Chris O’Brien on Martech Leadership

Illustration with Chris O'Brien's headshot for a CX Decoded Podcast on customer experience technology leadership.

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According to the Marketing Technology Landscape 2022, marketers have nearly 10,000 solutions from which to choose. OK, so maybe that’s not exactly how it works. Marketers won’t be browsing 10 aisles with 1,000 solutions per aisle.

Fact is, though, there is an abundance of choice when it comes to deciding what powers your marketing and customer experience outcomes. Many marketers and customer experience professionals arrive at organizations when the stack’s fully operational. Others have to buy pieces to fit their stack, and some even build from the ground up.

Chris O’Brien is one of those professionals who lives all these realities. He’s the VP of digital marketing technology for M&T Bank. He sits at the intersection of marketing technology and customer experience within the financial services industry, which is a highly regulated industry. O’Brien caught up with CX Decoded to discuss the challenges of managing the marketing technology stack. He shares his thoughts on how the role of marketing technologists have evolved, how he keeps up with the pace of new technology and what’s coming next.

“I really do work cross-functionally, cross-departmentally, as well as with a ton of external partners, whether they be, you know, system integrators, agencies, or some of these platform and data service vendors,” O’Brien told CX Decoded hosts Rich Hein and Dom Nicastro of CMSWire. “So really trying to be kind of the hub that pulls all of that together into a cohesive roadmap and strategy for us.”

Episode Transcript 

Rich Hein: Once again I’m joined by my co-host and colleague, CMSWire’s managing editor, Dom Nicastro. How are you doing today, Dom?

Dom Nicastro: I’m doing well, Rich. Great to be here again with you today. Let’s introduce our guest. Let’s not waste any time. Who do we have here on today Rich?

Rich: It’s my pleasure to bring Chris O’Brien to the show today. He is the VP of digital marketing technology for M&T Bank. Chris is going to talk about his role as a digital marketing technology leader in his organization. And Dom, you know, that role of marketing technologist is a really interesting one.

Dom: Yeah, there’s a lot going on in martech right now, Rich, I mean, you know, we’ve covered it on At the time of this recording, we were really fresh off of the martech landscape that Scott Brinker and his team puts out, Chief Marketing Technologist blog: 9,932 solutions, and we should say, that we know of, because we know it’s still growing, we know it’s probably well above 10,000 now, even Scott says that himself and there’s a lot to process. It’s mind boggling, you know, to think there were 150 solutions when Brinker started that in 2011, so here we are 11 years later.

Related Article: 5 Insights Into the 9,932-Marketing Technology Landscape

Rich: We got to stop counting at some point Dom, we gotta stop counting.

Dom: I know, it’s like all right, we get it. There’s a lot of tools. But you know, leaders like Chris, who we’re going to introduce in a second, they’re not concerned with the 10,000. They’re concerned with the what they have in their organization. Hopefully it’s not 10,000. They’re looking at what’s under their own roof.

And Chris is going to walk us through all that is martech in his organization and customer experience outputs. It’s going to be a lot of fun today.

Chris, how are you my friend?

Chris O’Brien: I’m doing good. I’m doing good. Nice to be with you today. Thanks for the invite.

Dom: Yeah, we’re psyched to have you on, caught up earlier, and now it’s great to get you on the record here.

And hey, Chris, you know, just tell our listeners a little bit about your background, where you began professionally, and how you arrived at the role you’re in now, and what you do for your organization.

Chris: Yeah, no, for sure, appreciate the opportunity. So I work within the digital marketing team at M&T Bank, and M&T as you know, is a big financial services company where, you know, considered a super regional bank, but with the recent acquisition of People’s United Bank, we’re growing in the Northeast. And so now definitely a much larger bank than we were when I started a little bit over five years ago.

Most of my career I did spend in financial services, but more on the asset management side of things and various front-office roles and wealth management, asset management. And I really wanted to make a pivot into something more digital more strategic. I had had some experience in sort of digital marketing, as really a marketing lead and also doing business development at a FinTech organization, where we had created an asset management team. We had basically taken what we were doing from a services side, in asset management, really doing research within the liquid alt space, and then packaging that into funds that we were marketing and selling to financial advisors and family offices, and I really ramped marketing there.

