In the wake of a series of negative and well-publicized events in early 2013, Carnival Cruise Lines has since engineered a strong recovery and ranks as the No. 1 improved US brand in terms of consumer perception over the past year.

At Forrester’s Forum for Marketing Leaders next week, we’ll hear from Jim Berra, SVP & CMO at Carnival Cruise Lines, on how the well-known hospitality brand made this journey. In advance of his session, I sat down with Jim to talk about the evolution of his role at the company, and how he’s traversed the tricky path toward customer-obsession. Here’s a look at our conversation.

Q. How will your role change in the coming 3 to 5 year time period and what is driving this change?

A. It’s always fun to try to crystal ball where marketing will go and I’m 100 percent confident that I won’t get this right, but I’ll give it a shot. I think what will separate marketers has less to do with the role we’ve traditionally played and more to do with the role we are now being asked to play. This centers around how the product and customer experience should evolve, and how the organization will use data and consumer insight to unlock opportunities to innovate.

To do this well, it will require CMOs to collaborate effectively across a wider range of stakeholders, and in some cases, take a few steps outside of our comfort zones. It also requires taking a larger view of the business, and effectively balancing different internal and external perspectives.  

I think these are skills that strong marketers inherently possess, but we’ve traditionally applied them to sell our plans and ideas, versus problem solve across a wider range of challenges. In a given week, I spend more time now with Operations, Pricing, Finance and Technology than I do with our marketing agencies. I don’t expect this to change and suspect this is true in a lot of organizations as we adopt a more “customer at the center” approach to innovation and growing the business.

Q. Are we approaching a “less is more” age where we will see less advertising delivering more value to customers?

A. You don’t often see value to consumers and advertising being discussed in the same sentence, but I do believe that there is an opportunity (and an obligation) to target messages more effectively with increased relevance – particularly online.

Also, as we all experiment and begin to invest more in content marketing and helping consumers better navigate choice, the depth of the message (and therefore hopefully the value) will increase dramatically. The challenge is how to scale this activity effectively as well as how to look beyond traditional Web metrics like click-through rates and visits to to gauge what impact our messaging has on building and differentiating our brands.

To be honest, I think the creative challenge that digital presents is the hardest part of the transition. The ability to micro-target and test can lead to heavy fragmentation and a lack of clear brand focus. I really admire brands like Mini and Nike who bring the same creative focus and insight to their digital work. It’s also not a coincidence that both of these brands, while doing consistently strong digital work, are also brands that have a very high bar on creative execution and very clear positions in the market.

Q. How would you describe your relationship with your CIO?

A. Very positive and productive. More importantly, our teams are very integrated thanks to the scrum development methodology. I believe this approach works well for marketing technology efforts (particularly digital), as it pushes prioritization down to the people closest to the effort and is an iterative process that allows for more of a test, learn, and optimize approach. You also end up making smaller bets that can fail fast, which is important given the pace of change.

When I first joined Carnival, we were exclusively a waterfall shop and the teams were very afraid of missing deadlines or missing budgets. This led to extended periods of requirements gathering and padded estimates. We’ve worked hard to change this mindset and it’s a big reason why our relationship is strong and we’ve been able to move quickly to address several challenges related to the intersection of marketing and technology.

Learn more from Jim Berra at Forrester’s Forum for Marketing Leaders – next week in NYC.