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Generally speaking, someone with a title like Chief Marketing Officer has a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience in all aspects of marketing. Because of this, a CMO is the perfect person to know what is more and less likely to work. So what are the top 5 tried and true marketing strategies that executives recommend to other business leaders? As part of this interview series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Zarina Lam Stanford.

Zarina Lam Stanford

Zarina Lam Stanford

As CMO of Bazaarvoice, Zarina Lam Stanford leads with a customer-centric, insights-driven, and outcome-based approach to all aspects she touches – from research, brand, communications, product marketing, to sales, demand generation, partner/alliance and field marketing. A recognized growth catalyst, Zarina is passionate about design thinking, the art and science of being relevant, agile leadership, inclusion, and being purpose driven.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! To start, can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I came to the US from Hong Kong to pursue a college education. While working on my journalism degree, I dreamt of becoming a news reporter. I started my career as a proposal writer, and spent the rest of the first decade of my career in sales and loved it. While I wasn’t fulfilling my dream of becoming a news reporter, my journalistic training in being inquisitive, uncovering stories, and continuous learning prepared me for business very effectively. 

While leading sales at IBM in the early 2000s, I was asked to join the marketing team to bring sales insights to the practice. I quickly learned how strategic and visionary marketing is and can be, and haven’t looked back since!  

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

100% and if someone is lucky like I’ve been, I had many people whom I am most grateful for and who played pivotal roles in my careerFirst and foremost, I am grateful for my late Mom Lai Tak who inspired me to be myself, dream big, and respect others. To this day, she continues to be my best coach and sponsor through her wisdom and spirit.  

Blessed with my Mom’s positivity gene, I have been fortunate on many occasions throughout my career, starting from my first work cohorts from my first job out of college. My first work cohorts, specifically Molly and Charlie, were 30+ years my senior at the time. To be onboarded and coached by them, I was soaking in their wisdom and advice every minute, every hour, and every day. They taught me the rules of business, diligent working ethics, and most importantly, respect for others regardless of how different they are from us. 

Along my career, I have had the best bosses, colleagues, peers, and customers as well. One stood out. At the end of my first year at IBM, my then manager Mark Latchford called me to his office and in less than 30 minutes, he encouraged me to become an IBM executive, and proceeded to architect and prescribe explicit next steps!  

Mark, I am forever grateful for your time and your advice. Since Mark, there have been many others as well at IBM, SAP, and peers and mentors in the industry including The Marketing Academy! Check out the amazing scholarship and fellowship programs they offer in EMEA, US, and APAC!

What do you think makes your company stand out?

Ah, it will have to be the story on how Bazaarvoice was founded on the single premise—the voice of the customer. We are a business serving brands and retailers through the voices of their customers, user-generated content, or what we call their bazaar voices.

Our company was founded by a shopper, a technologist, a serial entrepreneur, and a parent at the time looking for the best stroller. Brett Hurt, founder of Bazaarvoice, went online to check for reviews and came across a 7-paragraph review written by an aerospace engineer on the Peg Perego Pliko P3 Stroller. It was a compelling review with explicit details. Brett bought the stroller that same evening, and was so enthralled with the impact the review had on his purchase decision, he decided to start a company enabling brands and retailers to harness that same power of customer feedback.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? Tell us about it!

We are indeed. Three projects stand out for me and all three are anchored on what marketing is all about. 1) being relevant, 2) getting things done, and 3) having fun and celebrating. 

First, our new brand narrative project had an awesome start last year and we have been steadily rolling it out into the marketplace while working with our revenue team on sales enablement. Our new narrative is grounded on what shoppers have been doing and sharing, including our annual Shopper Experience Index research. We are now beginning the “See It” campaign for the brand, beginning officially with our upcoming virtual summit in early March.

While elevating the relevance of our brand when commerce is evolving continuously, it enables marketing and commerce practitioners to deliver impactful results through the voice of the customer. For brands and retailers we serve, it highlights how they can capitalize on emerging consumer behaviors and market trends such as the creator economy and authenticity. 

Second, we are at the final stage of a channel mix research with marketers and commerce practitioners globally to gain insights on their content and channel strategy in light of the current economic climate. Insights from this research along with industry and best-in-class benchmarks will help guide brands and retailers on how to optimize their content strategy between branded and organic content as well as balancing paid, owned, earned, and shared channels. The research will be published in mid February.  

Third, we are embarking on an industry-wide movement to curtail fake reviews and to safeguard brand trust and safety. As the industry’s gold standard for authenticity and co-author of the ISO standard for online consumer review principles and requirements for collection, moderation and publication, Bazaarvoice and our network of brands and retailers are keen to continue to advance this mission toward authenticity. This reaches deep into the purpose-driven culture and focus for the everyday consumer from Gen X to Gen Z and Gen Alpha, as well as each and every brand and retailer around the world. 