And that was where I started to see the power of not just using traditional business development tactics, right, setting up meetings, doing kind of what in the industry is known as traditional wholesaling, but also doing things like webinars, emails and really connecting the dots. And I think I got my first taste of what we really call now, like, account-based marketing.

And so after that company was purchased, that company was called Fortigent, it was purchased by LPL Financial, which is the largest independent broker dealer in the country. I went to business school at Maryland. And then during that time, again, like I said, wanted to move into something more strategic, more digital, not as someone who’s in the front-office dealing with clients on a day-to-day basis.

So I got the opportunity while I was there to intern at Marriott, and I worked on their global digital team focusing on the foreign language website. So I really focused on the Chinese and Japanese language websites, and I was doing a bunch to different things for essentially product management within hotel exploration and booking products, getting really in deep with web analytics, usability research, as well as personalization and testing.

And so when I graduated from business school, I was looking for opportunities. And there was an opportunity to join M&T’s digital marketing team. And I thought that sounded really interesting. And I was sort of tasked with building out the testing and personalization program on m& And then over time, just through kind of lessons learned there, really put together just a broader vision for what martech could and should be, at an organization like that, where really digital was immature, certainly digital marketing was immature. And I was hamstrung by that, right.

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As someone who’s tasked with leveraging data to deliver experiences, I just constantly had roadblocks to really being successful at my job. So, you know, put together, you know, multiyear roadmap for the organization and over time grew the testing and personalization program, and someone else runs that now. And that’s a growing team with a pretty broad scope at this point.

And I’ve really been just working on maintaining the roadmap and making sure that we kind of stay leaders in the space, right. In financial services, we’re never going to be leaders amongst all industries, certainly, but within financial services, right, there’s no reason that we can’t and shouldn’t be leaders in sort of digital marketing strategy and customer experience. So that’s really what I’ve been working on for the past few years at M&T, and it’s been great, we’ve made huge strides. And just to see the difference in the conversations we have now and the strategies and tactics that we employ.

It’s just a whole different ballgame from where we were five years ago. And so it’s been kind of cool to have that view internally, but then also externally in sort of that marketing technology space that you talked about, there’s just been such an explosion. And I’d say there’s still a long way to go, right. I think we’re probably in like the third inning, if we were to use a baseball analogy, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens over the coming decade, I think we’ll continue to see a lot of change. And I’m looking forward to, to kind of staying close to this, I really do enjoy this space in this type of work.

The Role of a Digital Marketing Technology Champion

Rich: Your role is one, again, that we’re super interested in, we’re always trying to learn more about. I would love for you to describe what the core components of your role is, and why organizations need these technology champions that work across the brand?

Chris: Yeah, no, I think it’s a really good question. And one, I think that’s evolved over time. You know, as I kind of described it earlier, I kind of found myself in this role organically, sort of built it out for myself. But it was clear to me that at the time, sitting in marketing, and specifically in digital marketing, we need someone who was a business partner and a champion with other teams. Digital marketing was separate of, at the time called the digital banking team, we’re actually one digital team, which is great, and also with technology. So I really do work cross-functionally, cross-departmentally, as well as with a ton of external partners, whether they be, you know, system integrators, agencies, or some of these platform and data service vendors, so really trying to be kind of the hub that pulls all of that together into a cohesive roadmap and strategy for us.

So we have, I think, a pretty good organization in terms of how marketing is organized, over the past few years really been focusing on moving to more of an agile model. And we have what are called marketing hubs that work either against a segment of focus or a piece of the lifecycle, perhaps acquisition or engagement. And then also some that are lined up to business lines. And so that’s, you know, one of the challenges that that maybe we’ll get into a little bit later is just the broad scope of something enterprise like this.

It really does, I think need to be something that’s enterprise so that you don’t have, you know, a million different solutions for the same thing. But it’s difficult because we have so many different business lines, right, and it’s dozens of business lines across B2B and B2C, with varying sales cycle lengths and really wide diversity of audiences.

So that’s one of the biggest challenges, but how do I plug into those marketing strategy teams, or we call them hubs, really understand the business very deeply, understand how that might map to marketing strategies, you know, what do the quarterly plans look like? And where do we want to go over, you know, a series of quarters and then multiyear, because I think one of the other problems you touched on how highly regulated we are right? And so we’re really conservative organization, pretty risk averse.

