Building Better CMOs
Building Better CMOs
Mayur Gupta (Kraken) Transcript, Part 2
GS: Right. Well, part of the issue, too, that he pointed out, which I thought was really interesting is that he had manufacturing constraints. So he didn't have unlimited ability to produce—not flood the market, that's a little too strong probably—but he didn't have the ability to really flood the market and then he didn't have to create demand, he was able just to produce enough to catch up. As he produces more, as he puts more into factories and everything else, there's a point in time where, yeah, he's going to have to compete like everybody else and I think the game's going to change. And he even acknowledges that, he realizes it's going to shift at some point as much as he's been an advocate and a little bit arrogantly for like, "I don't have to." It's typical of Silicon Valley like, "I don't have to market." It's like, well, that's a luxury that not all of us have.

MG: Yes. And look, that happened even with the euphoria of all the direct-to-consumer businesses. The first phase needed one type of marketing, largely bottom funnel. If you're product led, you leverage the product, which I don't think anything's wrong with that. As long as you understand that at some point you saturated the demand that exists in the category and then you need the flywheel of great brand storytelling to create new demand as well as the engine to capture that demand effectively.

GS: I've often had a thesis, too, that some of this, depending on your category and who you are, there's a little bit of insurance that goes on because if the consumer doesn't really understand who you are and slot you appropriately into their life that you continue to have high value, which is somewhat based on perception, there can come a point in time when you can get totally hosed. And I'll use a very specific example. I was at AOL in 1997 and I remember the arrogance which they had to the table that they didn't have to market. And I'm like, "There's going to come a point in time where you're going to get hosed," and it happened about a year later when they switched. It was unlimited usage is they went to.

And I don't think AOL, except for taking over Time Inc., I don't know that it ever really recovered from that kind of experience because everybody's like, "Ah, done." It had value to me in how I used it, but it wasn't seated in my mind as something I had to have, and they got totally hosed. And I've seen other brands who have gotten in the back side of negative news and if they don't have a well-entrenched brand that's understood and consumers appreciate it and respect, you can have real troubles on your hands.

MG: Yes, that's a great point because I've always believed that oftentimes when you talk about retention and churn or bringing users back or building that love, we often focus only on experience and the core product. We undermine the value of expectation. Churn happens when the expectation and experiences are mismatched, right?

GS: Yes.

MG: So you can have an average product, an average experience, as long as you set the expectation up front, you may change your core audience, but as long as the expectation experience is matching, which means your promise and product is closer, you have a higher likelihood of retaining and continue to drive lifetime value.

GS: Hey, Mayur, let's go back to something you talked about earlier, though. I want to go back to the sort of brand versus performance. We've not really known as marketers how to invest in long term in addition to short term and the dynamics of that. And why that question is so interesting to me is two things. One, it is the underlying thesis of the entire marketing and advertising business, that relationship to brand and how to invest in that. I probably talk to at least a hundred CMOs a year, not just the member CMOs like yourself, but beyond that, at least a hundred a year. I've never had one, when I've told them when the MMA is working on a brand as performance project—not for brand versus, but brand as performance—they've all said, "That's a question we have here, that's a big topic here."

And what's funny about that is if everybody says it's a big topic, then why the hell wasn't anybody working against it? I've never heard anybody come up with a solution, except for what the MMA's doing against it. What do you think is going on there? Is it just it's suddenly new, we didn't get it? I don't know, we never tried? It feels like a big failing.

MG: I know a lot of brands and businesses, and myself when I was at Spotify working with Seth Farbman and we were trying to solve this in 2016. This was a big, big, massive question. In fact, I was hired to run marketing sciences to prove just that.

GS: Oh, really? Oh, I didn't know that. Oh, that's so interesting.

MG: We did MMMs, we did match market tests, we did NTAs back in 2016, late 2016, and the whole thesis was Spotify had such a fantastic organic funnel, but we were investing heavily in marketing. After the first two years, everybody very naturally started asking the question, "Do we need marketing? Is it really working or is it all organic? How much of this is incremental?"

