Building Better CMOs
Building Better CMOs
Kellyn Smith Kenny (AT&T) Transcript
Kellyn Smith Kenny: If you're too comfortable and you're standing still, that means that you are falling behind, way behind. Because the pace that marketing is moving, the industry is moving, is at a breakneck pace that none of us have ever experienced before. So we've got to keep pushing. We've got to keep striving to keep pace. If you want to be the leader of tomorrow, you need to condition yourself. You need to condition your team for constant disruptive innovation.

Greg Stuart: Welcome to Building Better CMOs, a podcast about how marketers can get smarter and stronger. I am Greg Stuart, the CEO of the nonprofit trade association MMA Global. And that voice you heard at the top is Kellyn Smith Kenny. She's the chief marketing and growth officer at AT&T and the global chair here at the MMA.

Today on Building Better CMOs, Kellyn and I are going to be talking about the enormous impact that AI is going to have on marketing — and she's a real tech-head. Also, the fatal mistakes that businesses are making in measurement and attribution — critical — and how do you do a rebrand that really sticks? And much, much more.

This podcast is all about the challenges that marketers face, and really unlocking the true value that marketing can have. And what does real leadership look like? How do you most effectively drive growth today? Kellyn Smith Kenny from AT&T is gonna tell us, right after this.

Well, hello Kellyn. So glad you could join me on Building Better CMOs today.

KSK: Thank you so much for having me, Greg.

GS: As if you and I don't really talk enough already. I don't think we're used to having microphones in front of us and producers to keep an eye on us. It's kind of funny, isn't it?

KSK: Yeah, it is. It is. We're going to give Eric a run for his money today.

GS: I guess. I guess. Where are you today? You in Dallas?

KSK: I'm in Dallas, Texas.

GS: Boy, at headquarters. Oh, boy. I know that building actually pretty well down there. I've been in it. I've done work down there.

I always like to kind of start with something in the news. What's newsy today? What do you think is getting a lot of attention, and what are you kind of paying attention to that's out there?

KSK: Certainly, generative AI is all the rage. And it's interesting.

GS: All the rage.

KSK: There seems to be two schools of thought. There's the one school who are ready to sprint toward it, embrace it, and then there's the other school of thought that's terrified of it and hasn't really accepted that the toothpaste is out of the tube. It can't go back in.

GS: Exactly.

KSK: It's not going to happen.

GS: AT&T obviously is a fairly technically oriented company. Do you think there's a wide acceptance? Is it divided even within AT&T, do you think, or just across the universe largely?

KSK: Yeah. I would say AT&T is very much in the mode of how do we embrace this and how do we embrace it as quickly as possible? Certainly, the marketers inside AT&T view generative AI as having the potential to reshape just about every aspect of marketing, from ideation to execution, to how we iterate and optimize campaigns, how we actually run the analysis.

It is undeniable that it presents the opportunity for greater personalization in the customer journey, greater message accuracy, which does what? It leads to overall improvements in marketing effectiveness.

And so in general, the folks inside AT&T's marketing crew, we're highly energized about its potential. We're starting to think through how can text and content generation be accelerated thanks to this technology? We're starting to think through how might we apply it to image and video generation? How much more marketing automation, how can we improve SEO? How do we apply it to customer service such that every single customer that calls in has an amazing, flawless, frictionless experience with us because we're able to understand and seek out the resolution that they need using AI.

I'm in the school of thought, I think if you're a marketer who's embracing this technology, you have the opportunity to usher in radical step change transformation, and I think there are massive productivity gains that we can be making.

GS: What's interesting about it—I think you know, too, from this consortium of AI personalization study that we've been doing—the gains in advertising performance. I mean, I remember Rex Briggs called me. He said, "Greg, here's the results. They're unbelievable." He told me the numbers, plus 250 percent. I go, "Rex, that's unbelievable." He goes, "No, I said it was unbelievable." And he's the guy who did the research. He was like, "It's defying gravity."

I think what's happening here—it's interesting because I actually had to write a forward for an AI book. My basic thesis was we can finally do what we've never done—I want to be fair to advertisers here, and I'm a marketer—we can stop annoying consumers with ads that have no relevance to them. I've often said I think that advertising sometimes is teaching people to ignore advertising because it's just not relevant to me too often of the times. And we could really fix that here.

KSK: Totally. I don't know the last time, probably not in our lifetimes, we've seen something with the potential impact that this has on our sector. It truly can be step change transformation, not just slow iterative evolution. It can be massive.

GS: Radical, radical.

KSK: Now we need to be eyes wide open. We need to be thoughtful. It's only as good as the quality of the questions and the inputs you're giving it, that is for sure. But running from it is not the strategy.

GS: No, no, no, no, no, no. I don't think your kids are trying to figure it out yet, but mine are of the age. I'm like, "Listen, just trust your dad. Double down on learning everything you can now, whatever you can do as fast as you can."

Hey, Kellyn, what's interesting, and I don't know if everybody here is going to know this, you present as a CMO, as a marketer, very well. Obviously, you're CMO of AT&T. But what people probably don't know is that you actually are a real tech head. What did you describe yourself as? A math... Did you call—

KSK: I was a mathlete.

GS: A math geek?

KSK: Yeah. I had a varsity letter in three sports, but also I was the varsity mathlete. I'm the daughter of a mathematician, so I almost had no choice.

GS: Oh my goodness. Actually, you went to Accenture originally...