So I have a really long tail to be able to do things like third-party risk management and cybersecurity, so I need to find ways to get ahead of the strategies that people want to employ, because I think the worst thing which has happened, right, and it’s inevitable, and I’m sure a lot of your listeners can relate to this, is the marketing team, you know, hopefully they have a quarterly plan, but perhaps they don’t have the plan, even to a quarter or further out from a quarter. But if my onboarding cycle for something that’s going to be able to help them execute that strategy is six months, or even longer, in some cases, right, when it has to do with things like putting first-party data in the cloud, that’s going to be a problem, right?

So how do we understand the business strategy, understand where the marketing strategy’s going, and then try to roadmap out so we can give those teams runway. That’s what makes me feel really good is when something gets enabled and immediately, we’re able to find value from it, and it’s something we’ve been working on for a year. So the more that we can do those types of things by deeply understanding the business strategy and where user behavior is going, where the world’s going. I think the better job we can do is really, I don’t like to say a support team. But we’re the ones that are providing the underlying infrastructure right for others to do the work that they do.

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Dom: Yeah, Chris, thank you for that very thorough. And as a baseball savant, I have to put out to our listeners, that a baseball game is nine innings long. Chris earlier said he’s in the third inning. I just wanted to give some good context for that. Okay, right, Chris?

Chris: Yeah, and I don’t know that I said I was in the third inning, I think that I’m probably in an earlier inning than that. I’m still pretty young. But I would say the martech in the data universe, as it pertains to marketing is maybe in the third inning, I mean, especially when you think about how far advanced really data enabled organizations are, right? Like the ones that grew out of data, right, whether it’s Google or any of the other ones, where they’ve been managing data as a product for decades, right. And we’re just starting to get there. It’s definitely early on for I think, a lot of financial services. And just, you know, a lot of enterprises for sure.

What Is a Marketing Hub?

Dom: Chris, you mentioned marketing hubs. I thought that was a fascinating term, I would love to sort of flesh that out for our listeners on how those teams are divided, you know, the marketing hubs, and how you make those splits?

Chris: Yeah, that’s a really good question. And I think that’s one that’s ever evolving. I can’t say that I’m the one who’s super, super close to that and making those decisions. But there’s lots of people kind of look at that from a number of ways.

I think mainly, the takeaway from that is you want to form teams around the work, right. So you have all of these different bodies of work, and perhaps you have some semblance of a backlog of what that work is. And then you need to form a team around skill sets that can execute that work. And the model can be a lot of different things.

But ultimately, you have two things, right? You have a backlog or a body of work, and then you have resources. And so I think more important than the data and the technology is the people and process. So how do you take those bodies of work and the resources that you have, both are fungible, right, and figure out a way to deliver them? And generally, I think the way marketing is operated is really a campaign mentality or waterfall mentality. And so it’s how do we take lessons from software development, and be more agile, right? It doesn’t need to be uppercase agile and follow everything to the letter. But how can you do things more rapidly more iteratively, with more experimentation, because I think that’s the only way to keep up.

Traditional marketing cycles are too slow. I saw some stat, it was like, the average marketing campaign takes like six months to get out the door. And like, think about how fast what happened in six months, like Instagram probably added 20 million users in six months, right? Like there’s just too slow. And so how do you build teams against the work that has to be done?

And then I think the other part is having that enabling foundation for those teams, because if you have a marketing hub team, it’s probably not going to have necessarily someone who’s super, super technical and can translate to the data teams to the tech teams, right, and so, it’s really that model of hubs mixed with a combination of COE, Centers of Excellence, which is sort of where I sit, and then getting that right balance, and you’re always going to be suboptimal.

So doing it right, and sort of measuring the program and each quarter, doing a retrospective at the program level and saying, hey, how can we get better, right? Each team should be doing retrospectives, perhaps every sprint, you know, every two weeks or three weeks, but then every quarter and certainly every year revisiting your operations as a marketing organization, and saying, like, what are we doing well, what are we not doing well, sort of that start, stop, continue, and then continue to have sort of the flexibility to make changes to kind of keep improving. I think that’s super important.

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Rich: That sounds like a very fluid operation.

Chris: Yeah, I think it’s probably more fluid than most marketing operations, which also has its own pros and cons. I think one of the biggest hurdles to kind of adopting agile marketing is probably the ability for people to kind of deal with that level of change and ambiguity, to your point. Yeah, it’s definitely pretty, pretty fluid for sure.

