These Tech-Savvy CMOs Embody All the Talents the Modern Marketer Needs

These 16 CMTOs from brands like GE to L'Oréal have got game

Sasha Maslov

The digital/social/mobile/virtual age heralds a whole new approach to marketing, given that consumers enjoy more control over content and accompanying messaging than ever before. This reality has given rise to the tech-savvy CMO—one who is comfortable making use of all these digital skills to reach consumers in new ways. These 16 talented executives have all the qualities it takes.

Linda Boff / CMO, GE

By now the idea that GE experiments with and adopts new technologies and platforms early on is a relatively well-known fact. The company has pushed its digital industrial storyline—a 125-year-old company built to run like a startup—to the world for quite some time now.

GE has only continued to deliver on that mission statement since Linda Boff took over as CMO of the company in September 2015. She’s consistently taken GE’s marketing to the next level by jumping into new platforms and tech early—from virtual reality to Snapchat Stories. No matter the platform, Boff wants to make sure the brand is finding human and unexpected ways to connect with people.

“I want our brand to be the best,” Boff explains. “This may sound corny, but the world needs GE and the things we do, like supplying electricity to the billion people in the world who don’t have access or high quality, affordable healthcare in remote areas.”

Her relatively short term as CMO was bolstered by her tenure as head of digital marketing, which led Boff to green light some of the most effective digital campaigns for GE, including the “Owen” recruitment ads in partnership with BBDO New York. The ads tell the story of Owen who has landed a job at GE as a programmer, but works to convince others GE is no longer just a manufacturing giant. The campaign increased job applications eightfold.

The work Boff helped craft is not only forward thinking, it’s also garnered attention from the creative community. GE’s podcast series The Message—created in partnership with Panoply, BBDO and Giant Spoon—scored a gold Lion at Cannes last year. —Katie Richards

Geraldine Calpin / CMO, Hilton Worldwide

In 2014, Hilton hotels rolled out a new option that gives guests booking online or via its mobile app the opportunity to choose their own rooms—not just the size, but the floor, and the location on the floor. Of course, airlines have offered a pick-your-seat option for years now, so offering it for hotels probably sounds pretty straightforward.

Except that it wasn’t. Hilton has over 4,900 properties around the world, no two of them the same. The Choose Your Room option covers half a billion rooms across the Hilton system. And it’s also a feature that CMO Geraldine Calpin counts among her singular achievements.

“Sure, we’ve done big campaigns. But I also think, as marketers, [we] have to begin to deliver better experiences,” argues Calpin, who was Hilton’s global head of digital before becoming CMO in 2015. In Calpin’s view, the disciplines of digital and marketing have been converging for years, so it follows that better brand experiences mean, increasingly, seamless digital ones.

“In today’s age, you need to be personally engaged with customers and give them experiences that are better that will keep them coming back,” she says. “So the emergence of tech-savvy CMOs is really important—because we have tech-savvy customers.” Calpin rolled out the big marketing guns last year at the Grammys with the launch of “Stop Clicking Around,” a campaign aimed at getting travelers to bypass online travel agencies and book directly with Hilton. But motivating them to do so requires perks, and Calpin’s got them. Apart from Choose Your Room, Hilton e-bookers can also use something called Digital Key to bypass the front desk and get into their rooms using their smartphones. Also coming soon: a chance to preselect your room temperature and favorite TV channels before you arrive.

Customers, Calpin says, are “used to running their lives from the palm of their hands, and if you actively engage them on their preferred channel, you’ll be more successful.” —Robert Klara

Seth Farbman / CMO, Spotify

On the day of the Brexit vote last summer, 3,749 Spotify users streamed the REM tune, “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” That quirky data point was highlighted on billboards in November as part of the brand’s largest global out-of-home campaign under the theme, “Thanks, 2016. It’s been weird.”

Spotify’s data-obsessed CMO Seth Farbman is responsible for finding interesting narratives from the company’s trove of data about actual listening habits to help the brand stand out from competitors including Apple Music and Pandora. They usually result in fun and entertaining campaigns.