KSK: That's right.

GS: ... to do tech there.

KSK: Yeah, hands-on keyboard developer.

GS: And then you ended up at Microsoft.

KSK: I was a developer.

GS: Hands-on keyboard. What were the languages, by the way?

KSK: C++.

GS: Okay, there you go.

KSK: I mean, I'm not so old that I had to say COBOL.

GS: Okay, good.

KSK: Stick with C++. Next question, please.

GS: I got it. I got it. Knowing what you know about tech, and I'm sure understanding how generative AI even works or AI in general, is there parts of it that do make you nervous, by the way? There's a lot in the media right now, so I'm trying to separate the fear from a reality. What do you think?

KSK: I mean, one of the things we know is that high-quality generative AI use cases require us to think of it as a co-pilot, not the pilot. We know for sure that generative AI hallucinates, it makes things up. It makes it up and it sounds very compelling.

And so I would say the bar is even higher for the quality of person, i.e., the pilot that is using gen AI as a co-pilot. You need to be incredibly thoughtful. You need to be incredibly strategic. You need to not be naive to the outputs that it's spitting out and thinking, oh, all of this is 100 percent accurate. You need to take a critical eye. It's going to require the pilots who are working with the gen AI co-pilot are very thoughtful, very intentional, and that they check their work.

GS: Yeah. I think, too, as I've talked to... Rex Briggs is kind of our resident expert on that, and he's talked a lot about the bias that exists in part driven by the data set and AI's ability to amplify that and that it can easily lead us down the wrong path.

KSK: Absolutely. We need to be very discerning about the content that is being produced, and we need to lean in to training generative AI in the right way. It is going to get better and better over time, particularly if we put the time and attention into training it appropriately.

The thing about gen AI is it never sleeps. It's working 24/7, and it can get better and better and better if we feed it the right inputs and we give it the right feedback.

GS: If you're able to say, how many AI experiments are you running in the AT&T marketing department today? Do you have a sense of that?

KSK: I wouldn't want to go on the record with the number.

GS: Okay, okay. Yeah, I thought so.

KSK: No, no, that's okay.

GS: I thought I'd ask.

KSK: I'll say this. We have been leaning into it for a while, and we are working with trusted partners on generating content and optimizing that content based on how consumers and prospects are responding to the stimulus that we're putting out there.

GS: Yeah. No, I hear all the big marketers now, they have a series of experiments and partners, and they are aggressively going down the path.

Hey, one other quick thing before we jump into our main topic. You just did a new campaign, a rethinking of AT&T's purpose, I believe.

KSK: That's right.

GS: You want to talk a little bit about that? It's very exciting.

KSK: Sure thing. I joined AT&T about two and a half years ago, and I had the incredible privilege to work on AT&T's renewed purpose. As we went through that process, we knew three things were critical.

Thing one, we needed to define the purpose in a way that truly honored the incredible heritage and past of the company. Thing two, we needed to make sure that when we defined our purpose, it truly represented the very best of who we are in the present. And then thing three, we needed to make sure that it was future-proof. We didn't want to develop the company's purpose, get 150,000 employees excited and inspired about it if it wasn't something that would stand the test of time.

So we did an extraordinary amount of research. We did an extraordinary amount of listening. The process for defining the company's purpose took well over a year and a half. We spoke to customers of every size, shape, customer type, tenure, different product plans. We spoke to employees from every nook and cranny of the company. We went deep and scrubbed and researched all of the archives that AT&T has, which is quite an undertaking because we've been around for nearly 150 years.

After synthesizing all of that work and running workshop after workshop, we landed in a place where we collectively understood that the purpose of our company was to connect people to greater possibility through expertise, simplicity, and inspiration.

From there, the very first thing we did was we knew we had to live it before we launched it. I think a lot of marketers, they go through all the right steps and processes, they define the company's purpose or North Star or its center, and then they launch it right away to customers.

What we knew we needed to do was we needed to burn the message in internally. We needed to get our employees excited about it, our employees inspired by it. We needed for every single employee of the company to have their own connection story, to be able to tell a story that showcased how AT&T was bringing greater possibility either to communities or customers or even members of their own family so it felt real and personal, and it felt like a purpose that they could sign up for.

After doing that for about six, seven months, we saw extraordinary things happen. We saw that nearly 90 percent of our employees could repeat back to us, "I understand the purpose of the company and I'm compelled by it. I am inspired by it."

GS: Wow.

KSK: We saw that nearly 90 percent of employees could say, "I know how to actually make this work and apply it to my day-to-day job." And then, finally, we saw that nearly 90 percent of our employees were also able to understand how our culture, the company's overall strategy, and the company's purpose worked together. And then, and only then, did we say, "We are ready to launch this externally."

GS: Wow.

KSK: Now, all of the work, of course, was going on in the background because to develop an externally facing purpose campaign that really reveals the soul of your company in an emotional way, it takes a lot of care and feeding.

When we started the process of, "Hey, we want to recenter the company on our renewed purpose, and we want to be able to tell this story externally," we set out to really build an emotional bond between our customers and our brand. We want AT&T to be a brand that is loved. We want AT&T to be a brand that is famous beyond the category of telecommunications. We want AT&T to be this iconic brand that sustains the test of time.

We had historically been pretty exceptional at doing product and promotion-level marketing, but what we knew from our research was that we had this massive untapped opportunity to bring heart into the work. And so that's what we set out to do.

