Why Gaming Brands Are the Proving Ground for Tomorrow’s CMOs

Note: a version of this article previously appeared in Adweek.

At first blush, the National Football League’s recent hire of Activision Blizzard’s Tim Ellis as CMO looks like a beleaguered brand’s attempt at leveraging fresh marketing insight to recapture a young male demographic abandoning traditional sports for esports. But at a deeper level, the move says a lot about the type of CMO talent that is required today, and why gaming veterans are in such high demand for these roles.

By virtue of the audiences they serve, gaming executives like Ellis are the foremost authorities on curating customer journeys and driving engagement and lifetime value across multiple touchpoints. That’s what gaming requires.

Take Electronic Arts, for example. The publisher has put data and connectivity at the heart of its player engagement strategy, using a total view of the gamer to personalize the gaming experience. That same discipline has made EA a cutting-edge marketing organization, one that has taken great strides toward truly owning its relationship with customers.

Every brand these days wants that kind of direct relationship with its customers, and every brand is looking to its first-party data to build toward that capability. The way gaming brands collect and activate that data across different environments serves as a great example for how brands can evolve toward that goal, and the expertise in those gaming brands provides a glimpse into what’s required of the next generation of CMOs — namely, a firm grasp of the technology needed to maintain direct one-to-one interactions with consumers, as well as the deepest understanding of how to nurture those relationships over time. It’s known-user marketing adapted for mass marketing across multiple channels.

The highly immersive and engaging world of gaming is ahead of the curve on nurturing those important skills. And as such, it’s where other brands are looking to recruit the next generation of marketing leadership.

How did we get to this point where we find gaming brands on the bleeding edge of marketing? Not long ago, a brand’s mass marketing team and its customer relationship management team lived on separate planets. Known-user marketers focused on direct mail and outbound telemarketing, while mass marketers elevated brand awareness through large media buys. Gaming (and the expertise that comes with it) was nowhere near the orbit of the marketing profession.

Fast-forward a decade or so, and we’re operating in an entirely different galaxy. Powered by robust identity graphs, the worlds of mass marketing and known-user marketing have converged completely in digital, and the result is something that looks a lot more like a game. The business is no longer about messaging to the masses with a single campaign based on a given season — it’s about applying data to personalize and curate a complex experience across multiple environments.

That’s a radical shift in mindset, one that needs to be reflected at the highest levels of a marketing organization and mirrored in the skills that future leaders must possess to operate effectively within this environment. Again, we are seeing those skills finding unique and dynamic expression within the world of two-way interactive entertainment. Gaming companies have already mastered this art of applying knowledge of their customer toward personalizing every aspect of a multi-platform experience, and brands from CPG to finserv are looking to bring that type of knowledge in-house.

Which is why in the future, the path to the CMO office will increasingly be walked by data science and analytics experts currently in their 20s and 30s, working to build addressable audiences and identity assets (i.e., senior executives with known-user marketing experience, many of them hailing from the Activisions of the world).

Forward-looking brands should search for and develop marketers that can elevate their own capabilities to enable direct relationships with consumers. To do this, they must begin to build out their own infrastructure for maintaining those relationships across multiple platforms over the span of many years. Securing talent with that experience becomes even more important as brand marketers come to the realization that they can no longer allow intermediaries like Facebook to own their relationships with their customers. And as more brands awaken to this imperative, the demand for marketing skills honed in the gaming profession will only grow more intense.



How do top brands including Starbucks, Sky Betting, Barnes & Noble find talent with the right mix of creative vision and technical expertise? Find out in our solution guide, The Quest for the Perfect Identity-Driven Marketer.

Originally published January 11, 2019

Mike Sands

Mike Sands is a co-founder of Signal. Prior to joining Signal, Mike was part of the original Orbitz management team and held the positions of CMO and COO. Mike also has held management roles at General Motors Corporation and Leo Burnett. His work at General Motors led him to be named a “Marketer of the Next Generation” by Brandweek magazine. Mike holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Communications from Northwestern University and a Masters in Management degree from the J.L. Kellogg School of Management.

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