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CMO²: Jo Robson, CMO of Acxiom, Talks ABM

Written by Declan Mulkeen

Mar 3 2020

In this first edition of CMO²  (CMO Squared), our upcoming series of CMO to CMO interviews, we speak with Jo Robson, CMO at global data and marketing technology services company, Acxiom.

As a long-standing client of Strategic IC, we explore some of the history of Acxiom’s sales and marketing challenges, as well as a look into the strategies, approaches and tactics that are driving success today - including our recent ABM programme success; driving a £1.5 million pipeline over a 4 month period. 

Related: How Acxiom Built a £1.5 Million Sales Pipeline in in 120 Days

 

Video Transcript

[Declan Mulkeen] First of all, thank you very much for taking the time to take part in this very first series of interviews we're going to be doing called CMO²  (CMO Squared), which is interviews with other Marketing Directors and CMOs.

Acxiom is not necessarily a household name for many companies, so it will be interesting to know a little bit more about Acxiom and what do you do.

[Jo Robson] Right, thank you, nice to see you again, Declan, and thank you for asking me to interview. So, Acxiom is a marketing services company. I think we'll keep that quite short because, it can be quite complex. So basically, in short, we combine data. Which is first party data, or commonly known as customer data, together with third-party data that we collect. We combine that with technology, ethics and ideas to help brands understand their customers and so therefore deliver a great customer experience.  

In short, we combine data. Which is first party data, or commonly known as customer data, together with third-party data that we collect. We combine that with technology, ethics and ideas to help brands understand their customers and so therefore deliver a great customer experience.

[DM] And how large are you?

[JR] We are about three and a half thousand employees. We're global, so we've got a lot of offices in the US, We've got an APAC office, and we've got offices in London, and in Munich and in Frankfurt. So we're quite global. We are looking to grow and expand that. But also, last year we got bought by IPG Holdings so, interpublic. So we are now part of very large company. So yeah, there's about 90 agencies within that group.

[DM] Wow. And so tell me a little bit, how does Acxiom impact the lives of the everyday person on the streets?

[JR] Yeah, I mean, I think the story is less about us and I think we've always talked about us a bit more, so we're trying to flip that. It's more about you and me. People, you know, how we live, how we work, how we communicate. It's transforming. Across all experiences, people still value relevance over randomness, and I think that's our main remit. They value a good deal at the right time. And preferential treatment. We value a good experience and we're less tolerant of bad experiences. So basically, we help marketers do this. We help them deliver relevance.

[DM] And tell me something about Acxiom that perhaps not many people know.

[JR] Do you know what, I had to think about this one. And I think we probably employed the first chief data privacy officer. So back 20 odd years ago, when we were almost ahead of the game on ethics and data governance. So I think that's quite key. 

I think we probably employed the first chief data privacy officer. So back 20 odd years ago, when we were almost ahead of the game on ethics and data governance.

[DM] Particularly in light of what's happening at the moment with our privacy and data.

[JR] Absolutely.

[DM] So let's talk a little bit about you then, Jo. I saw from your LinkedIn profile that you had studied psychology at university. So what led you to become a Marketing Director?

[JR] Well, that's a good question. I did study psychology, occupational psychology, so it's quite relevant. So it's applying the science to the workplace. I really enjoy seeing people develop, and performance and motivation. So I think that's quite key. I mean, I started my career in sales, for a logistics company, a long time ago, and I continued selling, at a company called Claritas. They were bought by Acxiom, and then at Acxiom, I changed from sales into marketing, so about 10 to 15 years ago. And I think I've really applied my degree and selling to my current job 'cause I think it really helps to understand the consumer. And it helps you understand people.

[DM] Okay, and tell me, in terms of your job, your role as Marketing Director there at Acxiom, what does a typical day look like for you there?

[JR] Do you know, I think most marketers would say there's no typical day. I think that's why it's such an interesting job, and I think most marketers say that, too. In the UK, in the London office, we're quite a small team. So we kind of handle all aspects of marketing from Demand Gen, ABM, through to PR, content, thought leadership. We look after websites, social, email, et cetera, et cetera. So it's a very hands-on experience, which is what I love. I love doing and I love thinking about that whole plan.