GS: Wow. Incredible. And so you really did take the time to make sure that the internal employees bought into it before you took it external, before you took it to consumers?

KSK: One hundred percent. One of the things that we studied, we studied companies that had tried to reposition their brands successfully, and we studied brands that had tried to reposition their brands and were unsuccessful. We saw time and time again, there were a few fatal flaws.

One fatal flaw was when there was a disconnect with the end customer, the external audience that they want to convince. If the new purpose or the new mission or the new tagline of a company felt like a hard 180-degree turn from where the company had always been, it just sort of is naturally rejected. You can probably think of a few examples of brands that tried and failed to do that and quickly realized they needed to retreat. So we didn't want to do that.

But the other thing we saw was that when companies actually had crafted a well-articulated, compelling purpose and mission that resonated with customers, but employees didn't get it, employees didn't see that the company was taking bold action to make it be true, the employees, they resist. Maybe it's not officially organized, but you get this resistance internally, and then it never becomes true. And the brands have to retreat that way because they can't actually make it a reality for customers or employees. So we knew that we didn't want to fall into any of those fatal flaws.

And then for what it's worth, the third fatal flaw is when companies believe that the marketing department has the ability to reposition a brand. What we did from the very beginning of our workshops is we impressed upon all of the stakeholders across the company that if we are going to reposition AT&T, every single customer touchpoint needs to be a manifestation of that purpose, which means customer service needs to be all-in, legal needs to be all-in, operations needs to be all-in, retail needs to be all-in.

Until you have product and the partnerships team and corp debt, until every single person who is taking an action that is going to impact a customer on board, you basically have a half-hearted attempt to reposition your brand. That's why it took us years. That takes years to build up that type of commitment inside of a company to know how every single department is going to operationalize on that purpose. Because the other thing we did in our research was we asked thousands of customers, "Tell us about brands you love."

What we didn't see in any of the answers when we asked them, "Why do you love that brand?" Not a single one of them said, "Oh, I love it because of their advertising, or I love it because of their marketing." They say, "I love it because their product changed my life."

GS: Exactly.

KSK: Or, "I love it because their customer service policies are so customer friendly." They never once say, "That 30-second ad is what put me over the edge." So we had to be all-in.

GS: Wow. I can't even imagine. Well, I'll tell you what's interesting about that is that you really did take the thoughtful time to really make it right for what is a multibillion-dollar corporation, to make sure you got it right. I actually worked on the original AT&T You Will campaign back in the mid-90s just as the internet was introduced.

KSK: It's a beautiful campaign.
GS: That was a total reposition. I was at Y&R and they were my biggest client at the time. I did a lot of their interactive stuff. We launched a few of their projects. We launched a product, I still have one in my basement. I think it's called an EO, which I'm sure is now in the archive somewhere of pre-digital devices that got wide adoption. It was a very interesting time.

It's always been a very innovative, progressive company to me. I mean, that's always been my experience.

KSK: That's awesome to hear. I agree. Touché.

GS: Yeah. Well, listen, let's get into it. So you know the point of Building Better CMOs, it's not just us patting ourselves on the back. It's a matter of what do we need to get better at? It's kind of the thesis of the MMA. That's what we're trying to do. We're trying to make marketing better, stronger, raise the stature and gravitas of CMOs.

So Kellyn, I'm sure you would have a long list knowing you, but let's just go ahead and pick on one thing that you think broadly marketers, in your opinion, you're not sure they get right all the time. What is that?

KSK: As a former mathlete, it pains me to say this, but I would say measurement and attribution...

GS: Oh my god, you're right.

KSK: ... is something that I see so many marketers wrestle with.

GS: It's horrifying, isn't it, Kellyn?

KSK: It is.

GS: After all these years, we still don't quite get it right. I mean, I think you know this: I co-founded multi-touch attribution with Rex Briggs back in the early 2000s, and we're still only 50 percent adoption. It is the measurement technique that you got to get to.

KSK: A hundred percent, yeah. No, I mean, there are a few famous fails inside of measurement and attribution, and it's possible that at some point in all of our careers we've been there and we've made the fail ourselves. And you pick up the pieces and you learn the hard way. But wouldn't it be amazing if the next generation of CMOs, the next generation of marketing leaders didn't have to make these mistakes?

I think we're at a place where we should be better than where we are, but I'll throw out one. I am consistently surprised at how often marketers will mischaracterize volume that they got and attribute it to paid marketing when it wasn't truly incremental. It was actually something where we cannibalized traffic or sales or conversion that we were going to get anyway. So we've literally paid to get customers to do a thing that they were going to do for free.

And when we have the wrong measurement schemas in place, people pat themselves on the back about, "Look how efficient that paid media action was." No, no, you didn't need that. But the number looks so good. Marketers, sometimes we're almost lured into fooling ourselves and looking at the data in the incorrect way.

So the first famous fail, I would say, is anytime you're not looking holistically at acquisition, if you're just looking at things that you're "attributing to paid media," and if you're not using multi-touch attribution, you need to make sure you're taking a holistic approach and looking at the volume you were getting through organic. If as your paid media attribution goes up, your organic goes down, red flag on the play, famous fail.

GS: So what do you do then? Or what does AT&T do or what do you think marketers need to do to kind of work around that to not fall into that trap?

KSK: Yeah. I mean, first of all, as appealing as it can be for the folks who crave the sugar high rush of last click attribution, don't do it.