“You find one data point that’s interesting to apply a point of view of culture and a little bit of creativity to turn it into something that’s a little more compelling,” says Farbman. “The more unusual the better—you have to think beyond the first layer or the obvious.”

Interestingly, Spotify’s campaigns that tout the company’s souped-up recommendation algorithms often take advantage of old-school out-of-home media—but with a twist. “The truth is, out of home is still so valuable at being hyper-focused on a location,” he explains. And when those huge billboards grab someone’s attention, “what we found was that we actually created quite a bit of digital amplification—people were taking pictures of the billboards and then tweeting them.”

The strategy appears to be working. This month, the company announced it has 50 million paying subscribers, up from 40 million last September. “You almost have to bring in classic, strategic marketing in order to continue rapid growth,” notes Farbman. The data seems to prove it. —Lauren Johnson

Julia Goldin / Evp, global CMO, Lego Group

Lego doesn’t need help with name recognition. The 85-year-old brand is beloved by both parents (who use it to inspire creativity and champion critical thinking skills) and children (who just like to play). But how do you adapt a brand known for its analog products to the digital world? That’s something evp and global CMO Julia Goldin has been working on since she joined in 2014.

“We know that children do not need to buy Lego products every year,” says Goldin. “Just because they bought a set last year, we cannot take it for granted that they will automatically do so again this year. So, we start fresh each year, innovating and creating new and exciting ways to surprise and delight children.”

What does that mean for Lego’s digital strategy? “We are exploring opportunities in multidimensional play, which allows kids to move seamlessly between physical and digital play,” says Goldin. “We have some great new platforms such as Lego Boost, which combines coding and robotics, and Lego Life, our new safe social network for kids to build and play. We are also increasing focus on digital and social media in engaging with kids and parents.”

It makes sense. Lego Life was already dubbed “Instagram, but for Lego” by tech bible The Verge. The app is a hit for the brand, according to Goldin, who notes that “in just one month, we already have more than 1 million kids around the world sharing their personal creations and liking each other’s builds.” That’s something to build on. —Kristina Monllos

Rick Gomez / Evp and CMO, Target

If you remember last year’s Grammy Awards, you might also recall how a bit of marketing history was made when the video for “Make Me Like You” hit the air in real time: four minutes of dancing, singing, roller skating and costume changes with a crew of 250. Some 25 million Americans were tuned in to the Target-sponsored extravaganza, while online fans got a second look via Periscope, Snapchat and Facebook Live.

The star of this spectacle was, of course, Gwen Stefani. But behind the scenes was another superstar talent—this one in a not-so-Hollywood place: the marketing department. Since jointing Target in 2013, Rick Gomez—who rose to CMO this January from svp of marketing—has quietly engineered some of the big-box retailer’s biggest online splashes, even as he’s helped make the 115-year-old brick-and-mortar firm into a full-on digital player. And while he’s among the most tech-savvy CMOs in the business, Gomez sees his mission as keeping his brand apace with a world that’s increasingly digital every day.

“For me, being tech savvy is less about one specific project or campaign and more about building up the team and capabilities to lead in a world that’s driven by technology,” says Gomez. “We’ve always had amazing creatives and brand managers, but over the last few years we’ve invested significantly in building up the digital and data-driven capabilities within our marketing team.”

For example, Target’s in-house social media team now fosters some 50,000 mentions of the brand each day. Gomez was instrumental in a platform called Target Guest Access, which lets vendors reach Target customers directly across social media channels. Gomez also presides over Cartwheel, a coupon app that awards discounts to frequent store shoppers.

But Gomez’s biggest hits are probably, well, the literal hits: The music video collaborations he’s helped to create that aren’t just music industry phenoms, but case studies in how digital branding doesn’t need to be a deadly pop-up ad. In 2015, Imagine Dragons performed “Shots” on an outdoor Las Vegas stage that was a Target bull’s-eye. And most recently, Carly Rae Jepsen and Lil Yachty covered the 1988 hit “It Takes Two” in a shopping-spree video shot on a set of—what else?—a Target store. —R.K.