Shifting to First-Party Data Strategy

Rich: Chris, earlier, you were talking about moving first party data to the cloud, which brings up something that I think is very relevant to customer experience professionals everywhere, which is the third-party cookies, Google’s move away from them, and I’m curious to know if your organization uses third-party data in any way? And if yes, how is your organization shifting to more of a first-party data strategy?

Chris: Yeah, I think that’s a really good question. And one that has a lot of nuance, I think we did a good job of kind of seeing the writing on the wall and at least re-architecting, the way that we’re activating our campaigns, really getting away from using broad based targeting, you know, at the cookie level, or at least at the third-party cookie level, right, and adopting strategies that were leveraging our own first-party data, whether that was for customer suppression, or customer targeting, or trying to utilize more first-party data to inform prospecting and customer acquisition strategies.

But yeah, it keeps changing, right? Google is has kind of changed their stance on it in terms of when they’re going to fully deprecate third-party cookies. But there’s just a ton of changes there that make our lives a little bit more challenging, but I think also provide opportunities for brands who are able to kind of keep up with the changes.

I think one of the biggest challenges is the the lack of a federal data privacy law. So we’re seeing state-by-state enact privacy laws, most of them are pretty similar, but I think that’s one of the biggest challenges for us is like, how do we keep up with that, right, and do a good job of being hyper targeted in our experiences, providing really good experiences to customers, keeping our efficiency up, and our digital media acquisition, in light of the fact that there’s just tons of privacy changes impacting all of our channels. Whether it’s, you know, one of the ones that you mentioned, or it’s a state privacy law, or, you know, maybe it’s something that Apple did, right, with an iOS update. And so no longer are we getting the same metrics, we were on our emails, right, from an engagement perspective.

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So I think that’s definitely one that’s a challenge. But the more that brands can adopt first-party strategies and be hyper targeted, the better off they’re going to be across all of those. I think that’s the main takeaway, is that the way that you move with these changes is to really focus on data as a product, and that’s first-party data. But as you asked there, also third-party data, and we do, you know, work with a number of third-party data providers. And I definitely think that there’s a lot of opportunity there to unlock more value and being more strategic about how we leverage third-party data services.

And I’d also add in second-party data services. I think that’s an a big opportunity for marketers, and one that’s relatively untouched, especially in financial services. I think, to this point, is thinking about right, where can you find proprietary data strategies, because everyone’s buying the same third-party data segment. So if you’re, let’s say, trying to acquire small businesses, and your strategy is third-party data, right, you’re buying an off-the-shelf segment to target newly formed businesses, everyone’s doing that. So you have no advantage, that’s not proprietary, right? So your only advantage there is perhaps, your product or your brand, but your marketing strategy is one that’s it’s really common. And so you’re probably not going to see a lot of success in something like that.

But how can you take that same audience and be more hyper targeted, and not just be leveraging the same segments off-the-shelf that everyone else is doing. And so there’s a lot of opportunity there, right? Whether it’s using your website data, whether it’s doing look-alike, modeling on your best customers and saying, OK, we want to find more customers like this, because these people are loyal, have high lifetime value — and so that’s how we’re going to be hyper targeted in finding these audiences.

And so I think one of the emerging spaces, and I think you’re starting to see this in some roles in marketing organizations, is like the concept of an audience manager. So I think this exists at digital media agencies, but not a lot of brands have like in-house digital management expertise, and that’s something we’ve been building for a while. And I think that’s really important, i’s like how do you have not just the teams who can execute the media, buy the media, right in the platforms, right, the Googles of the world, the Facebook’s of the world, but also people that really understand data very deeply, and how we can build audiences in much more sophisticated ways than just going into Google and clicking an off-the-shelf audience that everyone else is, is bidding against.

How Marketing Technology Supports the Customer Journey

Dom: Yeah, Chris, and it all ties back really to getting at that customer journey, and deciding where your customers are, where you can meet them and what kind of relevant experiences you can provide. And, you know, marketing technology supports that, supports that ability to do these targeted campaigns, targeted segments, personalization. So what does customer orchestration sort of look like inside M&T Bank? What is the epicenter of trying to really hit on those customer journeys?

