We are in a period of significant 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 an emphasis on both brand and performance. No longer is an either-or option viable, nor is a one size fits all approach by company size, region or industry. With this in mind, I have launched an “Ask the CMO” series where I talk to some of the top marketers in the world to uncover the leading issues and trends driving change in the marketplace.
For my latest piece in this series, I had the privilege of speaking with Shira Levy Barkan, a citizen of startup nation Israel, a global marketing veteran and current CMO (Central Marketing Operations executive) at Microsoft in charge of the brand’s marketing efforts across fifteen countries in the multi-country region of Central-Eastern Europe. We discussed her thoughts on marketing challenges today related to everything from creativity, to collaboration to geography. Below is a recap of our conversation:
Billee: So, tell me about your CMO role at Microsoft.
Shira: The regional role of CMO at Microsoft is actually called a Central Marketing Operations role. This is reflective of the changes taking place in marketing because it has become such an operational function that has so many platforms and so many tools. So, it’s really evolved into an operational role and Microsoft actually sees it that way. So, I’m not a ‘Chief.’ We have a different kind of structure than most companies, one that I believe is reflective of the changing marketing environment.
Billee: Thank you for explaining that nuance to me. Can you tell me more about your day-to-day?
Shira: I’m located in Israel, yet, I’m responsible for fifteen countries within Microsoft. The Baltics, The Balkans, The Adriatic and the Black Seas which are in the Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. My role needs to be very operationally driven as you can probably understand. It’s a very diverse set of countries, each with very unique environments. I actually manage remotely which is something that I think that any global or regional CMO needs to address because you have a lot of people in different countries and you need to know how to manage the operation, not just from a marketing perspective, but also from people perspective. Also, because each of the four areas are very diverse from a technology perspective. So, the Baltics are the most advanced, while the Balkans are less advanced from a technology standpoint and from penetration of the cloud. All of this of course impacts my marketing execution. I call myself a revenue marketeer but I see my role as ensuring operational marketing excellence as well.
Billee: Got it. So, what is your point of view on where creativity and technology needs to intersect? Obviously, creativity needs to be central in any type of marketing role, but if your focus is more on operations, how does that play out?
Shira: Well this is a great question because since I’m super operational in my marketing execution, everybody asks did you lose your creativity? The thing is that the world is moving so fast, that if you’re not creative, you actually die. It’s not just creativity, I will say it’s actually creativity and productivity. It’s the two activities that you need to be laser focused on. What is creative? Is creative the way that the banners look? I think creativity comes in the engines that you choose, the platforms that you experiment with. It helps define where do you experiment and where not? The role of the CMO today is always to try to be creative in finding new ways to attract customers, drive growth and be very proactive about both.
Billee: Something that I’ve noticed that Microsoft has focused on as part of re-energizing the brand, is viewing collaboration, much like creativity, less as an activity and more as a vital business competency. What are your thoughts?
Shira: If you’re not collaborative, you die. You need to ensure that your vendors are aligned. You need to make sure that your partners are aligning and also make sure that your managers are aligned. To collaborate, as we say it in Hebrew, in marketing, is to say that we are the egg in the meatball. Together we hold everything together. It doesn’t matter what kind of ‘meatball’ it is, but marketing is what makes everything come together. We are the glue.
Billee: I love that. You mentioned that you have to be creative and collaborative or you die, right? Some people in the marketing function are being pulled in different directions and are weighing brand versus performance. Do you have any thoughts on what the best approach is for fusing the two together?
Shira: Well I think that until now a lot of people confuse creativity in marketing for creativity in marketing communication, which is how your brand’s advertising looks and other things like that. I think that creativity is finding new channels, and new ways that create more impact on your customers by using marketing as a lever to drive growth. Microsoft is a place that always keeps you on your toes as we lean into uncertainty, take risks and move quickly when we make mistakes, because we know that failure happens along the way to innovation. At Microsoft, we’re insatiably curious and always learning.
Billee. Yes, it leads me to another question. A lot of people I talk to are looking to do something beyond just selling things. They’re looking to do things that matter and make a difference. So, this whole idea of cause and social impact has really migrated to the notion of brand purpose as a true driver of both marketing and business. Do you have thoughts on that and how you employ that type of thinking?
Shira: Yes, I 100 percent agree with you. I know that the reason I work for Microsoft is because it does great stuff for humanity and for communities and for governments, and they really change people. Microsoft works to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. You see that the new generation the millennials are smarter. They are looking for meaning. This has made me change the way that I manage them. Money counts but it’s not enough anymore. They look for meaningful activities in what they do to make an impact and not just for the sake of sales. So, you need to market Microsoft to them, but there must be truth behind it. They are super smart. It’s not about giving them a lot of money or a day off. They will leave in two months if they don’t feel they are leaving a mark. I think that every marketeer has to strive to make a mark in this world. I’m not just selling a computer or software or a tooth brush or whatever. I’m actually changing the world for the better.
Billee: There’s always been discussion for as long as the business world has been global around the act local, think global mantra. How does this translate to conveying a company’s grander purpose in a uniform fashion, but then also making it relevant to the region that you’re operating in?
Shira: First of all, I have very different countries, with very different environments. They vary from their political point of view to their culture point of view to the technology point of view. One of the things that we do at Microsoft, which is a large part of my role, is we have a corporate strategy that is very defined and very clear. But, what we do is we actually localize it for each market and that means that in addition to very defined marketing activities we add a local layer to make sure that it’s relevant for that market. That it’s relevant for our partners and that is relevant for our culture. This formula is actually how we leverage the potential that we have in any market, we give everything a bit of the local flavor. This is what I know of being a global marketeer: you taste a lot of flavors and you try a lot of things.
Billee: That’s a great quote. I would like to wrap up with your thoughts on what lies ahead of us in 2018?
Shira: So, I’ve been a marketeer for more than fifteen years and ever since the digital transformation of marketing began five or six years ago there has never been a dull moment for a marketeer. From my point of view, I think that the exciting thing is that marketing is getting more and more connected to the business and actually impacting the business. As I said, I call myself a revenue marketer, and not just a marketer, which gives me a lot of business responsibility. I think that in this era, marketing has evolved into a much broader discipline. I think that is very good news, for me at least, because I can try more things and stretch my wings. I think that we’re heading into even better times ahead. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Note: This article was first published on Billee’s Forbes blog.