With so many different types of marketing available, has any one area had a bigger impact on business over the rest?

What a great question. Marketing mix modeling (MMM) has been a challenge and an opportunity for years. There is a constant direct correlation between marketing impact and nailing the watering holes of our target audience. I labeled this as the Waterhole Migration phenomenon during the recent Bazaarvoice 2023 trends and predictions webinar.  

As watering holes for your target audiences migrate, your MMM has to morph to maximize the marketing impact. To your second question, the one MMM area that is having the most impact on business in terms of brand awareness, purchase conversion, and loyalty has to be organic. This means organic content like user-generated content (UGC) and organic channels like earned and shared, as above all, these are the modern day watering holes, regardless of whether you are in the B2B or B2C space.

How often do you try a new marketing strategy, and which ‘boxes’ does it need to tick before you’re willing to implement it?

I think the operative word here is ‘trying’. Trying new approaches and ideas which lend themselves to new marketing strategies is healthy. That leads to innovation, best practices and next practices. Balancing innovation and staying power for impact is key.

What I’ve seen work well is a semi-annual planning and re-planning process in which a new marketing strategy can have at least two quarters to be put to work, and if the in-process metrics are trending positive, leave that strategy alone.  Alternatively, if a new marketing strategy isn’t trending in the right direction in the first month or two in the market, it’s time to assess, adjust, adapt, or possibly sunset. 

For us here at Bazaarvoice, we anchor our marketing strategy on three growth levers: Brand, Demand, and Advocacy. These three levers are anchored on the overall business objectives and KPIs of the entire business. So at the highest level, all marketing strategies we roll out are tied to one or all of these three levers. Those are the ‘boxes’ that have to be ticked before we implement.  

In your opinion, is it better to try out new marketing tactics or to stick with what you know works? How do you decide where to allocate your budget and resources?

Whether it is at times of annual or periodic planning, or out of necessity such as the current economic climate, budget and resource allocation has to be tied to one of two things: ROI or strategic intent.  

As business leaders, we prioritize and optimize budget and resources to meet market and customer needs on behalf of the business. ROI is an effective metric for prioritization. A question I often ask myself and my team is, “if I have $100 to spend, which is the option that gives us the highest return?”  

There are occasions, however, when ROI is not the proper deciding factor. Case in point, a new product launch, a greenfield initiative, or entrance to a new market may have significant strategic value in time but it will take a long time for the ROI to be at par with steady state initiatives. 

As to the first part of your question, it honestly depends. To drive innovative thinking and practices, I always err on the side of trying new tactics and channels while maintaining some proven best practices. For on-going operational programs, sticking to what’s been proven gives one a solid ground to grow from. 

Based on your experience and success, what are your top five most successful marketing strategies? 

  1. Embrace brand, demand, and advocacy to deliver the multiplier effect.  Together, these three growth levers complete the marketing flywheel. Not only are these growth levers for marketing, they are the key growth levers for every business as well. If our ultimate goal is to earn a customer for life, we have to begin engaging through our brand promise and value. With brand awareness, consideration, and loyalty, demand follows. With demand, advocacy grows and the full cycle repeats itself except that the cycles become increasingly more powerful through exponentials. Check out an exponential equation to see the hockey stick effect!

So, if your business has a need for a dedicated brand or demand or advocacy marketing strategy, my suggestion is to ensure that it connects all three growth levers by design because one leads to another. For readers who aspire to become full stack CMO, this is your practice and winning formula. Build expertise and dexterity in a multiplying way with brand, demand, and advocacy all together.  

  1. Follow the watering holes. Meet the target audiences where they hang. I first came to this realization when I was leading performance marketing years ago at IBM. For our database business at the time, we were targeting database administrators (DBAs) as the key audience for the solution. The team prescribed an integrated campaign with different channels, slightly different content, and messaging to optimize the campaign mix.  

Within the first month of the campaign, we began to see one particular tactic jumping ahead of others in terms of impact, delivering more than ten times the engagement of others. The winning tactic was a sponsorship at a DBA Association event. It was a brilliant move. Why? We were meeting our target audience at their watering hole. They had self-selected themselves by their shared interest, shared focus, and membership.

Fast forward to 2023, the watering hole phenomenon is just as vibrant as it was 10-15 years ago. The only difference is that the watering holes have migrated to predominantly social channels, but online and offline on occasion. This is why social commerce is exploding with exponential growth and breaking into the trillion dollar marks in short order. It is built on the convenience of watering holes where consumers gather to learn, share, influence, and inspire. Case in point, influencer marketing is squarely tied to social and watering holes. 