GS: Again, another example. Amazing product, incredibly strong. My kids loved it, loved it, talked about Spotify all the time. Older generation, I didn't get it. I get it now. Totally got it, I'm on board. But yeah, amazing brand. Okay, so yeah, so you guys talked internally and said, "Do we need it?" Okay. Go ahead.

MG: Yes. And a lot of the work that we did was always about measuring the incrementality and the correlation between brand and performance. So as we improve the brand KPIs, they influence the performance KPIs. Could we correlate brand lift to somehow revenue lift? Because if you improve the brand KPIs, you realize that the funnel was shortening, you realize that you were creating new demand in categories that weren't coming in, in segments that were not coming to you, that you are now expanding that TAM and capturing that. And two, what we often don't talk about is a correlation of a strong brand with retention because in a world that we live in today, your brand and your business is going to screw up at some point or the other. It is inevitable.

GS: Yep, that's what I said earlier.

MG: When you have a cultural and an emotional connection beyond just a utility and a functionality, your client, your customer base is far more forgiving because they are deeply connected with you. The mode of emotion and culture is far stronger than the mode of any functionality. They'll give you another chance and that's why we have to measure that in terms of lifetime value and retention. Now, the challenge, Greg, to your point is it is harder to measure. It's not a clickstream data that you can totally correlate, but this is why I know MMA is doing great work in terms of MTA, MMM, match market tests. And the one thing I have learned is, again, based on the nature of the organization, you as a CMO may not have six months to prove something. Even six months is a long time frame, right?

GS: Yeah.

MG: In organizations that are used to same-day gratification, which CFO and CEO is going to give you six months to go spend and tell me later whether it worked or not? Which means that we have to get creative with proxy KPIs. We have to show signals and identify, "Hey, I'm spending in brand right now. I'm going to bring this deeper dive study six months later because I need enough longevity in my flight period. But we are getting these early signals. I'm going to use correlations."

This is why getting creative with data, getting creative with storytelling, and changing old habits, which means nobody cares about the launch of your campaign, don't talk about it, but talk about what happens in week two of your campaign. What was the outcome you were going towards? What was the user behavior? So it is also changing the internal taxonomy on what we share and how we share it as marketeers, which, again, gives you one extra week and one extra week.

GS: Yeah, it's funny you say that. Maybe the reason we didn't try to measure brand long term because we didn't really think we'd be in the job that long, or it's maybe as much as the company's never really supported us in trying to figure that out. I mean, it was hard. I'll tell you what happened on that, too, is that I went to the board and I said, "This is a math problem to understand that the demonstrated brand and short-term performance marketing. It's not cold fusion, it's not something we have to go discover. We're not going to Mars here. It's a math problem." But it's how you collected data.

So thanks to a guy named Allan Thygesen, who was the head of sales at Google, president of sales at Google. He said, "Listen, we'll help fund this effort for the good of marketers and the good of marketing. Don't make it about Google." But he says, "We don't think you can actually solve the problem you're trying to solve." So even at that time, three years ago, Google didn't think, and as you know, we just got data now seven, eight weeks ago that said, "Okay, we think the methodology is sound, we think that we've collected the right data, and we have the right analysis. Now, we need to do more investigations to validate that, but we think for the first time ever, we can explain brand to a CFO in her or his language."

MG: Absolutely, and there is something else that was happening in parallel, Greg, which is why this time is so critical to solve for what you are pushing for. Which is since 2008 and '09, when it all became about growth at all cost and cap, it took us 10 years to finally saturate that part of the funnel, which was the lower half of the funnel with the same kind of the underlying performance ecosystem of the Metas and the Googles and so on. We saturated it with the influx of whole new brands and direct-to-consumer businesses where the CPMs were untenable now, where it is no longer possible to make the unit economics work for you to keep acquiring users at constantly growing CACs. Which means that, finally, that whole inertia took us 10 years to realize that, "Look, we had the flywheel to capture demand, but we forgot to turn on the flywheel to create new demand."