Marie Gulin-Merle / CMO, L’Oréal USA

Out of all the beauty firms exploring digital marketing innovations, L’Oréal sits a notch above the rest. That advantage has a lot to do with  its fearless marketing leader, CMO Marie Gulin-Merle.

Gulin-Merle has been with the company in some capacity for over 10 years and was elevated to the role of CMO in May 2014. Ever since, she’s wasted no time venturing into uncharted digital territory. For starters, L’Oréal was first in its category to use a Sponsored Lens on Snapchat. When Snapchat users took a selfie, the filter added the brand’s Infallible Silkissime eyeliner to the image. The brand returned to filters this past Valentine’s Day, allowing users to apply different color lipsticks to their Snapchat videos. L’Oréal dove headlong into Pinterest to promote a new line of makeup using Cinematic Pins, or animated video pins, which helped boost brand awareness by 30.7 percent while also solidifying the brand’s techie bona fides.

“Digital is a revolution, and we’re only at the very beginning,” says Gulin-Merle. “It’s a fundamental factor in how consumers interact with brands, how they choose products, how they shop—and how our teams decide to collaborate.”

Also close to Gulin-Merle’s heart is a partnership with General Assembly—a company that helps people ace tech skills from user experience design to iOS and Android development—which formed last May. “It is of utmost importance for L’Oréal to not only drive the modernization of digital marketing,” she says, “but to also recruit top talent in the industry and cultivate a reputation as a company that develops digital savvy from within.” —K.R.

Alicia Hatch / CMO, Deloitte Digital

Alicia Hatch’s first brush with the group behavior dynamics that shaped the beginning of her digital career occurred not in a tech industry hotbed like Silicon Valley or Redmond, Wash., but rather in Ghana, West Africa.

The Los Angeles native, fascinated with medicine and surgery from an early age, was working during and after college in the mid-1990s on disease control associated with flesh-eating bacteria in West Africa for the World Health Organization when she realized that, in order to really communicate with the people she was trying to help, she had to “really understand the collective connections and perceptions alive in their communities,” she says.

Fast-forward to a chance meeting in Seattle in 2001, and Hatch found herself at Microsoft trying to connect with another sort of tribe with strong collective perceptions: young male gamers. Hatch, who quickly rose to run business development strategy for Xbox’s billion-dollar Halo game, describes them as “the most discerning audience in the world.”

“We really had to enhance the experience beyond the game and throw out all the basic marketing assumptions of reaching young gamers,” says Hatch, who found that understanding the intersection between consumer products, technology and retail was crucial to the success of Halo. “There is a lot of power in intersections because that’s where real breakthroughs happen.”

In 2010, Hatch left Microsoft to start the data and socially led agency Banyan Branch, which was acquired by Deloitte Digital in 2013. Deloitte saw in Banyan and Hatch a kindred data-driven partner intently focused on cracking the new marketing code. She became the consultancy’s CMO and is now focused on helping fellow CMOs become more data-driven and customer-centric by shifting thinking, budgets and structures. The groundbreaking acquisition of creative shop Heat in 2016 cemented the thinking behind the Banyan-Deloitte union.

“She understands that to be successful today, you have to amp up the old ways with the latest digital marketing methods, and make sure you have the data to back it up,” says Andy Main, head of Deloitte Digital. “Workflows are really the new org chart,” adds Hatch, who cautions that future success will depend on how boldly companies can break with the past and do away with the fears associated with change. “Even the shiniest data stack is suboptimized by legacy organizations.” —James Cooper

Stephen Odell / Evp, global head of marketing, sales and service, Ford

In the world of automotive brands, Ford has been particularly forward thinking, doubling down on technology and preparing for a future without cars. Leading these efforts is Stephen Odell, global head of marketing, sales and service. Odell assumed his current role in 2015 after serving as Ford’s evp and president of Europe, Middle East and Africa.

