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A successful CMO has many roles, including leading an organization's marketing department, establishing marketing strategies, and tracking successes and failures. How can a CMO create a highly successful career? What tools, strategies, and approaches can a CMO use to be successful? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Derek Detenber.

Derek Detenber

Derek Detenber

Derek Detenber, Chief Marketing and Merchandising Officer at Batteries Plus, is a franchise industry veteran with decades of consumer marketing experience at world-class brands such as Wendy’s and Massage Envy. In his current role at Batteries Plus, Detenber leads the brand’s omni-channel marketing team, design, category and merchandising teams. Detenber previously served as Chief Marketing Officer for Artisanal Brewing Ventures (ABV), one of the largest adult beverages holding companies in the U.S.

Thank you for doing this with us! To start, what do you think was a pivotal moment that led you on your path to becoming a CMO?

Several years ago, I was VP of Marketing at Wendy’s. Up until that point in my career, I hadn’t had to take huge risks, but the brand was struggling and we had to reinvent it from the ground up. It was going to take a combination of the discipline of strategy, positioning, and marketing, along with an element of controlled risk.  

We were changing the brand identity, the menu, the restaurant decor, the marketing campaign, and even how we communicated with consumers. At the end of the day, we were successful and Wendy’s got back on track. Obviously, it was a team effort, but it was at that point that I knew that I wanted to be a CMO because I loved not only the discipline of marketing but also the process of really transforming a brand.

Can you share an interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I am still relatively new to Batteries Plus, but the most interesting thing that’s happened so far has been our digital transformation. I started during a replatforming of our e-commerce engine. There was a lot of work that needed to be done post-launch to regain search relevance, site performance, and to improve overall functionality.   

That’s given me the opportunity to look at not only the site and where we want to take it, but also how we can embrace the idea of being a truly omni-channel business that is customer-led. We’re building out a roadmap to drive real change in how we think about our customer, how we leverage data, and how we drive personalized online and offline experiences while staying true to the core tenets of the brand.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you’re grateful for?

Early in my career, I was working on a new business as a Marketing Director and I had no idea what I was doing. It was a big job, I had a big team and the business was in bad shape. I did my first agency RFP and hired an agency out of Durham, NC called McKinney. The Partner they put on our account was Jeff Jones. I don’t know if he felt sorry for me or what, but he took a keen interest in our business. 

Jeff taught me a lot about creative and marketing on the whole. He even had to pull me aside a couple times and coach me up. I truly admire Jeff as a mentor and a person. He’s an amazing listener and problem solver and I’ve called on him a number of times over the years to help me think through an issue. Jeff went on to be CMO of Target and is now CEO of H&R Block.

Can you please share your favorite ‘Life Lesson Quote’ and how it has been relevant to you in your life? 

“Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right” - Scarlet Begonias, Grateful Dead.

In marketing, and, frankly, in any leadership position, you are constantly presented with challenges or problems to solve. There is data or a set of facts that come along with these situations, but it's nearly always imperfect (yes, even with the best marketing intelligence software). Success comes from those who can look at that data from a unique point of view that allows them to see the light, and then use it to create a plan.

Can you share with us three strengths, skills, or characteristics that helped you to reach this place in your career? How can others actively build these areas within themselves? 

  1. Bias for Learning: I have been very fortunate to have been in environments with incredible marketers. If someone did an analysis of my leadership style, they would see that I’ve picked up marketing and leadership traits from so many of the leaders, managers, and peers that I have worked with. My advice for others is to be observant. Take notes on what you like about the leaders you encounter and just as well, take notes on what you don't like. 
  2. Critical Thinking: Yes, marketing is a creative profession, but, way before you get to be creative, you have to be able to analyze the market, the consumer and the competitors and determine a path to create a business opportunity. I think growing in this area really boils down to being disciplined. Many marketers move too fast. Take the time to examine the issue first. Ask questions. Talk to other stakeholders. Take the time to form an informed point of view. Then, you can move onto trying to solve the problem. 
  3. Work Ethic: An intelligently applied work ethic is a crucial aspect of the job. It doesn’t mean you need to track everyone’s hours on a big scoreboard, but it’s important to keep both yourself and your team organized. Set specific goals and work hard to achieve them. And, when you do, celebrate those wins. Not only will doing this benefit yourself, but it will also set the tone for the broader team and organization. 