Which means once we saturated it, where are you going to go? The CACs go up, competition is higher, so your retention is very low and you are losing money. That is what happened with most because your flywheel to create the next plethora of demand then wasn't on. That's why now CEOs are a lot more open to investing in brand because they're seeing the growth stall, in fact, go downwards.

GS: Right. So your point is that CPMs, major impressions, let's assume there's a relationship between impressions and actual business performance or delivery.

MG: Yes.

GS: Okay, so let's just hold that for a moment, but you're right. As the CPMs went up, as the cost of media went up, as demand became greater for Facebook and others, those costs rose, those businesses no longer made sense and they couldn't deliver against that. They needed a new game plan, yeah. I think a lot of people underestimate that. This is the funny thing about marketing is that we're not very good at understanding where we are, and by the way, it's going to change, and we're really ill-prepared for that change.

MG: And this is why I said in the beginning, this is a very interesting inflection point for the craft of marketing. If we don't prove that your concept of brand as performance and performance as brand, it's both ways. If you don't prove that very quickly, I think a lot of the work that marketing used to do will embed itself into other functions like product itself and so on.

GS: My favorite story is that a good friend of mine was over at one of the banks. He did marketing at one of the banks. He had $100 million pulled out of his budget because the people who ran operations or the branch operations had figured out the incrementality of new carpet in the stores, in the branches. So when they put a new carpet, sales revenue went up in some regards and he couldn't validate market in the same way. So the story was always he got beat by the carpetbaggers. I'm like, "That's a sad story when marketing gets beat by a new carpet." It's like, "Oh my god, we have so much work to do."

MG: That's the mountain we have to climb and we have to climb it every day.

GS: That's the mountain we have to climb. It's hard to work your way through and navigate through companies to end up in the top spot, and then it's hard to hold that top spot and sort of show up every day and do what you need to. So maybe talk a little bit about your own journey getting there and maybe some of the awareness that you had that maybe you didn't see coming or didn't understand or didn't know that it looked different when you were on the outside, I guess.

MG: Yeah. That's a great question, Greg. And I'm a Buddhist, I started practicing Buddhism in 2006. My wife introduced me to this incredible philosophy and that life philosophy has really helped me introspect a lot and have a lot of appreciation and gratitude. So I'm going to share two or three principles and lessons that I've learned through the failures I've had.

Well, first is when you grow up in a country like India where there are so many of us and the resources are much lesser, you are trained to come first. When you are in a race and you come second or third, you probably don't have a chance because there's only one spot, there's only one spot there. So your frame of mind, at least back then, a lot has changed now. In general, any country in the world that has less resources than the number of people who need them, your frame of mind, your nurturing is all about coming first, which means you're trying to run faster than anybody else because only one person's got a shot.

And I came to the US with that mindset, my career began with that mindset because I was trained like that. And it took me perhaps much longer to realize that as a leader, it was no longer about being the first one to cross the line. There's a pivotal point in my journey where I realized that that wasn't success anymore, success was more about how many people I could take along. Success was no longer about being the guy with the answer, success was more about having the ability to ask the right questions in the room. That came the hard way, learned the lesson the hard way, but I learned that lesson and I think that is very, very important for anyone trying to go through their career and their own journey. That the only race you run is with your own self, with you from yesterday, but I learned that very late in my life.

Second is, this is the part of the Buddhist philosophy that has taught me, which is the shit will inevitably hit the fan no matter where you are. It is inevitable. You can try your level best, you can turn off the fan, the shit will still hit it, and it'll still start running and it'll fall all over. The most important thing is what do you do when that does happen? Do you point fingers or do you stand up and say, "I'm going to take accountability and responsibility for it"? You first asked, "What could I have done differently?" And that mindset shift for me has been extremely critical. And I have been fired before, but when that happened, I left that job with a lot of pride because I knew that I stood by my values and I have no regrets looking back.