Chris: I think that’s a really good question. And certainly, there is no end to how that can be optimized. And we talked about a little bit earlier. But whenever we’re thinking about this, it’s really people first, process second, and then maybe tech and data are maybe they’re aligned, or maybe data comes first. But really thinking about how we do operations, and how we deliver customer experiences across all those four dimensions.

And so I would say in the past, right, the way we’ve tied together user journeys is maybe a bit more ad hoc, or a bit more manual. It’s either using some kind of code, right, maybe like UTM parameters, or pixels that are deployed within emails, and trying to really advance that more. And so we’ve been really good, I think, at M&T, at building multichannel integrated campaigns. So we have a great piece of content, we have copy, we have the audience targeting, and then deploying that across a bunch of different channels where people engage with us.

But where we have a lot of room to grow, is creating those journeys, ultimately, down to I think, a one-to-one level as much as possible, based upon someone’s engagement with those experiences, right. And so I that’s where I think we have a way bigger opportunity, and that necessitates a bunch of different things, it necessitates one, that every channel has access to the same data audiences as every other channel, that’s one thing that’s been challenging for us is like, the email channel. Email and direct mail have access to a really, really deep set of first-party CRM data, just because you’re tying it to an identifier that maps to that fairly easily: email, physical address, name. But then things that are digital systems of engagement, either social channels, site personalization tools, those don’t have access to that data, but they have access to more digital behavioral data.

So how do we manage audiences in a central way, so that we can use all different types of data. So that would be first-party data, whether that’s like CRM type data, or behavioral data on our properties, or like we talked about second- or third-party data, and then have that in a place that’s central, that we can build common audiences, that we can deliver experiences across all of those channels using that central dataset. I think that’s just a huge opportunity for us and for other brands is, is to pull that bottleneck up a layer, I guess you could say. And that also means can we pull the logic up a layer, right, whereas like, the logic for that interaction is probably living in each of those separate channels. How can you pull the logic for the experience orchestration up a level to be aligned with that audience management layer, so that you can kind of deliver customer experiences more centrally?

And I think that’s something that’s really resonated with me, is this idea of like a customer experience hub, where we have all these different nodes and points that people engage with us in and there’s dozens, right, and they just keep adding on. I had a conversation with our head of digital media a few weeks back, and we’ve been talking about, OK, like, what are the future-state channels that we need to add and we need to sequence into, because we know that our customers, and our not-yet customers or prospects are in those channels, right? And there’s a ton more, and we have to do all of these risk management processes with each of them. So we need to get really smart about how we’re roadmapping and sequencing that, so that we can remain in touch with them.

And I think a good example, probably one that maybe feels tired, but isn’t for a certain age group is TikTok, right, like, I think at a certain point, right, you’re going to not see the customers that you want to see on Facebook or on Google, right? Those people just aren’t engaging there as much. They’re on TikTok, or they’re on something else. So you know, and so how do you build that architecture in a way that really all we need to do is sort of flip a switch to turn on a new channel, because it’s just another identity, right, it’s just another ID, that we can tie to all the other ideas that we have, so that we’re understanding that person as a customer across all of those channels. And it’s not, you know, super disjointed.

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Rich: Are you talking about specifically a customer data platform? Or are you guys using something else to do that?

Chris: I think it’s a bunch of different solutions. So to try to avoid confusion, I branded internally, the concept of a digital experience data platform, or a DXDP. So we had an internal project and an internal platform called a CDP, or customer data platform.

And what’s confusing is I’ve run into a lot of people like that, where the market is branded this thing, a CDP, right, but each CDP is actually very different. And perhaps you already have something internal, that’s called a CDP, or it’s called a customer 360 or something like that. But they are different indistinct things, right. So one might be truly trying to create a golden record, a customer 360, right, it’s got all the data on your customers. And you don’t need that for customer experience, right? We don’t want things like account numbers, or credit card numbers or social security numbers, right? Like that’s not something that I want to have to be responsible for, and, frankly, don’t need, because as a marketer, you’re not using that data. So what you need is something that’s more for digital experience. And it’s a data platform.

But ultimately, it’s also an orchestration and activation platform. And so that can be architected a number of ways. I would say, for us, the CDP is a component of this DXDP. But then there are other things that we have, and have on the roadmap to add.