I think most marketers would say there's no typical day. I think that's why it's such an interesting job... it's a very hands-on experience, which is what I love. I love doing and I love thinking about that whole plan.

[DM] No two days are the same thing. And as you said, most marketers would probably say the same. What would you say is the probably your most important remit there at Acxiom?

[JR] I think it's twofold. I think it's always got to be about driving demand. So Demand Generation to drive a pipeline 'cause it's got to be about growth. And I think marketing is much more measurable now. I think it has to prove return on investment, but it's also about brand awareness. It has to be about driving the right perception to the target audience as well.

[DM] Yeah. And tell me, obviously the last couple of years, one of the major events that has impacted marketeers and companies across the whole world has been GDPR. First, tell us a little bit about how that has impacted your organisation, and the work that you, and the marketing department have had to do.

[JR] Yeah, no, it has impacted all organisations. But I think we were ready for it. I think we have a wealth of experience here with our data privacy experts. And having had the first Chief Data Privacy Officer, our global data ethics teams, we have many of them, looking after all the regions, I think they're committed to ethical data practices and that goes to every employee, as well. We all have to take exams around GDPR, and code of conduct, and that kind of thing. And I think we go beyond what's required by law, and what's just and fair to the consumer is always front of mind. I think prior to GDPR, we'd already implemented leading industry programs around data governance. So around ethical data sourcing, data protection, and we have this, privacy-by-design theory that applies to everything.

[JR] And to comply with GDPR, we had loads of work streams to strengthen our data governance practices. We ourselves, as a marketing team, use the basis of legitimate interest for our B2B campaigns. But we took the opportunity to really review our database and make sure that it was absolutely clean. We were using the right marketing to the right people under GDPR and I think the learnings, and our top tip for marketers is, I think, use GDPR and the, and the ePrivacy Regulation as a catalyst to strengthen your data governance program. It should be a positive thing because it protects your brand and it builds consumer trust. And we advise a lot of brands to do this using our regulatory team. So I think that was a long answer, but I think it deserves the time.

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[DM] Yeah. Thank you. And so you were obviously recently presenting at the ABM Align and Accelerate event, which is obviously focussed on Account-based marketing. And you kindly agreed to take part with ourselves, with Strategic Internet Consulting, and deliver a seminar on the success of your ABM programme. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and the background to that?

[JR] Yeah, absolutely. I mean we've been on a long journey with ABM. We started years back with ad hoc programmes around lead generation and that was always just driving the pipe. But I think now we're working with a really strategic, blended programme of the lead gen, but also One-to-many and One-to-few. It's all about driving good quality leads and MQLs to help our sales teams drive pipe. But it is more than just that. It's a, it's a triage of three things. It's about building reputation, and building relationships, which ultimately drives revenue. But to do that you've got to create insights and interesting content. You've got to inspire your audience to read your content to get that value exchange.

We've been on a long journey with ABM...It's all about driving good quality leads and MQLs to help our sales teams drive pipe. But it is more than just that. It's a, it's a triage of three things. It's about building reputation, and building relationships, which ultimately drives revenue.

[DM] And looking back now, over the last few months of the programme, what do you think was one of the greatest success factors?

[JR] Well, obviously driving the £1.5 million pipe, over that short period of four months within the automotive vertical. But I think it's more than that. It's about delivering personalised content to a targeted audience, which ultimately drives engagement. So you've just got to be more targeted, and even more measured, and I think this has really proved that.

[DM] Yeah. And how new were you there at Acxiom to ABM? Was this your very first attempt at an ABM program?

[JR] Yeah, I think we're relatively new to it. I think in the last six months, we're really concentrating on the One-to-many for a while. But now I think we've recently embarked on the One-to-few. We're in the middle of that programme at the moment, but it's proving its worth already.

[DM] And obviously you've been working with Strategic Internet Consulting, you mentioned earlier for seven years. There's always this constant debate; in-house agency, internalise, externalise insource, outsource, et cetera. What value did the agency bring to this ABM programme in particular?

