Francesca Teutonico, CMO of IBM Italy, talks to The Ortus Club’s Camille Callejo about creating a relevant and appealing narrative, gaining experience in the field, and paying attention to any and all sources of feedback.
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Could you tell us a bit about your company?
IBM is a global major ICT player that has continuously reinvented itself through significant transformation over the years. Today, IBM is a technology and consulting company with a strategy based on hybrid cloud and artificial intelligence platforms. With innovative technologies together with consulting services, we are changing the way we go to market, combining technical skills with business knowledge and industry expertise to accompany our clients in their digital transformation journey, co-creating innovative projects with the ultimate objective to help them face their most pressing business issues and foster sustainable growth. At the beginning of the year, we launched ‘Let’s Create’, a new brand platform, which is actually the company’s most significant brand initiative in more than a decade, to share with our audience the mission, strategy, purpose, and values of today’s IBM.
What words best describe the role of a CMO? Why?
For me, that is ‘creator’. I think the CMO is a creator that combines creativity with business, client insights, and technology to transform and innovate in the field of customer experience. I believe that this is the number-one priority for CMOs: creating compelling experiences that are delighting and creating value for the customer and outcomes for the company as well as to measure and demonstrate this value in a more sophisticated way. But this does not mean just shifting to a more data-driven approach or applying new techniques. I think this is a bigger challenge that is impacting the whole organisation and requiring a cultural shift in mindset in every person in the organization. I think here is where the CMO can act as a driver of this change in transformation.
What challenges are CMOs currently facing? What solutions can you identify?
We live in a world where continuous disruption and change are part of our daily life. In this moment in time, uncertainties characterise our global scenario, and we are facing complex interconnected challenges. In every industry, sustainability, energy savings, and process optimisation are now key imperatives for every company, the clients they serve, society, and the world. I think we can’t ignore that. Think about sustainability. We, as CMOs, have a key role in bringing forward our company’s point of view in line with the mission, purpose, and values. And this is essential because customers are more and more perceptive and ready to engage with those brands that are authentic, genuine, and empathetic. So our narrative should be beautiful but also based on concrete actions and examples to follow in a show-not-tell approach. No greenwashing, just the simple truth.
“We, as CMOs, have a key role in bringing forward our company’s point of view in line with the mission, purpose, and values. And this is essential because customers are more and more perceptive and ready to engage with those brands that are authentic, genuine, and empathetic.”
How do you explain the professional success you’ve had so far?
I think that there is a mix of factors, but let me mention the ones that I think are more relevant. ‘Customer first’ has been my mantra since the beginning of my professional life, when I was a business consultant. It means listening to the clients and their pain points and really putting their needs at the very centre of everything you, your team, and your organisation does. And if I look back, I don’t know how many times I went out of my comfort zone to be in the field and learn. In IBM marketing, I’ve been working as a team member or leader in almost every marketing discipline. This was crucial for me to build my expertise and, at the end, my credibility in my current role. And third, networking. That’s creating connections and effective relationships within the company but also with the broader ecosystem of clients, partners, influencers, agencies to foster the contamination of ideas and the co-creation approach. And last but not least, curiosity and the willingness to never stop learning.
Can you tell us about a time you took a major risk in your career?
It is hard to mention a specific situation or a major risk for me. But let me say that, working in a global, US-centered company, it also means that you operate in kind of a safe environment with guidance, standards, and well-structured processes that are trusted and common around the world. It also means that, sometimes, you have to go your own way to meet the specific challenges and needs of your markets and clients and come up with new ideas, new initiatives, or just simply a new way to do things. You make your proposals supported by data and the business case, and you negotiate. If accepted, it’s on you to turn this idea—this proposal—into a success. We’re always in a safe environment because our company culture gives you permission to fail and learn, but you truly experience a different kind of pressure. In all cases, a risk can be turned into an opportunity to shine among others and become a role model to follow.
How do you see your role evolving in the near future?
I think modern CMOs have to master the brand-to-demand model—the end-to-end funnels. That’s balancing investment around various marketing initiatives and activities, understanding the full customer journey and the different stages and multiple objectives, from creating awareness and consideration to demand and customer loyalty. This means excelling in digital, where 70% of the buying journey happens. Also, it’s to use client insights and turning them into happiness for the customer and revenue for your company. End-to-end collaboration with sales is key, from defining strategic priorities to execution and follow-up. It’s not just with sales. Actually, marketing and CMOs are involved and collaborate with different business functions like HR, operations, and finance when it comes to achieving the common goal of customer experience and mobilising and orchestrating a broader set of third-parties and a broader network, each contributing to achieving common goals in the market.
What trends are you taking advantage of right now?
The evolution towards digital accelerated by the pandemic, from which there is no way back, is the first thing. We are seeing more and more investments in digital, always-on engagement strategies, and technology like artificial intelligence and the so-called MarTech, which opens up opportunities for CMOs and marketeers to collect and analyse data and turn it into personalisation and automation. Also, we are seeing the trend of the lines between digital and physical blurring. Think about the big debate about the metaverse. I think we would need to coexist and take it advantage of the renewed combination between digital and physical in this hybrid world.
What career advice would you share with fellow marketing leaders?
My first recommendation would be to be open and listen with empathy. Listen to your clients, your employees, your team members, your stakeholders, their ideas, their aspirations, and their point of views, even if they are different from yours. Get feedback, even if not fully positive, because all of that can help you learn and grow. Also, adapt your perspective, and eventually create something new that you had not imagined before. Second, be ready to adapt and change trajectories in your professional journey. Do not pretend to have a well-structured and fully predefined career path because you don’t know what is waiting for you along the way. Catch every opportunity, as long as it leads to learning, experimenting, growth. And third, adopt an agile approach. It is important for you to structure your ideas, your plans, and your programs, and set clear, measurable objectives. But then, go try to reiterate, optimise, fail, and learn from failure. I think all of that would add speed and value. At the end, the most important thing is to be yourself and have fun.