GS: Yeah, don't do it.

KSK: You need to be all-in on MTA and you need to be testing and learning and experimenting at all times. If you happen to be in a marketing department that doesn't own SEO or organic, it doesn't matter. You got to make sure you're looking at it and truly challenging the outcomes if they look too good to be true unless, as you said, unless it's gen AI. But if they look too good to be true, they probably are too good to be true. Just taking a critical eye to the data.

GS: I think your point is right. I think we have gotten caught on the crack of last click attribution because it's just so darn convenient. And it's funny. I mean, I don't know if you can say, but I think you're a partner with Neustar, you've worked with Neustar, you know the Neustar team. They've been around with MMA, they're on the board, too. They actually did a paper that showed that last click attribution, only slightly better than first click attribution. A little bit worse, but I think it has a 40 percent confidence in its measurement.

KSK: It's nothing that anyone should be deploying millions upon millions, upwards of $100 million dollars on. It's just dangerous.

GS: Why do you think we don't do the hard work to get better? Do you think it's maybe people don't know or they don't really appreciate it or...

KSK: I think in some places people probably haven't been exposed to the more sophisticated tools, and they just need to be exposed to it.

GS: Yeah. Marketers don't understand it, so it's complicated for them sometimes.

KSK: I think in other places, look, what does first click or last click give you? Instant gratification. Instant. It's hard to turn down instant gratification, especially in today's day and age where marketers are constantly under pressure to prove the incrementality of what they're doing, the value of what they're doing.

If you're trying to present to an audience that doesn't quite have that same level of marketing savvy that you do, and maybe they don't understand econometrics or they don't understand multi-touch attribution, in the process of convincing them with last click, you maybe even are convincing yourself.

GS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, and you're right. Incrementality is the answer. I think I've told this story. I mean, I've told this story a lot. I don't know if I mentioned it to you. Frank Crowson called me when he was a CMO over at Best Buy. He called me about a year ago, and he said, "Greg, is there a standard for quality marketing measurement?" And I thought, "Wow, what a brilliant question. He's right."

At the moment I was like, "Geez, Frank, I'm not sure I actually know the answer." I asked him why. He says he has some push within the company to focus on last click attribution. I says, "Well, I can tell you for sure that's wrong. I can tell you what the wrong answer is."

We actually now have developed, in fact, the MMA just put out this month, the whole series of papers and a tool to measure incrementality because that is the answer. That is the answer, but it's really hard to do.

KSK: It is, and it's expensive, and it takes time to tune that as well, because you need a tremendous amount of inputs to actually get a stable and predictive model. But it is so worth it. It is the holy grail.

GS: You were talking some of the other outcomes earlier with me here about some of the... You want to riff on some of those? Because I thought some of that was pretty interesting.

KSK: Yeah. Another thing I see is people, they will run the internal gauntlet. They will secure funding for more upper funnel marketing activities, but then they become impatient and they use the wrong metrics to evaluate it. If you're investing in things to drive saliency, consideration, preference, you can't look at sales conversion in the quarter for the quarter, in the month for the month. You can't do it.

GS: Can't do it.

KSK: You need a thoughtful measurement strategy prior to launching the tactic. And you need to be disciplined and patient. My pro tip for anybody who's facing this or in the middle of it is set expectations in advance. When you set your CEO's expectation or your board's expectation about how long it is going to take to see the benefits of this, they will understand and be patient. If you're having to scramble after the fact, it's going to sound like you're making an excuse.

GS: Yeah. It's the number one thing I recommend to anybody doing MTAs. First off, it's really hard. Just know that going into it. It's still the right thing to do. It's really hard. Just manage expectations. It's such a big deal. What else?

KSK: Along those lines, at the risk of sounding like I'm talking out of both sides of my mouth, when you're working on upper funnel and you've set expectations that it's going to take quarters and years, not days and weeks and months, it doesn't mean that you shouldn't be assessing and analyzing the data that you do have about the quality of the creative or the quality of the brand acts.

So how much talkability is there? How positive are your mentions of your brand in social media? What is the creative effectiveness score? Are you able to hold people's attention? Are you holding certain segments' attention better than others? If it was a campaign that was designed to really capture the hearts, minds and resonate with younger audiences, there are tools that you can use before you get to nine, 12 months out that give you a bit of a preview about where things are working really hard for you and where you may need to tune and tweak.

I've gone so far as we've literally altered and edited certain segments within the 30-second spot based on where we're seeing appeal and attention just depreciate very quickly. You have an insight to make the spot stronger, or you need to change the music, or you need a different opening shot. All of that stuff can be tweaked and optimized even when you're in market to try and give yourself the greatest advantage possible as you work toward those metrics.

GS: Actually, I remember when you were CMO at Hilton, you actually leaned in in that neuroscience cognition project we did, which was how to capture attention. I mean, we basically found that the majority of consumers would make a decision to tune out an ad in seven-tenths of a second. They would either be in or out.

But if you use some neuroscience techniques, then you could actually extend that sort of attention device. It wasn't how long it sat on the screen. It was the ad itself that drove that decision to participate, not some false lead done by the media company that forced attention to the thing. That's right. You leaned into that.

KSK: One hundred percent. Yeah, we absolutely leaned into that.

GS: What else?

KSK: Alright. I got one more for you.

GS: Go.