Which skills are you still trying to grow now?

Digital Marketing and E-commerce skills. Not only are these skills a big part of my current role, but the digital marketplace is a space that is rapidly changing. If a marketer, at any level, is not trying to learn, study, or try new things in these areas, they will quickly fall behind.

Having reached this space, what do you believe are the five things you need to be a highly successful CMO?

1. Always have a consumer or customer-first perspective. That is what you have to bring to your organization and that is the thinking you need to embed in your team. This thinking should be a part of the whole process from product design, to online customer experience, to customer service and the in-store experience. Today’s customers are more discerning and less loyal than ever. You have to be able to understand them, make it easy for them to do business with you, and reduce every source of friction that you can. If you can do that, they will love you and come back.

2. Data. Know more about your consumers than anyone else. We are all flooded with marketing communications every day. It can’t just be about someone retargeting me in my social feed. We, as marketers, have to do better. The data is out there for us to learn about our consumers, even in a non-cookie world. It takes an organized strategy and it takes effort, but it's worth it in the end.   

3. Entertain. Our attention spans are becoming increasingly shorter. When implementing a creative strategy or evaluating creative work, keep this in mind. While I can’t take credit for the brilliant writing of the Wendy’s twitter handle, the strategy behind it was specific and targeted and got people to pay attention.

4. There is still power in Brands. I am a brand person at heart. If you hook me as a brand, deliver a great product or service consistently, and take care of me as a consumer, while staying true to who you are, you’ll keep me. And, if you are really good at it, I will be a mouthpiece for you. I am a huge fan of Rhoback (apparel) right now. They started a little niche. But, they found the right audience. They have a great product, the right sensibility in their product, and great customer service. I think I’ve turned a dozen people onto the brand.

5. Build the right team. Marketing is more complex today than ever before. Just in this list, I’ve talked about data/data analytics, brand building, customer/CX, and creative, and that's only part of a marketer’s job. A CMO has to understand organizational strategy and how to structure a department that is right for the business and its needs. Then, they have to get the right leaders in place to augment and complement what’s already there. We are in the middle of this right now at Batteries Plus. It was tough to get to this point, but we are headed in the right direction and now it's exciting to see it start to come together.

Are there any underrated skills or qualities that you encourage others not to overlook?

Financial Acumen is very underrated. Understanding financial principles allows you to have a broader organizational lens, be a better decision maker and gives you more credibility as a business partner with a senior team.

What are some of the main issues that other CMOs commonly struggle with? What can be done to address those challenges?  

Execution. Most CMOs and Marketing Executives that I’ve worked with are great thinkers. Where a lot of great plans fall apart is in the execution. I would encourage marketers to spend time putting structure and processes in place to provide time to work on execution.

Create forums that allow your team to ask questions from all angles about how things are going to hit the market. It’s important to pressure test ideas within your organization and cross-functionally. Finally, go back and measure. It’s not just about the brilliance of the idea, it’s how well you execute it so that the idea has a chance to impact the market.

What do you believe is the most effective way to stand out and make an impact as a CMO?

We’ve talked about a lot of things here. But, to me, the two most important things a CMO can do is to build an impactful plan and put a team together that can execute it with passion.

Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the most people, what would that be?

Maybe I am a prisoner of the moment with this answer, but we’ve seen a couple of very tragic events over the last while that have brought people together. People inside and outside of sports were affected by the Damar Hamlin story. More recently, we were all impacted by the awful events in Memphis with the beating of Tyre Nichols. 

It’s always fascinated me how tragedy unites people and removes differences, but you don’t need tragedy to bring people together. We don’t need a reason to see the better side of society. Can we start a movement where we try to take a moment every day to just reach out and connect with someone, do something kind, support someone, and hopefully they will do the same? 

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Stephanie Hood
By Stephanie Hood

Stephanie Hood is an experienced marketing professional and Editor of The CMO. With nearly a decade spent as Marketing Manager at Discover Holidays and Executive Editor at VIVA Lifestyle & Travel, she built her career leading editorial and marketing teams and strategies that turn six-figure budgets into seven-figure profits. She now enjoys connecting with the world's top executives to learn their secrets to business success, and shares those insights right here with her community of like-minded professionals. Curious what she’s uncovered? Be sure to sign up for The CMO newsletter.