THE BLOG
01/08/2015 12:56 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

7 Marketing Lessons From A Fortune 250 CMO

I recently had the pleasure of speaking to Chris Hummel, a globally-recognized thought leader who is widely-respected among senior executives in the technology industry and among global chief marketing officers. Hummel is the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of Schneider Electric.

Having been a student of his for several years at Unify, much of the work that I tried to emulate as a CMO has come from observing Hummel effectively rebrand a multi-billion dollar company using advanced digital marketing practices. And now as the CMO of Schneider Electric, a $51 billion industrial company with more than 130,000 employees in over 100 countries, focused on doing power management for the last 170 years, Hummel is proving once again that he is not one to shy away from a marketing challenge.

Hummel is working on transforming Schneider Electric by focusing on the internet of things (IoT), sustainability and the convergence of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT). Hummel is further challenged with raising the visibility of the master brand and its 40+ associated brands into one coherent company story.

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Chris Hummel (Twitter: @Hummel_Chris) - CMO of Schneider Electric

Marketers will benefit from the challenges that Hummel has faced and addressed, and the key lessons learned.

Top 7 CMO Lessons Learned:

1. Be responsive to customers - Hummel admits that the pace of the digital world is a cultural challenge for a company with a long history, lots of engineers and long product life cycles. One of the interesting debates inside Schneider Electric is, "Do we talk about digital marketing or just about marketing?" Hummel says that there is a group focused on digital marketing; and it's called marketing.

"The default answer has to be online. The default answer has to be digital, not analog. We still spend a lot of money on events. We still spend a lot of money even on print. There are countries that still want print catalogs of our products sent out to them. We could force them onto digital but we also have to be responsive to our customers," says Hummel. So while the last year has seen a real uptick in digital marketing, they are still experimenting. "This is not a maniacal total control thing. This is actually trying to get everybody into doing it and to do it organically," says Hummel.

2. Transform internally first - How does a large, 170-year old technology company undertake its own digital transformation? According to Hummel, it's done by making the internal transformation first. "We have a real focus on our own people. We actually have an internal social community called Spice where employees and executives blog and have online collaboration spaces. What we have done is actually use that internal transformation first to say look, it's not bad, it doesn't hurt. And now we are starting to shift a lot of energy externally. We have a long way to go in that transformation but I'm really excited about the steps that we have taken so far," says Hummel.

3. You can't replace face-to-face - In the social, digital, online world that we live in; Hummel stresses the importance of in-person meetings. With staff all over the world, Schneider Electric makes the investment in physically meeting. "Our management team meets once a month, at least, physically. Even though we are all over the world, we meet once a month. With my marketing team, I try to use those times that we are face-to-face to develop trust and then we can use all of the remote tools to manage as we go," says Hummel.

4. Take your own medicine - Hummel is passionate about sustainability and feels that being efficient is good for every purpose. Having recently won an award for their own efficient consumption of energy, Schneider Electric is taking their own medicine internally and not just as a supplier. "In our headquarters in France, we have what we call the international customer lounge. It has a screen that shows usage of energy in the building. It actually watches dead spaces in the building and turns down the heating, or turns up the heating or air conditioning based on usage of the building. Short-term, it saves me some money just like a smart thermostat. But, over time, I can actually identify areas of the building that I'm not using and put them to other uses. I can use them as storage; put more office space in there; see the key requirements for the building, not just through badges, but by watching the movement of people," explains Hummel.

This has been of great benefit not just from a financial perspective, (Hummel's blog on how sustainability drives profitability) but from an employee attraction and retention perspective as well. As a company that is trying to bring on a population of workers, working for a company that is not just invested in financial success but in the good of society as well is an attractive element. "So if you look at it in practical terms, we have to hire thousands and thousands of people each year and if we can show them that we are doing good things for ourselves, good things for our customers, good from the bottom line," says Hummel.

5. Don't be afraid to fail - One of the biggest lessons Hummel has learned along the way is that you have got to be okay to fail. Hummel says, "You are going to have a few bombs there, right? You are going to write a couple of blogs that nobody listens to, nobody watches. It's hard. Most of us are introverts as a sort of a DNA and we crave attention and if your followership is not going up, it doesn't mean that people don't love you. You have to work at it, you have to not be afraid to fail and you have to fail fast to move forward."

6. Stay committed - Hummel says that with any transformational undertaking you have to be consistent and you have got to commit to it. He shares his own experience, "One of the things that I beat myself up about is that I love to write blogs. I've got so much I feel that I want to say, but I'm just not doing it regularly enough. It's not that I'm paying the price, but I certainly could be even more present if I was active about it. If I was writing a weekly blog I would get more attention on it, because you get the network effect. So if you are going to do it, you better commit."

7. Realize that the customer is in control - At a time when budget pressure is constantly coming in and marketing is being challenged in what Hummel refers to as the "definitional crisis" - what is marketing versus sales versus what is IT - and when the buying process is shifting online and before the sale, Hummel's advice is that you've got to be committed to the fact that the buyer no longer allows you to control their journey. So pay attention and listen to the empowered consumer and recognize that they are in the driver's seat.

"Buyers are in control. A buying journey begins only when an internal or external disruption triggers the need for a new solution. Buyers advance through the journey on their own terms -- from initial discovery through the evaluation, purchase, and engagement stages. The onus is on B2B CMOs to shift marketing strategies so that they are in the right place at the right time, providing purchasers with the information and support they need to make the right decisions at key moments." Forrester analyst Sheryl Pattek.

Hummel agrees, "You have to actually map the thing, and you have to just keep a presence wherever they are, and we have never had the tools to be able to do that before. So I made peace with that, and resigned my ego to the fact that I couldn't convince millions of people to do it in the way that I wanted them to do. And instead said I'm going to give myself in and I'm going to try and map where they want me to be. I think that's one of the first things that you just have to psychologically get over."

You can watch the full interview with Chris Hummel here. Please join me and Michael Krigsman every Friday at 3PM EST as we host CXOTalk - connecting with thought leaders and innovative executives who are pushing the boundaries within their companies and their fields.