KSK: Benchmarks. I think it is so tempting if you're in a category to just benchmark your company's performance versus players in your category. The reason why I think that's a famous fail is because you're not just competing with your industry competitors for people's attention. If you think about the average consumer today, they are being bombarded by content messages. I've seen some studies that say people are exposed to anywhere between 3,000 and 12,000 brand messages a day.

GS: Crazy. Yeah.

KSK: That means that customers and potential customers, prospects, they have become incredibly adept at tuning out brands. The average person is scrolling through more than 300 feet of content per day on their phone.

If I'm just slightly better than the two or three or four biggest competitors in my sector, am I going to get them to stop their thumb on my content? No way. I am competing with the most loved, most famous, most iconic brands out there.

And so when my team and I talk about what are the benchmarks or what are the norms we're trying to beat, I don't care about what just my category looks like. I certainly always want to make sure I'm getting better and better and improving upon myself, but I want to know of the very best brands that are the most persuasive, that are the best at holding attention, how do I do versus them?

I think, again, as marketers—because we've got to do a lot of internal marketing of our work to other stakeholders—we can sort of fall into this trap of celebr ating being the tallest m****t. That's not what we should be shooting for.

GS: So Kellyn, let's go back to the core of getting measurement right. I have a funny question for you. What's required from your teams and the capabilities around your teams? Obviously the follow-up to that would be, what do you need to do as a CMO to make sure you get the right people?

I'm going to go back to a conversation you and I had, you wouldn't remember, it was a couple years ago. I think it was in a board meeting. We were talking about the complexity of just hiring data scientists, which a bunch of PhDs, obviously smart people, but sometimes their lack of understanding about marketing provided a complexity. It wasn't just raw intelligence. Do you remember that?

KSK: Oh, yes. I'm very passionate about this topic, extremely, because I have worked with aeronautical engineers and rocket scientists, and if they are not deeply passionate and knowledgeable about marketing, the information outputs they spit out are totally useless.

We need to have people who understand how marketing works and how it all works together. We need for people to understand the things that you can actually change and optimize.

Another thing that I see time and time again is people who aren't deeply skilled in marketing don't necessarily understand how critical the quality of the creative unit you're placing is. Not all creative is created equal in terms of its effectiveness, persuasiveness, etc. But if you just view a 30-second spot as a widget and all 30-second spots of the same quality or all six-second social spots are the same quality, you will end up drawing very dangerous and incorrect conclusions.

GS: Do you pre-test ads?

KSK: Yeah, we do.

GS: There's some controversy around people... You pre-test them?

KSK: We do.

GS: Yeah. I think you have to.

KSK: Not necessarily to help us choose the ones we're going to flight, but we do it for red flag, if there's anything that's sort of creating an especially negative reaction. And certainly if we see things that people really love in a pre-test, we've typically seen that they also perform well in the wild.

GS: Yeah. Yeah, I realize there's some controversy around pre-testing, and I can accept and understand that, but I think your main point is if I was going to spend another couple of million dollars in a creative team to do amazing work versus another $20, $50 million in campaign spend, I'd lean towards creative if I could.

That's a hard trade-off to make, and maybe my example isn't the best, but doubling down in creative, it's the single greatest return on investment there is, and yet it feels like it does get overlooked sometimes.

KSK: It absolutely does.

GS: Not by all. Yeah. I don't know by our board members. Our board members are pretty good, but I think in marketing in general, it's ignored. Yeah.

KSK: It's a fair criticism. If you want to fully understand advertising effectiveness, there's really two inputs: the quality of the creative and the quality of the media itself. You need those two things. And one without the other isn't effective. It's a pretty simple way. In its most basic form, you need high-quality creative, and you want to have it in the best placements possible.

GS: I wonder, too, and we're going to move on in a minute, but you mentioned price. You know what I hear a lot of marketers do sometimes? They talk about just absolute effectiveness, or there's kind of a current focus around attention as an end-all be-all. But I don't hear them contrast that back against the price that they paid for the media.

I'll give you an example. If you were to read our trade press some time, it would feel or sound like that TV pricing is going out of control and it's going up all the time. Now, I'm a little bit cynical. I suspect that that's people placing stories like that to try to push upfront pricing down.

But what's interesting about that is the cross media studies that the MMA did as little as five years ago, so this is pre-streaming. I want to be careful about that because I think the marketplace has moved and changed again. It was very clear from those studies as little as five years ago that linear television was still by and far the largest part of a marketing mix. I'm purely optimized. I have no basis and bias on that. I have nothing to sell. But it was very clear from the data that was it.

And so what that says in some regards is that linear television, it reached people, it worked to communicate, as much as we feel like we ignore sometimes, and it really set it apart that its pricing was dirt cheap.

KSK: Interesting.

GS: It was a deal of the century. You mentioned that earlier. It's very hard, which is why you kind of come back to the right attribution models. They've got to tie it back to that pricing and optimization because that's really how the world works. I agree with you. I don't think we pay enough attention to those kinds of things too much.

KSK: We need to. That can be famous fail number five.

GS: There we go. There we go. Okay, so Kellyn, I heard you talk on another podcast the other day, and I think the question to you, or maybe you just made the point was that, "I had never planned to be CMO of a major corporation." It was never in your designs. I think part of the comment you made is that marketing fits you well.

I made a reference, I hope it was sort of appropriate, at some level, like you present as a marketer to me. I know I've gotten to know you, but you feel like a real CMO marketer thinking about all the complexities and issues, not a techie, whatever sort of bias that might have in my comment. I apologize to anybody there. Is getting to the top easy? Is operating effectively at the level? I mean, you're in one of the world's greatest corporations.