And so I would say that that includes, sort of what the market calls a CDP, as well as maybe identity resolution services, third-party data providers, and it’s going to depend on your business, it’s going to depend on your audience, it’s going to depend on your use cases as to how you can put that together. But ultimately, I think that’s an important component, and one that we definitely work through challenges over time with some of the more legacy solutions, and also just how much like the martech space has changed, especially with financial services where, you know, so much of martech was on-prem, and then it went to the cloud.

And so there’s just been so many shifts, but really thinking about, OK, how are we going to deliver customer experiences across all these channels in a way that isn’t going to be super, super manual, and we can begin to make that jump from campaigns, to more automation, more always on experiences. That’s a difficult thing, right? Is finding signal in the noise with 10,000 solutions out there?

Going Outside of Traditional Marketing

Rich: That sounds like one of many challenges. So that brings up a good question. It’s like looking forward, that’s one huge challenge that you just outlined right there. But what do you see as the biggest challenges for your organization over the next six months?

Chris: One of the big challenges for us is kind of going back to what you’re talking about around customer experience. When we were talking about this, whether it was internally or with some of our partners, and I’ll be interested to see what, what Scott Brinker and those folks sort of start to adopt, was right, we call it a martech stack. And then over time, ready to evolve to be maybe martech and adtech. And then now it’s really more of a customer experience tech stack.

The marketing org is in, I think, a unique place in that it has the tools and the muscle to execute these types of experiences. We have the email team, we have the teams working on the website. And so we’re increasingly being asked to do things that I would say are outside traditional marketing. And maybe we could call them lifecycle marketing, but certainly they’re outside the bounds of traditional sort of acquisition and cross sell.

Rich: I’m sorry to interrupt you. But I’d love an example of what you mean when you say that.

Chris: Yeah, yeah, so I think the first example I was going to use is sort of like servicing. So increasingly, we have these teams that are strategic teams that sit outside marketing and maybe include marketing members, or sort of, you know, marketing SMEs, and they’re working across an entire journey, right, like a user journey.

And so if there’s a team that’s made up of cross-functional, cross-departmental members, and they have a marketing representation, ultimately, as you sort of take a high-level strategy and do work breakdown on it, in terms of what are the components of this thing? It’s going to go downstream to a bunch of different teams. It’ll go downstream to the banking product teams, right, the ones that are designing the checking accounts and credit cards. It’ll go downstream to process teams, you know, within customer service. But then ultimately, a lot of the way that you execute journeys, goes down to the marketing teams, at least in our experience, because we’re the ones that are enabled to do that type of work.

So if there’s a journey you’re envisioning, and within that journey, there’s a bunch of emails that need to get sent, right a sequence of emails, that’s got to go to the email team, and so increasingly, regardless of the nature of what’s in that journey, it’s kind of come to the marketing teams. And I think that’s aligned with a lot of what you read about where marketing teams are now, the CMO has a bigger seat at the table, the CMO is driving the revenue agenda, and the marketing teams are increasingly seen as like the growth engines or the revenue drivers. And part of that, necessitated within that, is that if you’re going to deliver journeys, someone’s got to actually do that operationally. And so for us, in many senses, that is increasingly what we’re being asked to do.

It’s not just we need to be able to support this acquisition campaign, but it’s really across that full lifecycle across that full journey. So I think that’s one of the biggest challenges is just again, that we had that huge diversity of business lines, B2B, B2C, wealth, all different sales cycles, different audiences, but then also, it’s not just acquisition for that. It’s also like full lifecycle, and so that’s, I think the biggest challenge.

And then the other one we touched on earlier is just like, ever evolving privacy challenges I think is a big one, especially as we enter new markets. We’re with acquisition of People’s United Bank, we’re now in Vermont, Vermont has a state data privacy law, that’s perhaps different than the ones we’ve kind of come across in the past. And so that expansion, along with just ever evolving data privacy regulations that aren’t at the federal level, I think those are kind of the two challenges I would call out.

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Fighting the Fierce Marketing Talent War Challenges

Rich: Where do you see upskilling and talent management as far as challenges over the next six months? Getting people who are like, you talked about people who know data and people who are able to work with, is this something that you’re working with your organization to build up? Or is that something that you’re looking to hire from outside?