[JR] Well, I think, I mean for seven years, 'cause we're a small team, it's really difficult to build up that expertise internally. And I think they're an extension to our team. They're more of a partner. They help us with our strategy and they're always bringing ideas to the table. They work hard to use the right tech stack, and channels to reach our target target audience. And I think that always iterating and optimising campaigns so it never stands still. So we're always gaining. So it's been a great partnership. And I think we're doing really good marketing.

I think they [Strategic IC] are an extension to our team. They're more of a partner. They help us with our strategy and they're always bringing ideas to the table. They work hard to use the right tech stack, and channels to reach our target target audience.

[DM] Which I think at the end of the day, the most important thing, isn't it?

[JR] Absolutely. Yeah.

[DM] And how do you see the collaboration with the agency going forward into next year, 2020?

[JR] Well, I think we'll build on that and we'll have more of a blended program. And I think we'd like to get to the One -to-one and that requires a lot of investment, a lot of heavy lifting. But I think that is definitely the way forward. It might be for the latter part of 2020 and even into 2021, but I think we would like to get to that stage. But also I think it's about expanding the partnership into our global regions. Already, the US are very interested and keen to do this. And I think it'd be a great programme, to have a global program going.

[DM] Yeah. So there's plenty more work to be done next year?

[JR] Absolutely.

[DM] And just some random questions really, a little bit about yourself. You've talked earlier about marketing and how you came into it. But if you think about what you do on a daily basis, what is the one thing you've, enjoyed about marketing?

[JR] Do you know I think it really is that no day is the same, which excites me. I look forward to going to work, but there's also the continuous learning. I think marketing, I mean, no industry stands still, but I think marketing is one of the ones that is always innovating. And there's always a new tech stack or there's a new something you can use, and I love that. I love the fact you're always learning.

[DM] Yeah. It's also quite relentless as well, isn't it? As you said, there's always something new every day, right?

[JR] Yeah, yeah. And if you stand still, you really fall behind.

[DM] I know the feeling, I know the feeling. Are you a reader? Are you a great reader of textbooks and business books?

[JR] I'm a great reader, less so of the business books. I think that's more that I need to spend some time doing more business reading. But I do follow people and I do read. I look at TED Talks and I look at videos and that kind of thing that takes small bites to consume it rather long textbooks. But yeah, I do.

[DM] Anybody in particular you follow on LinkedIn or anywhere?

[JR] Well actually it was interesting. I was talking to my CMO Jed, Mole, who is our global CMO here. And we were talking about Simon Sinek 'Start With Why'. And I think that's really key for every marketer to do this. Don't start with the what and the how, because that doesn't excite people.That's just the features and benefits. It's almost like the why. Why do consumers change their behaviour? Why do they actually buy? And I think we've got to start talking like that so that we change behaviour. And then you bring the tangible benefits to the fore.

[DM] Yeah. There's a lot more nowadays about telling a good story.

[JR] Absolutely. It's, it's all about storytelling, isn't it? But I mean, other people I follow. I mean, gosh, I've done a couple of courses and I really liked Dave, Dr Chaffey. He runs that Smart Insights website, which is brilliant for digital marketers. Look a bit at Seth Godin, you know, he's quite interesting. And then more recently, Scott Brinker, who is really looking at the whole AdTech MarTech world, he's really interesting. So yeah, just a few.

[DM] I have new people to follow now, so thank you for that. And finally tell us something about Jo Robson that we don't know. What might surprise the viewers?

[JR] Well, as from a personal point of view, do you know, not many people will know this, I don't think, but I used to play football for QPR about 25 years ago. Ladies' football, obviously

[DM] I wasn't going to make any comment about it, just in case we have any QPR viewers watching! Jo, it's been an enormous pleasure to spend a little bit of time with you. So thank you so much for agreeing to take part and for learning a bit more about Acxiom and yourselves once again.

[JR] Thank you very much, Declan. I've really enjoyed it. Thank you. 

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