KSK: Well, thank you. Thank you.

GS: I mean, they call it work for a reason.

KSK: That's right. Yeah.

GS: It's hard sometimes. Yeah.

KSK: It is hard. But I also do feel very grateful because I do feel like I have a dream job working on a dream brand and a very talented and dedicated team. So I at least have to give a shoutout to the team and the company.

GS: Makes a big difference.

KSK: But no, I started my career, as we talked about, as a computer programmer, and I had studied economics and computer science. It wasn't until I went back to business school that I had my aha moment of I should have been a marketer all along...

GS: Really?

KSK: ... because I really am truly right brain, left brain. I'm the niece of an artist and the daughter of a mathematician, and so I get to do both things. That's what I love about marketing, that you don't have to pick one.

But no, the insights that I've gained along the way in terms of how I got to where I got, few things, handful of things. The first is I always approached every assignment with an enterprise mindset. What I mean by that is I never ever got myopically focused on only the task that I was asked to do. I always made sure that the task made sense in the broader context of what the company wanted and needed.

GS: Would you have an example of that by chance?

KSK: I would say time and time again, I was willing to make trade-offs. I was willing to sacrifice things that might have seemed like why would she sacrifice that? Her team needs that budget. But if I saw that a colleague had a better use of a million dollars or half a million dollars or $5 million than I did, I would happily and willingly put something I was working on—if it was lower leverage—on a lower priority than my colleague who I felt could have the budget work harder for the company. I was always focused on the greater good.

GS: You knew it was good for the company?

KSK: A hundred percent.

GS: Wow. That is very funny and I think rare. Yes.

KSK: Yeah, it is rare, but it is what I look for as a leader in the teams that I'm leading. Do I have people who take a broad perspective and are they rigorously prioritizing and deprioritizing based on the level of leverage that this effort or activity will deliver for the company? And by the way, that means you have to sacrifice great ideas to save the exceptional ideas.

GS: Are you able to assess that in any way in an interview? Feels very hard to do from the outside. Or do you learn that about people when they come in and then you try to acclimatize them to that culture?

KSK: Absolutely. When people walk me through their resume, I'm listening for, do they appropriately set the context for their role? "I was asked to do the following thing." Did they know why they were asked to do that? Did they understand what their company or what their division was responsible for and counting on them to deliver? That's thing one. How do they talk about their responsibilities? Do they just focus on their tasks and activities, or do they contextualize it more broadly?

Number two, I ask people about, give me an example of a time where you had to forgo doing something on your checklist, on your priority list because your resources could have been put to better use by a colleague?

GS: Wow.

KSK: You'd be surprised at how few people actually can come up with even one small example of doing that.

GS: Wow. Okay. So enterprise mindset, that's one thing you figured out early.

KSK: Second one is setting clear career goals. And it doesn't need to be, I want to be a CEO or I want to be a CMO, but set goals for yourself five years out, 10 years out. And make sure that when you have line of sight to what you want to be, you are constantly stretching yourself to learn the new skills and acquire the new competencies and capabilities that you need to actually be a viable candidate for that next opportunity you seek.

For me, when I look back on my marketing career, I think some of the best rotations I had were when I went really deep on customer insight. Another really pivotal role for me was when I got to work on true four P strategy, so products, pricing, how we're actually going to distribute, promote it, distribution slash place. But thinking holistically about the four Ps. It's surprising how few people get really far along in their career and they've never had an opportunity to be strategic across all four of them.

Another rotation that I highly recommend to people, particularly if you want to be a CMO, is take a rotation or take a spin through marketing operations because you need to be really good at knowing how to get things done efficiently and effectively. It's not always the sexiest stuff, but planning and operations and making sure that we have a solid cadence for how we get campaigns out the door, how we assess the effectiveness of those campaigns. Those are like mini CMO roles.

GS: Yeah. Yeah. It's funny, the marketing operations one, I totally agree. I mean, I have to tell people who are new to the agency, I says, "You have to kind of understand that people in marketing often buy from those they trust and have a relationship. It's not a bad thing, but it's not a good thing either. And I go, "The reason they do that, because something always goes wrong and they want to know that they're going to get backed up by somebody on the other side that they bought from."

KSK: Well said.

GS: What about navigating the complex politics of big companies? I mean, politics is not a bad thing. I want to be careful about that. It is a part of how you get things done. Do you have lessons learned around how you navigate that at the levels that you've had? I mean, you were in essence CMO at Uber. You were the head of marketing at Uber. They didn't give the CMO title there, but you were the head of marketing, right?

KSK: Correct.

GS: At Uber. CMO at Hilton, CMO at AT&T. Contrast the experiences between different companies, too. What have you learned around that?

KSK: The first thing I would say is depending upon where you are, the extent to which your non-marketing colleagues will understand your value is going to vary. So doing everything in your power right from the get-go of establishing marketing as a growth engine for the company, as a key driver of innovation in service of the customer is super important in any scenario. But you want people to understand your value and you want the company to understand that, in my case, AT&T will never reach its full potential if we don't deliver world-class marketing. Getting people to buy into that and believe that is one of the battles that you'll fight.

When I think about the challenges and how I've navigated some of them, the first thing that I would say is, as you rise as a marketer, you get further away from the craft of marketing and you spend more time with internal stakeholders.