Chris: It’s got to be I think, a combination, but one of the I think biggest challenges is the war for talent currently, right, it’s pretty fierce. And so just like other organizations, we have our share of attrition. And we get people that get picked off by tech companies and other, I guess, talent competition. And so yeah, we still are going to need to hire externally.

But I think we’ve always been really big on professional development. It’s a part of our performance objectives, right, everyone’s got development objectives as part of their performance objectives. And I’m all about it. So I think about it in terms of like being a T-shaped marketer. And you can kind of insert whatever you want to say a T-shaped technologist, T-shaped … it doesn’t really matter. But having the core competencies that go very deep across certain capabilities, but then also right, spreading your “T” in terms of having an understanding of a much wider array of capabilities.

And that’s, I think, really important because marketing’s become so much more data driven, so much more technology driven, so much more complex; it’s really having professional development be a core component of your talent strategy, and finding people as you hire them, and also, as you develop them professionally, that are going to have that ability. And I think pretty simply, when I interview people, I kind of interviewed for two things. And one is comfort with data, so do you understand data from a couple of different dimensions? And then intellectual curiosity, right? Can you take what you know, and expand it? And I think that holds true for people internally.

And I’ll give you one example we look at okay, what are the bottlenecks to delivery, right, and one of the bottlenecks I think everyone has, as a digital team is, and we didn’t touch on the importance of this and maybe we can do it another time, is we talk about all this tech and data, but we haven’t really talked about the importance of content and creative, which are still so important and so impactful. So I don’t want it to make it sound like the only thing that matters is tech and data, like obviously content and creative still matter, is website publishing. So there’s always a huge demand for new web content, and the bottleneck there has generally been like a web team.

So instead of that becoming a bottleneck, can you democratize these capabilities to enable more people to author and publish web pages. And so to do that, there’s a necessary development component.

And so you can do some things internally, you can do some things externally, we’re working with Pluralsight, who is, I guess, a tech-enablement company, you could say, I think they do a bunch of different stuff, but they help organizations build tech talent. And so we use their AEM authoring component to do professional development for some of our teams. And so we have, you know, go from call it a small, maybe half a dozen person web team doing authoring and publishing, to now over a dozen people who are doing other things, they’re digital marketing managers, but they’re also able to be able to author and publish. And so I kind of look at it like that is, is, you know, how do you take something that’s a bottleneck, whether it’s publishing websites or building audiences. And can you, through a combination of professional development and abstracting away complexity, reduce that bottleneck by pushing that out and democratizing those capabilities.

And that’s another interesting trend, is some of these low-code tools that are out there, and how that helps brands do that, is if there’s a bottleneck around tech talent that can write some kind of specific code for some type of capability, are there no-code tools or low-code tools that are available to help them? And there’s a lot out there that’s really interesting. And I think that’s one of the things when we talk about like being in the third inning, that will continually change, is, I mean, we’ve already seen this is things that used to be very technical, are now perhaps just a few mouse clicks. And I think that that’ll continue to kind of shape that.

But how can we leverage that trend, along with professional development, to really build out those T-shaped marketers and upskill our teams.

Dom: Speaking of those T-shaped marketers, Chris, give us like a 30-second definition of that.

Chris: I guess how I look at it, and I don’t know what the the technical definition is, or the specific definition, I’m typing it in to see if it aligns with what I’m about to say. But I kind of think of it as like, literally looking at a diagram, that’s a T-Shirt. And so in the middle, it’s much longer than it is on the sides. But there’s two dimensions to this T-shape, there’s horizontal, and there’s vertical. And so we want to, generally, people do really well at deepening things that they’re already good at. So focusing on maybe it’s five capabilities that you’re really good at, and going super deep in those, right, is how you’re going to see the most advancement and the most improvement.

But there’s also the ability to go wide, right? So going going wide and going deep, would be the way that I would define it. And so you don’t want someone who’s kind of a generalist, only having that deep part and not that wide part. So using the example I just had, like, let’s say we hire someone who’s a digital marketer, and within that deep part, page authoring, right, web page authoring is not a skill set that they have, maybe they haven’t done it, or they haven’t done it a lot. And so that is an opportunity for that horizontal expansion of being able to not go deep, right, we don’t need these people to be web developers. But can they help us reduce that bottleneck and that need for talent by taking on a broader sort of skill set?

