The fourth interview for Marketing is in the Middle is with Chris Cummings. I’ve been reading his blog for quite a while – Product Management Meets Pop culture. Not only does he have a cool blog, he’s got an interesting gig as the Director of Product Management of Games and stuff at Lycos’ Gamesville. Chris provides clarity with every post by trying to look at the product marketing and management delima through a pop culture lens – movies, comics, and other pop culture ephemera. Not only does it resonate with a gaming, tv watching and comic liking geek – it provides everyday examples which are easily digestible and fun.
I’m glad Chris was willing to share his take with y’all. So here are his insights:
What marketing roles have you had and in what markets?
My first professional job was working in the marketing communications office of a college database company called CMG, which soon started spinning out different web-based startups. That was back in 1997. I’ve been in online ever since. The majority of my time has been in online games, and I’ve recently branched out into web publishing.
When you look at your career in marketing, what activities have you found most interesting/challenging?
The most interesting and challenging has been defining and explaining what it is, exactly, that I do. Over the years, more than one person (including multiple CEOs) have noted that: a) they’re not entirely sure how I do what I do but b) I always get the job done, and bring real value to the business.
On the one hand, that’s a big compliment. On the other, it made me a little nervous: I never wanted to be a magician or to live in a black box!
Based on your experience what activities do you think get the most return?
I’m really focused on digital, so I’d say making sure your website or app has customer-focused content and interactive features that speak to the needs of your customers or prospective customers is paramount. Part of that “interactivity” should be providing clear, and plentiful, ways for them to reach you. So many businesses still rely on the “Contact Us” or “About” page to drive leads, it’s mind-boggling. But then again, almost half of all small businesses don’t have a digital presence at all so there’s clearly plenty of room for improvement!
What do you feel is the most important component of a successful marketing gig?
Understanding the problems of the market you’re focusing on. If you don’t get that, then you basically just have a really cool tech demo and not a business. That applies to everything, even online games. What problems does Gamesville.com solve? Part of it’s psychological, part of it’s pure advertising. Gamesville provides a place for people to come together, create community, and encourage each other playing games while also pulling together a valuable demographic that advertisers want to reach in an environment uniquely suited to getting their messages across.
How have you seen organizations change in the last 3-5 years to better support the needs of product marketers, product managers and communications teams?
I think we’re seeing more strategic integration on the metrics that drive our businesses, and that’s helping everyone including the roles you mention… providing they’re doing a good job. Not everything is measurable online, but many key things are. Focusing on those key metrics helps everyone understand our joint success and failure, and you’re individual role in it.
If you could design the perfect corporate environment for a marketer to be successful what would that be?
If I was going to design the perfect corporate environment, we’d have a product organization that reports directly into the CEO along with the other C-level functions. The Chief Product Officer would be responsible for leading the product while working with the other members of the senior team to make sure finance tracks key metrics (not just costs!), that our marketing is effective, sales is selling, and engineering is making the magic happen. Team work among the senior team is critical, including productive conflict, but everyone needs to respect and understand who’s driving which parts of the business — and which “key drivers” are really key.
How far is this from reality?
I think we’re getting closer and closer to this every day. Thanks to web analytics, there’s so much information available — and anyone with the right credentials can see it, at any point, including the CEO. Step one was getting everyone to see the same data. Step two is getting everyone to agree on which metrics actually matter!
I think the Chief Product Officer (CPO) will definitely be an emerging role in the market as Chris suggests. I also think that Chief Marketing Officers and CPO’s will need a key technology role to support them in the goal of improved processes and metrics. Organizations are going to not only need to invest in developing products to be successful, but also leverage tools and content to drive efficiencies and increase ROI of marketing programs/investments.