Christina Thelin, Founder of High Magic, talks to The Ortus Club’s Petra Barna about the ever expanding and increasingly vital role of the CMO, as well as the keys to maintaining success and relevance in her profession.
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I’m Christina Thelin, and I offer fractional CMO services. Think of my company’s work as CMO-as-a-service to early-stage seed-round startups who are primarily entering the Web3 and blockchain space. They’re not quite ready for a full-time CMO. They really are looking to drive growth and really understand how to build community, but they’re not quite ready to invest in a full-time CMO. So I offer everything from brand strategy services to marketing team planning to marketing budgets and buildouts, which can be pretty challenging in today’s decentralised world.
What words best describe the role of a CMO? Why?
I think, quite frankly, that the CMO is probably the most challenging and most misunderstood role in the C-suite. It’s a catch-all. It can be everything from someone who is purely asked to drive demand generation or sales lead or advertising. And so, as I work with leaders, the first question I asked them is, ‘What are you expecting of your CMO? Please define “CMO” to me.’ There is no one definition. If you were to Google, ‘What is the CMO?’, you’ll find a million different responses. So, to me, I think of them as a magician with a wizard ball. I’ve always referred to myself as a conductor of a marketing orchestra. You’re doing creative direction. You’re providing marketing team leadership. You’re almost like a therapist. You’re a collaborator across the board. You are truly pulling everything together from budgets, buildouts, demand generation, etc. So I think it’s many things. It really just depends on who your client is and what it is that they need from you.
What challenges are CMOs currently facing? What solutions can you identify?
I think, in today’s world, that the most challenging part is the complexity and the targeting that’s required in the data-driven world that we live in. A few years ago, especially in the large tech companies that I previously worked for, including Google, Twitter, and Visa, we had access to a lot of data. And we were able to build a global campaign to scale post-COVID. People are really seeking out community, authenticity, and trust. And so, to build programs that are both scalable and targeted is probably the biggest challenge that I think a CMO faces today, doing it with limited resources, in addition to creating content, driving sales, and so forth.
To answer your question in terms of how to then provide solutions or approach those challenges, for me, the biggest thing is really knowing your audiences. So it’s taking the time to go slow to go fast later and really looking at the uses and the behaviours of people using your product already. So I always tell people to start with who’s using your product already. If you don’t know that, the first project you should be working on is identifying your product market fit and really honing in on what differentiates you from the competition. And then, find those evangelists within your community or pre-existing communities to become the evangelists for other lookalike audiences, so to speak, and really use that as a homegrown approach to scale outwards from there.
How do you explain the professional success you’ve had so far?
I have always been very curious. My parents are from Sweden originally. I grew up in America. I always felt like brands were a language of their own that could transcend borders and boundaries. And so my love for marketing really came from the love of branding, symbols, and uniting people as a community. And so that’s something that’s always inspired me. I’ve always worked for brands that I love and believe in, whose products I wanted to truly market to the entire world and that can scale. And then, I’d say in terms of my own success that the things that have kept me going are my personal drive, commitment, and really working closely with other leaders within organizations, cross-collaborating, and making sure that, ultimately, you are owning the business. Something that I learned when I worked at Procter and Gamble is, as a brand manager, you’re not just marketing or talking to consumers. You’re really creating a two-way conversation. I’d say that that’s more prevalent than ever in today’s world. As you know, if you’re going to be on social, be social. Listen to your customers. See what they want to do, and even try to think of things to surprise and delight them in ways that they’ve never previously been delighted before.
“Listen to your customers. See what they want to do, and even try to think of things to surprise and delight them in ways that they’ve never previously been delighted before.”
Can you tell us about a time you took a major risk in your career?
I’d say it started early in my career. I was doing really well at Procter and Gamble. I’d been there for four years, and I really wanted to make a personal move to California. So I quit my job at an early age and came to California, just trusting that I would get another job and find it. It took me a few months, but I eventually found a job at Visa, which wasn’t necessarily at the top of my list. But the thing that led me to that company was the people. Antonio Lucio, who is a pretty big heavyweight in the marketing world, has been the CMO of Visa, Hewlett-Packard, and Facebook. He really inspired me. If there’s any piece of advice that I can give people, it’s to find workplaces and people that you love working for and to follow your intuition. It won’t guide you wrong. And so from that moment onwards, I’ve had the ability to really shapeshift. My managers have previously called me a Swiss Army knife of marketers because I’ve been able to hop different industries. And that’s something else that I would encourage people to do. Don’t be afraid to try out new industries. You’re going to make yourself more marketable, and you’re going to learn a lot more. I think having the ability to bring a certain lens from one industry to another will add to your toolbox of skills that you can offer any organisation or leader that you’re working with or for.
How can you see your role evolving in the near future?
I mean, the beauty of marketing is you always have to stay on top of trends. It’s not finance or engineering, where you know the rules of the road. And that’s why I, personally, love marketing so much. It’s that it does continue to shift as the world changes. And as we go through things like COVID, a global pandemic, which has really changed the psychology and the way that you approach customers. So in terms of my specific role, I think the basics are the same in terms of how you would approach marketing, which is knowing your audience and knowing their likes, dislikes, and their pain points, which provide the opportunities for you as a marketer to provide solutions. But in terms of what approach you take, what channels you reach them at, how you reach them, where you reach them, when you reach them, that will constantly be shifting. What I love in the world that we live in today is that we are becoming more decentralised. Our work is becoming more remote. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve worked in tech for several years, so we were a little bit ahead of the game in terms of working remotely, even a few years ago. But now, it’s really nice to to work with global teams remotely. And so I think what we have to figure out is, when does it make sense to work remotely versus coming together in person? Because, if anything, people are craving that in-person connection more than ever. We’re seeing that in the Web3 space. Is totally remote, yet these in-person conferences are more popular than ever.
What trends are you taking advantage of right now?
The biggest one is this yearning for community. I’ve been in the Web3 space for the last year. Discord—I know it’s a channel that some people either cringe at or are really excited about. I don’t know if it’s necessarily going to be the long-term solution. But what discord does really well is it allows you to deep-dive into conversation and community. And so Clubhouse had its moment. I think that’s a little bit dead. Discord is having its moment. I don’t know if that will survive. But what will survive is this idea that you can have access to a community, globally, of like-minded individuals. You no longer have to rely a public social media page like Twitter or Facebook. You can really deep-dive into these communities that represent the things that you represent, as well.
What career advice would you share with fellow marketing leaders?
Continue to stay curious. Yesterday’s news is today’s history. I think it’s easy, especially as you continue to progress in your career, to say, ‘Okay, I know all the basics.’ But in actuality, it’s so important to continue to attend conferences, to be in touch with younger generations, and to always knowing that your customers have that door, so to speak, open, like right now, when we talked about Discord, but there’s also this big trend with metaverses. And so I’m curious to see where that goes with younger generations. There’s a lot of buzz and hype. I think the future will be some variation of that. But what we see today is basically a video game that you’re living in. It’s constantly staying on top of trends. Also, importantly, knowing what’s going on in different industries, like I touched on earlier, will be key.