We were in Las Vegas last week for the Brand Innovators Summit at CES, a gathering of CMOs and digital innovation leaders from a wide spectrum of industry verticals. Speakers came from companies like Activision Blizzard, MasterCard, Burger King, Liberty Mutual, and Hilton. They shared stories, lessons, and thoughts around what's preoccupying their thinking in 2020. Here are six lessons we took away from listening to industry-leading marketers.

1. CMOs must master an understanding of business fundamentals

Marketers are traditionally seen as a right-brained tribe. The path to CMO usually follows a creative route, whether coming from agencies or through internal creative teams. But today, the average tenure of a CMO is shrinking, and in some cases companies are getting rid of CMOs altogether, and replacing them with Chief Data or Chief Digital Officers. To avoid this fate, CMOs need to gain a firmer grasp of business fundamentals like P&L to prove out the value of marketing efforts. That move may mean anything from supplemental education and professional development to working more closely with CFOs to develop better reporting models.

2. Customers are smarter, so it's time to stop underestimating them

Customers are smart, and brands that continue to rely on bait-and-switch tactics or underestimate consumer savvy will go extinct. This understanding has wide implications, from being more forthright in ad creative to being more transparent about the use of customer data. Younger users, the much heralded Gen Z, understand cookies and retargeting, and they are demanding more from brands. Don't rely only on demographic and psychographic data. Understand the cultural zeitgeist which is informing behaviors and attitudes. Which leads to our third lesson...

3. Marketing must lead an improved value exchange with customers

It's not about transactions, it's about relationships. In a noisy and distracting digital environment, how will your company stand out? More importantly, how will you retain business? The central question marketers must answer is: What does the customer get in exchange? It could be as simple as advertising that isn't condescending, or it could be campaigns that invite users into the creative process.

4. AI solutions require greater scrutiny

How many pitches do CMOs get for AI or machine-learning technologies? A lot. Enough to induce Shiny Object Syndrome at epidemic levels. Marketers need to avoid being duped by marketing. Take the time to interrogate the technology that vendors are promising. If you're not confident in your technical background, don't be afraid to bring in colleagues who may be able to help you take a closer look under the hood. Pride goeth before a poor tech stack investment. And this comes down to lesson five:

5. Don't be afraid of failure

Case studies are great. Everyone likes success. But several speakers were quick to point out it was failure that taught them the most. It was refreshing to hear CMOs own up to and detail efforts that failed, in some cases, spectacularly. In fact, some companies have instituted a Wall of Shame, where people can describe their failures and what they learned from them. This is a good step toward creating company cultures that value testing and innovation, to say nothing of creating the sense of psychological safety that has been shown to generate more productivity.

6. Data Philanthropy

Lastly, we learned about the burgeoning topic of data philanthropy. Marketers love data, and they gather it by the terabyte. But how can this data be deployed for social good. Think of this as a marriage between the data being collected and now standard practice of corporate responsibility. Are their ways marketers' data sets can be shared (de-identified, of course) in ways that might inform better policy or build less biased AI? It's a growing topic, and one we'll be watching, especially as more data privacy laws come into force.

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