Over the past few years, under the slogan “Go Further,” Ford has positioned itself as not just a carmaker but as a mobility company. It introduced the FordPass app, which helps people explore ride-sharing options and find and pay for parking, and has invested in self-driving vehicles, with the aim of launching an autonomous vehicle for ride sharing by 2021.

Last year, the company expanded its research and innovation center in Palo Alto, Calif., to continue that R&D. In early 2017, it opened FordHub, an interactive installation in New York that lets customers experiment with some of the company’s innovations. —Christine Birkner

Lou Paskalis / Svp, enterprise media planning, investment and measurement executive, Bank of America Merrill Lynch

While not technically CMO (that title belongs to Anne Finucane), Lou Paskalis combines marketing know-how with strong technology chops to help Bank of America navigate the constantly changing waters of digital media and advertising.

“The interesting thing that we have now [with newsfeeds] is that marketers are competing not only with the traditional publishers that we used to rely on to reach an audience, but also competing with the very consumers that we’re trying to engage with it,” says Paskalis. “In the post-advertising era, I think it’s about adding value to the thought, leveraging the context of what you’re doing right now.”

In other words, Paskalis is charged with making the brand’s ads more effective with better placement and targeting. For example, experiments in using automated bidding for paid search lifted the marketer’s efficient unit volume by 33 percent. “We’re finding advantage in an algorithm-driven world because the algorithms can process the information faster than my own team,” Paskalis explains. “We’re doing a lot of work with dynamic ads, leveraging programmatic, to try and adapt to audience needs.”

To fight ad fraud and viewability concerns, Paskalis set up a three-tiered system with BoA’s ad-tech vendors to tackle multiple issues at once, which resulted in finding 22 percent more bogus inventory that “we can therefore secure a makegood or credit for,” he says.

So what’s next? Artificial intelligence technology that can serve different ads to people based on their interests, he says. “Someone has to come up with the idea, but to make it relevant and resonate for anywhere from 14 to 1,400 segments, we can now start to think about applying artificial intelligence and adapting that content in real time,” he says. —L.J.

Michelle Peluso / CMO, IBM

Like many of IBM’s groundbreaking technologies, Michelle Peluso has broken some ground of her own: She’s the first person to hold the title of CMO at the tech giant. Peluso, who previously was CEO of online shopping site Gilt, joined IBM last September after serving as a venture partner at Technology Crossover Ventures.

Peluso continues to modernize and humanize the iconic brand through marketing. One of the most visible ways is, ironically, through a computer: Watson, the artificial intelligence platform that has been used for everything from writing songs with Bob Dylan to designing dresses for Marchesa at the Met Gala to helping H&R Block with tax preparation.

“Our goal is to leverage the tools and capabilities of the consumer world and put Watson at the center,” Peluso says. “Watson is helping us become more modern and effective marketers and have deeper, more personalized experiences with consumers.”

Peluso is also focused on tracking the performance of IBM’s campaigns, bringing what she calls an “analytical rigor” to marketing.

“I have a passion for thinking about ROI, implementing capabilities so teams can really track performance of dollars from advertising campaigns, and making sure we get better results than the week prior,” she says. “We’re improving our testing, innovation, messaging, content, consumer experience and how we engage clients. We also want to make sure the teams have the skills and tools to be agile.”

Peluso is excited about reinventing the brand for a new era. “The amount of transformation IBM has gone through … is really remarkable,” she says. “My job as CMO is really at the cusp of that.” —C.B.

Steven Wolfe Pereira / Chief marketing and communications officer, Neustar

A veteran of Oracle and Starcom MediaVest Group, Steven Wolfe Pereira joined Neustar in May 2016 to help create a go-to market strategy and new website after the ad tech firm split into two companies: an information services provider to the marketing industry and an order management and numbering service for telecom firms. (Neustar went private in December 2016 in a deal with Golden Gate Capital.)

