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Making the customer feel at home: Q&A with the CMO of The Home Depot

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Data has dramatically altered the marketing landscape, and Michael Hibbison, VP of Marketing at The Home Depot shares his thoughts on what marketers can do to stay relevant.

With the rapid growth of digital consumption across a huge variety of channels, marketers are faced with more was of reaching the consumer than ever before.

Such transformation has created a new set of rules, breeding a new generation of marketers with the hybrid capability to focus on numerous types of marketing, whilst possessing an innate ability to understand experience and the importance of ubiquity.

Home Depot VP Marketing, Michael Hibbison, says that whilst the broad skill set required to be a marketer hasn’t changed drastically, the key for modern marketers is to be able to understand the technology powering the multiplicity of new digital channels available today.

Hot Topics: How has the role of the CMO changed over the course of your career?

Michael Hibbison: The role of a marketer in general has changed because you now have to be far more savvy across multiple forms of communication.

Even 5 years ago, marketers really only had traditional forms of marketing that they were focused on. Today you have many more channels to reach customers inclusive of digital channels that didn’t exist or they did exist but the technology that powers them wasn’t powerful enough to really target customers based on their behaviors. 5 years ago you were looking at demographic information. Now you have behavioral information that you can use to target customers in a much more powerful way.

There are customers that may behave like certain demographics but aren’t those demographics. Targeting them is very important and using behavioral information is much more powerful.

HT: What data interests you and how do you collect that data in a different way to in previous years?

MH: There are two very powerful types of information interesting to us now. One is social media information. What people share on social media can be a very powerful tool that previously did not exist.

People tend to over share in most social media channels and because of that you’re able to work with the platforms themselves to use that information to market better. The second type of information is their clickstream or what things people are searching for on Google, Bing or Yahoo. That information can also be used to target customers.

The more powerful marketers will take the two and put them together and really start to understand who their customer is in a much more powerful way.

HT: Given that, as you say, many of these channels didn’t exist 5 years ago, how have today’s CMOs had to reinvent themselves to stay relevant?

MH: The easy part is understanding the platforms themselves, like the social media sites an what Google is doing.

The power behind the technology that allows you to use all of that information is what CMOs have had to adjust to and become hyper aware of.

We’ve also had to weed through what is reality and what is still science fiction. There is a lot of technology out there that is just not quite ready for primetime yet.

A CMO has to be well read, has to understand what is out there and be able to consider whether a piece of technology is something that they can enable now or if it is just a bright, shiny object that’s not ready yet.

HT: How has the skillset of a marketer had to evolve?

MH: I don’t think the skill set that is required to be a marketer has changed all that much.

You still want people who are data driven, which is not all that unique or new, it’s actually been around for quite a while.

People that are self-motivated and can take charge of their careers, is also not anything new.

I am almost 30 years in the retail industry, and those types of things are no different.

The access to data is vastly different and there is a lot more of it, so you need to hire someone who is discerning and can weed through all of that.

However, my overriding feeling is that the skill sets haven’t changed all that dramatically.

HT: What is your opinion of marketing talent that is coming through today versus in previous years?

MH: That’s a great question. Marketing talent today is actually very similar to our customers today that shop in our stores.

They’re much more aware of everything that is out in the market.

They’re aware of the data that is available to them, how to access the data and are just much more informed about all of the access to information that is there.

And that is true for both customers and talent alike.

HT: How do you create an attractive workplace for a marketer to want to work for today?

MH: We are very focused on creating great experiences, both for our customers and our associates.

The best way to do that is to create an environment of sharing, technological innovation and a place where someone’s opinion matters and is valued.

I don’t know many industries that are like retail, in terms of allowing people to come into a role and have a lot of responsibility very early on.

Early on in our life as a retailer, we did it through growth and today we are also one of the leaders in retail in terms of growth rate over the last couple of years.

That means talent can come in and have some responsibility right off the bat and maybe even a small team that they manage.

That’s pretty exciting because when you can get things done through other people and work together to leverage all of the information that’s available to you, that is a good place to be.

HT: How do you use data to improve customer experience both online and in store?

It all comes down to relevancy. There is less waste in marketing today for those marketers that have enabled and use digital data to make decisions.

You have to make sure you use data to create relevant creative and experiences for customers.

If a customer is shopping for a particular line of goods, you have to be relevant to them in the moment versus spraying your message across all different marketing mediums.

There is a time and place for broad messages but for a lot of marketers you need to be a lot more pinpointed in the way you target customers.

Customers have reacted by interacting more with that marketing as well and are starting to prove out the return on ad spend and marketing dollars.

We’ve just become much more relevant in the way that we use our marketing.

HT: What is the one trend, technology or piece of innovation that you are most excited by that will enhance the efficiency of marketing?

MH: This isn’t a new technology but the aggregation of 1st party, 3rd party and 2nd party data is very exciting.

As marketers we have to embrace it and ensure that we are using it.

We already have a lot of information about our customers on 1st party data but then marrying that with 3rd party data, like what they’re doing off of our site hits home with that relevancy factor.

That means making sure that if a customer comes to you and looks for a product on your site but then actually converts on someone else’s, that you’re not hitting them with irrelevant information or marketing.