I genuinely miss the craft of marketing. The one thing, hand over my heart, that I have vowed is even though I spend less time maybe in the marketing strategy and the advertising and the media, I don't ever, ever want to lose sight of the customer. I always need to be the person in the room providing the voice of the customer because the customer is not just the marketing team's North Star. It should be the entire company's North Star. It should be the entire company's inspiration forever and always. So remembering to take care of the customer is job number one.

But yeah, one challenge is you miss some of the awesome work that you loved and that got you here. The good news is that people are looking at you to always be the champion for the customer. Another challenge that I would say is the more senior you get, you need to make sure that you're setting up the right incentives to ensure that cross-functional teams are partnering efficiently and effectively, and that everyone across the marketing ecosystem is incentivized to harness the collective expertise of people around them.

What I mean by that is if you have people with deep subject matter expertise and they stay in their silo and they don't cross pollinate, you do not extract the full value of the talent that you've worked so hard to bring in, recruit, and then curate.

One of the challenges as you get more senior in an organization is ensuring that you've set up the right set of incentives across all of the cross-functional teams that interact in the marketing ecosystem. You go through the time and energy to pull together, to recruit, to curate these incredibly talented teams of experts, but if they don't cross pollinate and they don't know how to work together so that they're harnessing the collective expertise, the work around them suffers.

And so, one of the things that as a leader I've had to do and rise to the challenge of making sure that we have the right incentives in place that actually promote that level of teamwork.

GS: It's funny. You know that the MMA and working with the marketing org, people have said that marketing is leading a coalition, it's not leading a function. And you're right, it has to work across the whole company. You said that when you set that purpose. Amazing.

KSK: Totally.

GS: Well, you've had a great opportunity here to learn from some of the most interesting companies in the world, so congratulations on that. Let's do a little lightning round, then we're going to wrap up here.

KSK: Hold on. I got two more quick ones.

GS: Oh, you have two more?

KSK: I'll go fast on these.

GS: Okay, go.

KSK: Listen, marketing is being disrupted all the time. If you are too comfortable and you're standing still, that means that you are falling behind, way behind. Because the pace that marketing is moving, the industry is moving, is at a breakneck pace that none of us have ever experienced before.

GS: It's crazy.

KSK: We've got to keep pushing. We've got to keep striving to keep pace. If you want to be the leader of tomorrow, you need to condition yourself. You need to condition your team for constant disruptive innovation.

That requires inspiration from customers. It requires being locked in on who are the marketing beacons that you admire. It means you need to have incredible data sophistication, not the type of data that confirms that what you're doing is good enough, but the type of data that really challenges you to be even better.

And then one final challenge that I throw out there is that growing in your career requires change. That means you're constantly leading people through change, you're leading yourself through change. And as you're changing and you're evolving, you want to make sure that you're doing it with an eye toward productivity and effectiveness.

But change is hard. When individuals are inside organizations that are transforming and are disrupting themselves, you get a fairly high incident rate of people opting out. That's okay. March on without them. You need the people who are leaning into the future and embracing it, and you can't be afraid to say goodbye to the talent, even if they've been around for years and you love them. But you can't be afraid to say goodbye to the talent that doesn't want to keep up with the pace and rate of change inside the sector because they will hold you back.

GS: You tied change and productivity together. Is productivity, is it as a team? Is it as a sort of what you do in marketing? I think you're almost talking an individual basis there as you're making that point. Is that right?

KSK: Well, what I would say is if you're going to transform your organization, or you're going to introduce new tools and capabilities, or you're going to introduce new ways of working, you do all of those things because you believe that in the end you will become more productive than you are today.

Unfortunately, when you change in order to go from a point of lower productivity to a point of higher productivity, it's never as easy as a straight up and to the right line. Change tends to look like a U curve. Now, the other side of the U is higher, so you're more productive, but you actually initially experience a little bit of a dip in productivity because change can be disorienting.

And so we as leaders, we need to make sure that we're metering out the change at a rate and pace that people can stomach and that people can thrive in. But yeah, we need to make sure that we have a vision that's clear. We need to make sure that it's universally understood across the organization that we are trying to change and do these things so that we can achieve more productivity, more effectiveness, more efficiency, greater return on marketing investment, and being honest with people that change is hard, and so it won't be perfect in the beginning. But you can't bail just because it's hard the first week. You've got to gut it out and get through it because in the end it's so much more effective.

GS: Okay. Who else in marketing, person, company, do you admire?

KSK: At the risk of pandering to the host of the podcast, I would say I very much admire the work that the MMA has produced on brand as performance and the movable middles. When I saw that brand as performance case study on Ally...

GS: Insane.

KSK: ... I was so blown away by what we are now able to quantify. The fact that we're able to say that the long-term effects of exposing prospects to brand-building messages rather than strictly product and promotional messages, that over time that we're seeing a 2.4x improvement in the cohorts exposed to brand messages, that is extraordinary.

The other thing I think that was in that study was that by building your base of favorable prospects, you can dramatically, dramatically—I think the number was reduce your acquisition costs by up to 90 percent.

GS: Yep.

KSK: That is something.

GS: First off, I'm blushing, but also I 100 percent agree. What I find insane about that, Kellyn—and sure I've said this so many times, you've heard me say in board meetings and so on—is that every CMO I talk to, and I talk to at least 100 a year, every one of them says that the relationship between brand and performance, long and short term, is a discussion within the organization. And what I find insane—I'm going to get all worked up now—what I find insane is that we as a marketing industry have not fully addressed that question.

