CMOs Can Learn How to Be More Progressive and Innovative From Gaming Brands

They're masters at embracing tech and creating personalized events

Gaming brands seamlessly curate personalized events for its audiences. Getty Images
Headshot of Mike Sands

At first blush, the National Football League’s recent hire of Activision Blizzard’s Tim Ellis as CMO looks like a beleaguered brand’s attempt at leveraging fresh marketing insight to recapture a young male demographic abandoning traditional sports for esports. But at a deeper level, the move says a lot about the type of CMO talent that is required today and why gaming veterans are in such high demand for these roles.

By virtue of the audiences they serve, gaming executives like Ellis are the foremost authorities on curating customer journeys and driving engagement and lifetime value across multiple touchpoints. That’s what gaming requires.

Take Electronic Arts, for example. The publisher has put data and connectivity at the heart of its player engagement strategy, using a total view of their gamer to personalize the gaming experience. That same discipline has made EA a cutting-edge marketing organization, one that has taken great strides toward truly owning its relationship with customers.

[This business is] about applying data to personalize and curate a complex experience across multiple environments.

Every brand these days wants that kind of direct relationship with its customers, and every brand is looking to their first-party data to build toward that capability. The way gaming brands collect and activate that data across different environments serves as a great example for how brands can evolve toward that goal, and the expertise in those gaming brands provides a glimpse into what’s required of the next generation of CMOs. Namely, a firm grasp of the technology needed to maintain direct one-to-one interactions with consumers as well as the deepest understanding of how to nurture those relationships over time. It’s known-user marketing adapted for mass marketing across multiple channels.

The highly immersive and engaging world of gaming is ahead of the curve on nurturing those important skills. And as such, it’s where other brands are looking to recruit the next generation of marketing leadership.

How did we get to this point where we find gaming brands on the bleeding edge of marketing? Not long ago, a brand’s mass marketing team and its customer relationship management team once lived on separate planets. Known-user marketers focused on direct mail and outbound telemarketing while mass marketers elevated brand awareness through large media buys. Gaming and the expertise that comes with it was nowhere near the orbit of the marketing profession.

Fast-forward a decade or so, and we’re operating in an entirely different galaxy. Powered by robust identity graphs, the worlds of mass marketing and known-user marketing have converged completely in digital, and the result is something that looks a lot more like a game. The business is no longer about messaging to the masses with a single campaign based on a given season—it’s about applying data to personalize and curate a complex experience across multiple environments.

That’s a radical shift in mindset, one that needs to be reflected at the highest levels of a marketing organization and mirrored in the skills that future leaders must possess to operate effectively within this environment. Again, we are seeing those skills finding unique and dynamic expression within the world of two-way interactive entertainment. Gaming companies have already mastered this art of applying knowledge of their customer toward personalizing every aspect of a multi-platform experience. And brands from CPG to Finserve are looking to bring that type of knowledge in-house.

That’s why in the future, the path to the CMO office will increasingly be walked by data science and analytics experts currently in their 20s and 30s, working to build addressable audiences and identity assets (i.e., senior executives with known-user marketing experience, many of them hailing from the Activisions of the world).

The gaming world has a meaningful head start in that respect. It’s the profession where you find a comparatively well-developed institutional knowledge for capturing signals from the user, organizing the data, personalizing the experience and doing so in a way that drives concrete action and progress through a complex journey. That’s what defines marketing success today across all verticals.

Forward-looking brands should search for and develop marketers that can elevate their own capabilities to enable direct relationships with consumers. To do this, they must begin to build out their own infrastructure for maintaining those relationships across multiple platforms over the span of many years. Securing this talent with that experience becomes even more important as brand marketers come to the realization that they can no longer allow intermediaries like Facebook to own their relationships with their customers. And as more brands awaken to this imperative, the demand for marketing skills honed in the gaming profession will only grow more intense.

@Signal Mike Sands is CEO of Signal.