And my leader, the person I worked with, I invested in their following startup because no hard feelings. We just realized that our values weren't aligned, but I challenged myself not to lose confidence because I knew that wherever I will land after that will be far bigger and far better for me than where I was, which gave me the confidence eventually that all of us may get rejected by a thousand places. It's not because of you, it is because you just haven't found the right combination. And it may not happen in your first gig, may not happen in your second gig, but eventually it will happen. And that's the magical combination. It's where you as your own self and your absolute brutal honesty and authentic self is needed at an organization so that the mission and the purpose of that company becomes a platform for you to fulfill your own mission.

And honestly, I felt that way at Spotify and I feel that way at Kraken, where the mission and the values at Kraken strongly align with how I think and what I want to do in the world and is giving me a platform to voice it and execute it.

GS: Wow, that's so very powerful. And I love your point about, at the end of the day, assume ultimate responsibility. Or, I think a variation— and just correct me if I'm getting this wrong—but that there's always a part that I play in every situation. And at the end of the day, the only thing I can change is not them, not their views, not their actions, not their attitudes, not their dislike of me, whatever it is, I can only change me.

MG: Yes. And without getting too philosophical, in Buddhism, we call it the oneness of you and the universe, where everything around us is a reflection of our inner self, and what do you do when you want to change what you see in the mirror? You don't change the mirror, you change what's standing in front of it.

GS: Yeah, I love that. It's funny you say this. I will say, I don't know if I've ever really disclosed this to too many people. Well, my wife has probably heard me say it, but maybe that's it. One of the people that most changed my life was a guy named Jack Kornfield, if you know who he is, and he wrote a book 30-plus years ago called A Path with Heart.

MG: Sure.

GS: And it changed everything for me. I reset the whole world around me. If you know who he is, he's both an Eastern philosophy Buddhist monk, and he's got a PhD in Western psychology. And it was a combination of those two that I found incredibly valuable, and he actually uses a word a lot, which has become now my very favorite word in the whole world, which is equanimity. I love that word because that's what it is, it's finding a sense of peace in a world that may otherwise be chaotic or whatever, but it's all here inside. It has nothing to do with the outside world. That's all.

MG: Yeah, it's very powerful and beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

GS: Yeah. Wow.

MG: This is a podcast for secrets, Greg, so bring more. Tell us more secrets that your wife doesn't know about.

GS: So your point, if I can kind of capture that a little bit, Mayur, is that you're focused on your own self and what you're trying to do and bring to the table, that is both how you deal with the complexities of the role itself. I'm assuming you're saying, too, in part that attributes also to the success that you've had in doing that, right?

MG: Yes. What I mean is how do you keep evolving and learning and not try to be the person with all the answers, but building the muscle to be able to be vulnerable, to work with your team to say, "Look, I don't know. I need help." To build the muscle to have the ability to ask the right questions versus always getting the right answer. And there's one more thing, Greg, that I learned, especially in the last eight to nine years, which is one of the things you have to do as a leader is build this acumen to hire leaders who are way smarter and stronger than you are, is having that self-assurance in who you are that gives you the confidence to bring someone stronger. Because guess what, the funny part is you get paid to learn for free every single day.

So I have surrounded myself with one of the most incredible teams I've ever had. It's taken us very long, but I feel very proud of the leaders I have in the organization and everybody else at Kraken because you get to learn so much. So how you surround yourself with confidence and build a great team so that someday you have more than one successor, that's the recipe for success.

GS: Yeah, it's very funny you say that. I think the thing I like about the role that I play in sitting within a trade association, and by the way, when I got asked to run the first one that I turned around was the IAB many years ago. I told the board, I go, "I'll stick around three, six months, I'll just get the thing organized." I was stepping in for a CEO that was like, "Go." I said, "I'll stick around for three, six months, but I don't want to run a trade association." I remember, I go, "That would be the dumbest effing thing I could do," is exactly what I said to the chairman at the time, and what a misunderstanding. Now I've done two of them. What I didn't see coming is that just the opportunity to work with other really smart people that I get to learn from, you're in that list, it's like, "What's better than that?"