KSK: It's like we should be gobsmacked at this point.

GS: Gobsmacked.

KSK: That's why MMA is doing it.

GS: Embarrassed. Exactly. And so we did. Now, the funny thing about that, I want to be fair to everybody, though. I still remember when Allan Thygesen, who was at Google at the time, when he shows that Google was going to help support us developing that project for MMA marketers. I remember he says, "Greg, Google's behind you. However, we don't think you can do what you're saying you're going to do. We don't think it's possible."

When the company with the smartest people in the room tell you that they don't think it's possible, it could make you a little nervous. But you're right. We chose to sort of proceed on, and I think it's been a big virtue. So thank you. You're very generous and kind. The team and Vassilis Bakopoulos, who has led that charge with Joel Rubinson, will be incredibly grateful for your comments. So thank you.

Okay. What's most overhyped in marketing today? You want to pick on anything that's overhyped?

KSK: Overhyped. At the risk of getting rotten tomatoes thrown at me, I think some of the metaverse stuff is a little overhyped.

GS: It did get really ahead of itself.

KSK: I'm not anti, don't get me wrong, I'm not anti. I think there is a lot potential, but I have seen brands jump in the ring without strategic clarity, just getting in to get in. I don't think that the metaverse is that irresistible in and of itself that you just need to be in. I think you need to have a real strategy.

So my curiosity is piqued, my interest is piqued on the metaverse, and AT&T has absolutely done stuff in the metaverse that has been effective, but I have seen brands sort of stumble and bumble their way into it and blow a lot of money.

The thing that we always say is we want there to be serious steak with our sizzle. If you just go with the sizzle and there's no steak, it tends not to taste good in your mouth. Right?

GS: Yeah.

KSK: I mean, it's overhyped in the regard that I think people don't actually understand how to work with it effectively. And they're wasting a lot of time, energy, money, and precious resource.

GS: Yeah. It's funny, too—

KSK: But it's got potential.

GS: It does. I'm a big fan of Web3, whether it's metaverse or whatever. I mean, there's a lot of complexity around those things. I love Web3. I don't know, I just don't know if I understand yet how it's being pulled off. So still to be seen. Okay. What's underappreciated?

KSK: So many things. So many things.

GS: We just spent an hour talking about this. Can there be a follow-up? I don't know.

KSK: If this is rapid round, I would say brand acts, so real stories, not just storytelling, real steak, not just sizzle. We underappreciate when companies go out of their way to really do story doing not just storytelling. Human insight, I still see campaigns that I can tell the brief behind that piece of creative was weak or it never should have been signed off on because it lacks a true human insight.

GS: Those outside of marketing don't understand how hard it is to get the brief right and then to create the creative that communicates the brief. It's very hard. It's not just creating. It's not just cut and paste here, people. This is not arts and crafts.

KSK: A hundred percent.

GS: It's very hard.

KSK: I got another one for you.

GS: Yeah?

KSK: Consistency. We as marketers get bored before our customers do.

GS: Oh my god, yes.

KSK: We switch things up. The customers are just barely starting to understand the point we were trying to make in the first place. Yeah.

And then finally I got to give it up to generative AI. I think that there are people who are dismissing it saying that it lacks the craftsmanship and the precision.

GS: No.

KSK: They're not wrong to point out those deficits, but as a first draft or as an idea generation tool, it is incredibly potent and it can be an incredible co-pilot.

GS: Unlike metaverse—which it needs more legs, it needs more foundation, it needs more time, needs more scale—I think the generative AI think is going to change the world like we've never imagined. And listen, iPhone, one of your core products, is revolutionary for the world. No question as we saw that, but I think generative AI is going to make a difference.

Okay, last one. If you were to give advice to somebody listening to this to be a better CMO, you want to wrap it up for somebody, give them a last pointer of any kind? We covered so much. I can't imagine what else you've got in your bag of tricks there that you would share with people.

KSK: It's all about inspiration.

GS: Oh, nice.

KSK: So much of our job is inspiring people to embrace the future and to dive headfirst into the next generation of what's coming. I've seen people make the mistake of relying on facts or fear or forcing people to do it, and that never works. Inspiration is the only thing that works.

And so inspiring your team, inspiring your colleagues, and making sure that as marketers, we market the marketing and people can truly appreciate the value that we're driving for the enterprise and they view us as the engine. Not just an engine, but the engine that's going to unlock the next great wave of growth for the company.

GS: Oh my god. I promised no hero worship, but I think that was a great visionary close from a marketing visionary as to how we'd be better at doing this.

Kellyn, listen, I can't thank you enough for everything in the world, especially your help here as global chair of the MMA board. I'm forever indebted to you for that and even for this little session tonight. Thank you very much.

KSK: Thank you. Awesome being here.

GS: A very special thanks again to Kellyn Smith Kenny from AT&T for coming on Building Better CMOs. Check the show notes for links to connect with Kellyn.

If you want to know more about MMA's work to unlock the power of marketing, visit Or you can attend any one of our 30 conferences in the 15 countries where MMA operates, or write me,

Thank you so much for listening. Don't forget to leave a review on Apple Podcasts. 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' researcher is Aneta Palevska. Artwork is by Jason Chase, and special thanks to Lacera Smith. This is Greg Stuart. I'll see you in two weeks.

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