I have a new work crush. It happened, of all places, at the ANA’s Advertising Financial Management Conference earlier this week in Hollywood, Florida. My new marketer inspiration? Denise Karkos, CMO of TD Ameritrade, who talked us through what it means — and why it’s so critical — to be an accountable CMO. Here’s a bit of what I heard and why it caught my attention so strongly:

  • “We have to speak the language of the business.” When Denise stepped into the CMO job, she realized something every marketer should take to heart: Marketing success must translate to business success, and marketing speak isn’t the way to get there. While the marketing team was crushing its stated goals and proud of it (!), the business was underperforming; that misalignment put marketing and company leaders like the CFO and CEO out of step. A marketing shift from acquiring volume to acquiring quality customers drove company performance that was demonstrable and well understood by leadership.
  • “We’re committed to analytics as competitive advantage.” Denise described science as the heartbeat of her organization and has built a marketing team that embodies that. They have embraced a fail-fast, test-and-learn culture and combat assumptions about marketing performance with facts. Using MarketShare (part of Neustar), they keep a strict focus on the incremental value marketing efforts are delivering. In practice, this meant recognizing, for example, that the ROI of audience targeting in the trader community was materially different than that of the long-term investor target group, then tailoring message and media mix commensurately.
  • “Advertising isn’t just for acquiring new customers.” I love when marketers question conventional notions, such as that advertising is all about acquisition. The reality is that advertising is simply a mode of communication, and it can play a strong role in cross-sell/upsell efforts and re-engaging lapsed customers. For TD Ameritrade, this started with a marketing team member’s insight: How about if we advertise to existing customers who haven’t logged into the site in the last 30–60 days? The team knew that this customer profile was highly reactive to market events, so they used advertising to find them with timely messaging and bring them back into the conversation. And it worked: They saw 4x conversion rates on average across a range of KPIs.
  • “Marketing is in lockstep with procurement.” Procurement gets a bad rap: Agencies resent and fear them, and marketers feel constrained by them. And this is not an unfair set of reactions where the prevailing approach still favors a “get it cheaper” mentality. Just look at agency fee negotiations, in which promises made in the name of cost savings lead to impossible expectations, unhappy clients, and an endless cycle of reviews. Denise’s experience at TD Ameritrade has been refreshing; marketing and procurement are strategic partners in understanding how to extract more value from every dollar, rather than focusing on “cost cutting.” This even means questioning the conventions of “working” vs “nonworking” media, where, for example, a piece of ad tech could prove critical to achieving performance.

And of course, it’s marketing we’re talking about, so creativity is encouraged and celebrated, such as when the team and agency Havas decided to insert a TD Ameritrade ad into the blockchain. The result: a hilariously primitive, but awesome, ad execution that gave TD’s marketers and the company an energy shot in the arm.