MG: Yeah, and one funny thing you mentioned earlier, Greg, I've used this analogy for a slightly different context. You compared marketing to medical. The way I think about that same analogy I've used in the past as well is because when I look at a lot of doctors in my family, they're constantly studying, they're constantly evolving themselves because—

GS: Wow, of course they... Yes.

MG: Right?

GS: Yes.

MG: Why? Because the viruses in the world keep popping up, right?

GS: Exactly.

MG: They have to level up every single time.

GS: And the art and the craft and the science of it changes and evolves.

MG: Yes. And—

GS: Yes. And we in marketing, never respect that. We get dogged and we stick where we are and we don't go, "The world's shifting, what are we going to do?"

MG: Yes. That is why this is the last principle I'm going to share, which is this is the profession that needs to constantly evolve because it's going to constantly change, which means that the traditional DNA of a marketeer is no longer successful. As a marketeer you have to be an analyst, you have to understand finance, you have to understand technology, and you have to be knee-deep in product. So you need to go deep in some areas. Yes, you go deep in your own sub area of marketing, but you need to have a lot more breadth because without that, you're not going to be successful because the experiences that we deliver today aren't happening in any of these individual silos.

The end customer doesn't see marketing versus product versus finance, they see the experience and we need to understand how to connect those dots. So one way that I've challenged myself is I have tried to take on roles that have challenged me in my weakest areas. And crypto and FinTech, funny enough, was that one muscle that I never organically had. So I got into crypto in 2017 and when Kraken and I, and Jesse and I started talking, this was just fascinating because I knew it was going to challenge me in ways that I've never been challenged before.

GS: Yeah, I love that, I love stepping up. Yeah. I had a friend of mine say, too, he goes, "Never take a job unless it makes you shake in your boots a little bit."

MG: Yep.

GS: So that sense of uncomfortability is the greatest place to start. I have a question for you here. What do you really think the fifth era of marketing is going to look like? What's the next inflection point for us? What do you think we got to get better or good at?

MG: Where we've got to get better and good at is we've got to find this convergence of empathy and honesty along with an ability to move the business forward. I think the fact that we have shied away from connecting purpose with profitability, brilliant creative and storytelling with science, or like you said, an authentic brand, a soulful brand with absolute hardcore exponential growth. I feel the future of marketing is finding that intersection.

On top of leveraging all the evolution in technology, leveraging AI, leveraging all the underlying strength and capabilities in the platform, and the statelessness of Web3, which to me, these are all things that are inevitable. It may seem unreal right now, but these are all things inevitable. And while marketing will evolve, the important thing will be that we don't lose the foundation, which is still that empathy and compassion and the soul while moving the needle for the business.

GS: Wow. There you go, everybody. I think that ends up in the liner notes for everybody to share beyond, so there you go. Okay, let's do a couple of wrap-up questions. Whose work or what other company's work do you really admire? Who's caught your attention either of late or sometime in the past? There's no time limit to that.

MG: Yeah, there are a couple of examples that come out. One, I'll be amiss if I didn't mention Spotify and the Wrapped and year in music. I was right there witnessing it. I think it's a brilliant example of the magic you create because when you combine the power of product, both from an operating standpoint, because we really worked closely with product, data science, and just brilliant creative and storytelling. That was not just in terms of what a single function did, but what we all did together as a cross-functional unit. That was the outcome of all of that. And it's still running and still humming, and it's created a whole wave that many, many brands around the world adopt during that time of the year.

And then one more recently, which excited me was the work that Burger King did around two years back. The reason why it excited me was it used creative storytelling in a very commoditized category to bring a lot of dialogue and conversation, and moved the needle.

GS: What did they do? Which one? What are you referring to?

MG: It's the Whopper. I think it was called the Moldy Whopper. It took a lot of courage.

GS: Oh my God, huge courage. I often look at that and I go, "Would I have had the sense of leadership to pull that off at a company? Oh, I don't know."
MG: That to me was very, very interesting, very bold. But what I love was it connected creativity and storytelling with business and KPIs. Again, it wasn't just for the sake of getting awards, but it was truly something that was intended to move the needle.