“I was brought in to connect the tissue across all the lines of business, and help grow and guard businesses in the connected world,” explains Wolfe Pereira. “We’re redefining the purpose of Neustar and why we exist. The idea is for us to drive the connected world forward, and be the North Star … that’s helping to connect people, places and things with trusted identity.”

He believes that marketers in general should break down silos and stop thinking of themselves as either b-to-b or b-to-c companies. “I’m a big believer that human-to-human relationships matter more,” he says. “When you think about a company like Procter & Gamble that’s all about touching lives and improving life, there’s no reason why a technology company can’t have that same sense of purpose.” —C.B.

Raja Rajamannar / Chief marketing and communications officer and president, healthcare business, MasterCard

To Raja Rajamannar, MasterCard is not a credit card company. Rather, the CMO sees the provider of plastic as more of a tech company. “What we do is provide a safe, secure and efficient platform that connects merchants, consumers and banks around the world—while the banks are the ones who issue those cards,” he explains.

That mantra has helped Rajamannar transform MasterCard’s entire online strategy, tripling its digital advertising in just three years while experimenting with new opportunities from personalized experiences to connected laundromats.

Last year, MasterCard did a pilot project with the Arnold Palmer Invitational, collaborating with golfer Graeme McDowell to show how augmented reality lets users look at a shirt and see information like materials, colors and price. (It then did the same with his clubs.) In addition, MasterCard shot a 360-degree video with McDowell that let viewers follow him along for a hole at Sawgrass.

Rajamannar is also bullish on the Internet of Things, from connected cars to devices such as voice-assisted search tools like Alexa and Google Home. MasterCard partnered with Samsung’s smart refrigerator to let consumers buy groceries “on autopilot” or to pick up what they might need when something is missing. The brand also experimented with laundromats, allowing users to use their phones to book machines remotely and pay through an app. “Every connected device is a commerce device and a marketing device,” Rajamannar notes.

Taking a mindset similar to a venture capitalist when it comes to finding new ideas, he’s also looking to partner with a number of companies in order to glean ways they might be innovating. Every day, Rajamannar receives at least 200 emails from different vendors pitching ideas, and while almost all of them are “not great,” he still reads every single one. As he puts it, “the rate of change is so dramatic that the opportunities just flee by you if you don’t capture them in that moment.” —Marty Swant

Leonid Sudakov / Global president of connected solutions, Mars Petcare

Since 2013, Leonid Sudakov has served as the global CMO of Mars Petcare, overseeing all marketing that supports multibillion-dollar brands such as Royal Canin, Pedigree, Whiskas and Iams. And though pet advertising isn’t necessarily known for groundbreaking creative, Sudakov is working to change that by employing a digital-first strategy that’s generating some industry firsts.

Just last year, Sudakov’s team was the first client to step up and support Flare, a content crowdsourcing platform launched by BBDO Worldwide. First up was a crowdsourced effort for Mars’ Cesar dog food brand.

While Iams won an Adweek Media Plan of the Year Award for its use of programmatic advertising last year, Temptations cat treats created one of the most popular Christmas ads of 2016 with its mobile-first campaign titled “Keep Them Busy.” Additionally, Pedigree’s “Feed the Good” campaign won a gold Jay Chiat Award for outstanding execution of global strategy. Part of the campaign focused on the recent presidential election, reminding consumers that despite the country’s political differences, Americans were all united in their love of dogs.

Last November, Sudakov was promoted to global president of connected solutions. He now leads all consumer technology, diagnostics, data and analytics ventures of Mars Petcare. Those projects include Whistle, a “connected” dog collar, and Wisdom Panel, which deals in pet genomics and DNA testing. It’s not every day that a CMO takes over the lab-coat part of a business, but Sudakov’s appetite for disruption has made him about as techie as a CMO gets. —Sami Main

Karen Walker / CMO, Cisco

Five months after becoming CMO last year, Karen Walker presented to Cisco’s board of directors a list of six ways in which she wanted to get digital “right”—such as becoming more customer-centric, deepening emotional connection with the brand and overhauling its digital strategy.