And that’s how I think of it. So I guess, in the simplest term T-shape is sort of broad skill set, but deep in certain areas.

Related Article: Will the Metaverse Revolutionize Marketing and Customer Experience?

How Will the Metaverse and Web3 Affect Marketing?

Dom: Yeah, Chris, you know, we’re following pretty closely any potential impact that Web3 and the metaverse might have on marketing or marketers, do you have any quick takes on that? Is your organization looking at that at all? Any opportunities for marketing and customer experiences in the metaverse or in a Web3 world?

Chris: Yeah, I mean, certainly there’s opportunity. I think that’s a place where we definitely won’t be a leader. And we don’t, I think intend to be or strategically want to be.

I did see that there was a few brands who had set up some things within the metaverse. I want to say it was Chase, and maybe like Fidelity, and obviously you just saw Fidelity is now going to allow people to have, I think it was up to 25% of their 401K in Bitcoin, something like that, so certainly it’s impacting financial services.

I personally think the bigger thing will be decentralized finance. That’s the thing I think will impact us, is things like that where it’s much more cost effective, scales and less expensive to do things like cross border payments than doing them in the traditional way. And this is, I think, just an extension of the challenge of competing now with with things like Stripe, and other sort of next generation fintechs and payment providers.

I think that’s the big thing that will probably hit us the most would be more in like the DeFi (Decentralized Finance) space, which I think will be tied to sort of the FinTech space, because either there’ll be new entrants who are basically like a next generation of FinTech, who are Web3 enabled, or I think what’s happening more is just folks like that are just getting into whatever that step is to Web3, right, they’re just like taking the product they have and then the underlying infrastructure is now based on crypto, or something like that.

So it’s hard to say. I think there’s definitely opportunity. I think there’s a huge amount of competition that will come from it. I don’t know it’ll be interesting to see how fast it comes because you’re still seeing how much of the Wild Wild West it is right? Like there was just this past week I guess, right, with like stablecoins and how TERA imploded and other things were getting hacked, and Bitcoin, I think went down into the $20,000 range. So there’s, there’s a lot there. But it’s not something that I think we’re like, you know, going to be super quick on.

But certainly there’s working groups and people that are, you know, thinking and talking about it, but we’re definitely more of a conservative organization, we do have a bit of a venture arm, but you know, we’re not going to be the first people to set up a branch in the metaverse. If we did, I would be very surprised.

Rich: And you know, this isn’t about Web3. But I just thought that was an interesting point. Chris, one of the things we always like to do at the end of the podcast, is allow you tell our audience where they can connect with you where they can learn more about what you do.

Chris: Sure, yeah, for sure, you know, our website, just at the brand level is That’s and Personally, you know, I’m definitely active on LinkedIn. Again, my name is Chris O’Brien, you can find me on LinkedIn, and I’m happy to connect with people there.

Otherwise, I’m not a big fan of social media. So luckily, that aligns well, with kind of the topic area here.

I have to say like LinkedIn is like a goldmine, you know, you can follow the best CMOs and other people in this space, and listen to what they have to say. And I mean, I look at it as like free intelligence, free consulting, right, that’s how now people are building their brand, acquiring new businesses through creating really impactful organic content. And so just the think level of content that gets shared on LinkedIn is is amazing. Like, I’m constantly amazed by how much value I get off that platform personally, for free. It really is, I think, really powerful.

Related CX Decoded Podcast: Marketing and Customer Experience in the Metaverse

Rich: Can you quickly share to people who you think CMO’s should be following?

Chris: Yeah, for sure. So I think one is Mayur Gupta. I started following him back when he was at Spotify. I think he was head of growth at Spotify. And I think he actually just jumped over to a Web3 company.

And then the other guy, you know, there’s a bunch of really good people to follow out there, Chris Walker, is in the B2B space. There’s a bunch in the B2B space that I follow, but Chris Walker, he’s, I think, really upped the content game and just constantly posting and in lots of different, really great consumable content.

So those are the two I’d say, Mayurr Gupta and Chris Walker, but but there’s many others, I’m constantly amazed by just the number of people sharing really, really interesting, really impactful content on LinkedIn.

Rich: Chris, thank you so much for joining us today on CX Decoded. And thank you all for listening. We will catch you next time.

Chris: Awesome, thank you guys, appreciate it. Have a great afternoon.

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