GS: Well, what's interesting is Fernando, who did a lot of that work, did an excellent job, an excellent job of connecting his creative work to the sales of that business in a really, uniquely powerful way.

MG: Yes.

GS: Suddenly awards had monetization to them, I guess at some level, rather than just for ego.

MG: Yes. And I think we need more and more of those examples that we can all keep leaning onto to elevate that great and honest and creative marketing does work. And there is one small one, Greg. I'm such a bad marketeer, that's why I have to plug in for my own team right now. There is this fantastic work we did two weeks back with one of the YouTube influencers called Kitboga. So this is my brand and the brand partnership team. The reason why I'm very proud of it is this is not about a massive media buy or anything. This is like a real use case, a real problem case solved with brilliant partnership and creativity.

So we had Kitboga, so he basically does these Twitch videos to catch scammers who are trying to get your Bitcoin. You should totally check it out, you will dig it...

GS: I will.

MG: ... because you are a Bitcoin maximalist yourself. And you'll see how Nick, who's our chief security officer, and Kit that did this thing with this guy live. And what is unfortunate is this guy, actually the IP was from India, but we caught him and it just went viral. It was fantastic, it was great authentic ideation from my brand team, and I'm very proud of it.
GS: I have some of that kind of stuff come up in my feeds. I love those sort of catching the bad guys. Okay. What's most over-hyped in marketing today? What do you think is over-hyped?

MG: Getting excited about the launch of a campaign.

GS: Yeah, okay. We're missing the point when we talk about the launch of the campaign. Okay, I'll take that. Good, I like that thesis. And what's most under underappreciated in marketing? I mean, everything we just talked about.

MG: Yes. If I were to pick one, I would say the power of great content and creative has been overshadowed by the reach of media in the last 15 years. It's very easy to spend billions of dollars in media and it's unfortunate when CMOs are judged based on the size of the money they've spent. It's very easy to spend money, it's very hard to drive organic growth and move the needle and prove incrementality.

GS: So if you could give the final single comment for anybody listening to this who wants to be a better CMO, do you want to summarize?

MG: Don't be too hard on yourself. The role of marketing in the world today is hard. And if you're struggling, I bet you you're not the only one. So first start every day like that, that you are one of million of us and we are all struggling, we are all trying to answer the same question, and we are all fighting to keep that place on the table every single day. What is most important is enjoy the battle. So that's one.

And tactically speaking, I'll just share the five principles that I remind myself every day. Love your product before you love your brand, speak the language that everybody else gets, which is a language of data. So know your numbers, know your data. Focus and obsess with outcomes and not outputs. Don't worry about the proxies, the campaign launches, but the outcomes, which is what moves the business and what is relevant to your category. And fourth is you have two customers, the internal one is just as important as the external. Don't ignore it. Build the relationships, build trust, build transparency. And then last is connect the dots. Don't stand on the island of purpose if you can't connect it with profitability, don't stand on the island of brand if you can't connect it with performance and growth, or don't stand on creativity if you don't apply science and storytelling.

GS: There you have it, everybody. Words to live by. Mayur, I can't thank you enough. I mean, really just what a phenomenal conversation. Again, it's really the reason I love my job. I get to work with smart people trying to figure out the world, and you're one of those at the top of the list. So thank you very much.

MG: Thanks, Greg. Thanks for having me. This was great.

GS: Thanks again to Mayur Gupta from Kraken for coming on Building Better CMOs. Check the show notes for links to connect with Mayur. And if you want to know more about MMA's work to unlock the power of marketing, please visit Or you can attend any one of our 30 conferences in 15 countries where MMA operates, or write to me, Thank you so much for listening. Don't forget to leave a review on Apple Podcasts.

And if you're new to the show, please follow or subscribe on Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeart, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can find links to all those places and more at Our producer and podcast consultant is Eric Johnson from Building Better CMOs's researcher is Aneta Palevska. Artwork is by Jason Chase, and a very special thanks to Lacera Smith. This is Greg Stuart. I'll see you in two weeks.

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