblocks?

I love working in marketing because it provides the perfect blend of creativity and analysis.

Ultimately, marketing as a profession is about driving business performance. The levers you get to use as a marketer include your creativity, your team building skills and your ability to do rigorous analysis. For me, this blend maps what I enjoy doing most.

When thinking about roadblocks, what occurred to me is the fact that I’m an immigrant and being someone from another country, influences your perception of what roadblocks are.

As an international person coming to America your tolerance is high for roadblocks, because you recognize that you are not establishment, you have no sense of entitlement, so you arguably have a low expectation of what you can expect from others to grant you. This translates into desire to control your own destiny and being very motivated to drive to your own outcomes.

So, I don’t think about roadblocks, I think about how I can be successful in my role. I’ve done a variety of things there that I believe have limited the impacts of roadblocks.

I always made sure I have credentials to do the job I am being assigned, for example, I did my graduate work with the Harvard Business School – that’s a powerful credential.

I also build external networks, particularly amongst clients, which gives me a level of influence and authority. I also have a high public profile, which provides external validation outside my direct role.

These elements – credentials, networks and external validations – have helped me overcome any obstacles that may exist, or at least have created a countervailing force to obstacles.

Which marketing area do you think will be growing most significantly or changing drastically over the next five years?

I fundamentally believe the most important marketing area in the next five to ten years is a focus on customer experience.

It is essential that marketers understand their customer journey and endeavor to make that a positive experience.

It requires marketers to be aware of all channels and ensure that brand communication is in sync with the customer’s brand experience.

This priority of creating simple and delightful brand experiences for customers should be the obsession of marketers in the coming years.

To what extent can social data help brands to better understand customer experience?

Social data is a powerful tool to understand the customer experience.

It is the great gift that we’ve been given in the last decade as marketers. Like any gift, you must appreciate it and use it appropriately.

Social data allows us to listen to customers, but we have to be open to feedback. It allows us to talk to our customers, but brands must be humble and forthcoming in that conversation.

What is the biggest challenge you face in your role?

The biggest challenge I face as CMO of Siegel+Gale is helping our customers and other CMOs understand and quantify the value of investing in brand experience.

To address this, we developed a methodology around brand contribution which helps CMOs and other leaders understand the role of brand relative to price and features or products in their customer’s decision-making process.

You have been recognized by Forbes as one the most influential CMOs on Twitter – how do you define influence and who are the prominent figures that influence you most?

Influence, for me, is the ability to inspire action in others: future customers, employees and other influencers.

When I think about the folks that I get inspiration from, I look at many, but the one that sticks out is Adam Byant, the journalist that writes the CEO column, The Corner Office in The New York Times Business section.

Every Sunday he publishes an interview with a CEO, discussing their journeys and leadership styles. We can all be inspired by the stories of others. Adam Bryant does a great job of making leadership lessons very tangible in interviewing a wide variety of CEOs.

What are the key skills a successful CMO needs to have today?

The most fundamental skill a CMO needs is an ability to drive business performance.

A skill that we all need to continue to hone is our ability to simplify. It’s requires taking many data inputs, synthesizing insights and articulating brand purpose in emotionally compelling ways.

Successful brands understand how to simplify. CMOs who do well are inherently simplifiers and the quest for simplicity is an important goal that we should set for ourselves.

Sometimes, people confuse simplifying with being overly-simplistic. On the contrary, the ability to simplify requires the wisdom to take many inputs and the capacity to prioritize what’s important and the clarity to communicate that to others. So, if we’re looking to the future, I would keep an eye on simplicity.

Additionally, marketing, more than most functions, is a team sport. CMOs need to inspire their teams and the right people to join their organization and bring their best selves to work. Most importantly, they need to inspire their colleagues across the organization to deliver great brand experiences for our customers.

What career advice would you give to young professionals striving for success in this highly competitive field?

The advice I would give is around balancing three vectors: confidence, competence and curiosity. It’s important to always evaluate how you are doing on all three dimensions.

Competence, for example. You need to have a skill. You need to be able to bring value to your employer and the more marketable your skill, the better.

Confidence is being proud enough of your ability to show that you care and communicative enough to raise your hand for opportunities when they present themselves.

Curiosity is that constant desire to be unrelenting and understanding your discipline and never assuming that you’ve figured it all out.

For example, if you’re overly confident, but you don’t have the competence to back it up, then you’re a flawed contributor.

If you’re extremely competent, but you’re not curious, your skills can get out of date and you can become irrelevant.

Or if you’re curious and you’re competent, but you’re not confident enough to ask for the next opportunity, you can become resentful. So, it’s all about having balance among those three dimensions.