A year later, Walker and her team have made strides in transforming Cisco by moving resources and budget toward local execution while bringing onboard new talent and technology. The company said it plans to hire 200 branded content marketers around the world, and last fall, began adding behavioral analytics to drive new business leads.

In May 2016, Cisco worked with Goodby Silverstein & Partners to create an emotionally compelling global campaign, “There’s Never Been a Better Time.” The effort, anchored by a series of spots showing Cisco technology being used to help refugees in Europe or power self-driving trucks in copper mines, debuted during the NBA playoffs and appeared on news websites including Forbes, Fortune and Fast Company. The campaign—rolled out across 40 countries—drove 3.5 times the amount of digital engagement than the entire course of a previous promotion had.

The company is also experimenting with emerging tech. Last month, it announced a pilot project with Verizon to roll out 5G services using Cisco technology. “This transformation has empowered our marketing and communications team to fulfill our vision of delivering real-time, personalized and valuable experiences to our customers and partners,” says Walker. —M.S.

Ted Ward / Vp of marketing, Geico

Geico isn’t just ahead of the curve in digital advertising. It’s completely flipped the script. The insurance company’s celebrated YouTube preroll campaigns from The Martin Agency, from “Unskippable” to “Fast Forward” to “Crushed,” are famously innovative in their entertaining hacking of the format. And now, Geico has even decided to run the “Crushed” spots on TV—a total reversal of the typical television-to-web flow of campaign adaptation.

At the heart of it all is Ted Ward, the 33-year Geico veteran whose adventures in digital go back to prehistoric (in internet time) efforts like the Caveman’s Crib, posted on Geico.com a decade ago. “It was ridiculously low-tech in today’s world, but it got incredible viral notice,” he says. “It convinced us that extending creative we think is worthy of longer executions, or different executions, pays big benefits for the overall brand.”

That continues today with freewheeling, fun-loving content like “Momversations,” “The Art of the Squeeze with Ice-T” and “Raccookin’,” all of which took TV ideas in quirky new directions, as well as digital-only productions like “Little Advice.”

Often, Geico will craft whole digital series, not just one-offs. “We add a campaign focus,” Ward says. “A lot of folks develop campaigns for television. I’m not sure how many folks develop campaigns for digital consumption.”

To Ward, it’s also about tailoring the creative to the viewer’s environment. “The devices people are consuming this stuff on often fit in their pocket,” he explains. “It lends itself to short-form, interesting visual content. Sometimes people don’t even have their sound on. … We think something unique and different, not something designed to be consumed on 45 or 50 inches of screen, is worth doing.” —Tim Nudd

Cara Whitley / CMO, Century 21 Real Estate

Connecting a real estate company with different kinds of home buyers is challenge No. 1 for Cara Whitley, Century 21’s CMO. So through a mix of digital platforms, Whitley and her team presented online consumers with unique takes on the home buying experience. Her goal with each of the efforts was to highlight the tools and insights of Century 21, positioning the company for younger customers as something more than just a real estate firm.

Just earlier this month, Century 21 launched an “Adulting 101” site on social media, featuring quizzes and articles related to all facets of new adulthood, including office etiquette, credit score woes and tips related to home finances. It was created with the new homeowner generation in mind—since more than a few of the millennials in question probably grew up with helicopter parents.

Whitley and her team have also gone the contrarian route for humorous effect. For Father’s Day last year, Century 21 launched a “Give Dad Nothing” campaign, since that’s what dads “seemingly wish for year after year,” she explains. The campaign showcased the town of Nothing, Ariz., using 360-degree video, and attracted over 204 million earned media impressions.

One piece of real estate was in the news more than usual last year: the White House. Century 21 took advantage of the heat around the election and created a listing for the White House that essentially served as a reminder for American voters to get registered and locate their nearest polling station. It’s always a risk for marketers to take to social media for stunts, but Whitley’s instincts have served the brand well by using humor, a slightly skewed approach and a light touch of politics to distinguish itself from the competition. —S.M.

This story first appeared in the March 27, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.