  1. Focus on upsell and cross-sell. As the legendary Walt Disney puts it, “Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.”  It is a winning proposition from all angles with high ROI and life-time value. Simply golden. 
  2. Let your customer do the talking. If you have a great product, your best advertising and evangelism is the voice of the customer. As mentioned before, the entire Bazaarvoice business is built on this very premise. Consumers want to hear from other consumers and in fact, they trust other consumer-created content 2.4 times more than branded content, according to the 2022 Bazaarvoice Shoppers Experience Index. In fact, when consumers interact with relevant user-generated content, brands and retailers see up to 145% lift in purchase conversion, along with increased revenue per visitor and increased average order values. 

While this example is B2C, the power of the voice of the customer works its magic equally for B2B as well. I recall from my early B2B days with the focus and practice to bring customer speakers on stage for conferences, including customer quotes in presentations, and at a grand scale, conducting annual user conferences where branded content along with peer-to-peer conversations does the marketing and sales for the business. At the end of the day, people buy from other people. 

  1. Measure. Iterate. Learn. Celebrate. Consider this a thought for close loop operation and mindset. A marketing strategy is created to make substantive business impact. We have to be the best storytellers, the most creative members of the business, and for the most effective marketers, we have to deliver results and business impact-pipeline; ROI, NPS, and whatever KPIs your business prioritizes. When you expect, you have to inspect and measure. This also provides a clear path to progress and success for the strategy.

I added three more steps to round up this item. I have fallen into the trap of measuring to the finish line and moving on. Over the years, I realize the power of agile and iterative thinking and doing. I am a total believer of design thinking methodology which taught me the importance and power of iterations and learning. So, ensure that your marketing strategy is not simply a linear program but rather organic, dynamic, and fit for purpose! Lastly, don’t forget to celebrate along the way—small wins and big wins alike!

Can you share a time when a strategy didn’t deliver the results you expected and what you learned from the experience?

This can be a full dissertation on its own as this does happen probably more often than we admit. The one thing I will underscore is that every miss or mishap is a learning experience. The importance is to practice the ‘think big, fail fast’ method. 

Case in point, a few years ago when I was CMO at Syniti, an SAP partner, we rolled out a content syndication campaign via LinkedIn as a mini ABM strategy rollout in EMEA. In less than four weeks, we received exceptional engagement and solid pipeline including a significant opportunity (which closed shortly after the campaign completed as well). So we quickly duplicated the campaign for NA. We had to stop the NA campaign in less than three weeks’ time. Why? We ran out of budget. The campaign was powerfully engaging and elicited exceptional engagement which also proportionally drove up the campaign cost which was based on opts-ins. We also saw that unlike those in EMEA, the opt-ins were not going anywhere.

What expert tips can you share with those who just starting to build out their marketing strategy?

First and foremost, it pays to take time to think and outline before jumping into writing/doing mode. As a starter, I would suggest answering a few key questions before one begins to build out a marketing strategy. Some of the questions that have served me and my team well in the past include: 

  1. What are we solving for? Until you nail this, you may not have the right program established.
  2. What does great look like?
  3. How do we know when we have arrived or are ready to exit? CSFs and KPIs will be key here.
  4. What impact are we making to the business, to our customers, and to each of us? 
  5. What are the clear objectives and measurable success/exit criteria for the strategy?
  6. When do we celebrate? 

See the possibilities. Always be relevant, and practice the ‘think big, fail fast’ methodology. It lends to amazing innovation and exceptional outcomes. 

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

I love this question and the notion of a movement! Mine is Dare to Grow and this is the theme of the book I am working on—for a few years now, sorry to say. It takes courage. It takes determination. It takes open mindedness.

Allow me to share a short excerpt from my draft to capture the essence of this Dare to Grow movement.

“Humans are blessed with the ability to grow organically until age defies us. It is part of our DNA and part of the living process. We have, however, the luxury to continue to grow mentally, personally, professionally, and experientially regardless of age and physics. As individuals, we have the choice to grow through moments of our lives.  

I call these #DareToGrow Moments.

These are moments when we are presented with tough choices—decisions. They often happen at pivotal points of our lives—deciding which school to go to; saying yes/no to a marriage proposal; moving overseas for education or to take on a foreign assignment; investing on A versus B; or simply being who we want to be. These are defining moments of who we are today and tomorrow. The importance of these moments isn’t about the substance of the decision but rather the act of deciding. Ambivalence is a deterrent for growth. It is an anti-matter. Sometimes decisions can be monumental, changing the trajectory hugely, and sometimes they are simply to confirm the current course. Regardless, they take courage. They take guts. Many would become #DareToGrow moments.

Through these moments, we learn; we rise; we grow; we innovate; we transform.”  

As for the audience of this interview, I would like to leave you with these three thoughts: 

  1. Be one who envisions bold possibilities and delivers measurable impact.
  2. Be one who dares to grow. See potential in others and dare them to grow. 
  3. Build lasting teams. Growth is a team sport. Building lasting relationships and teams will be key.  

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Thank you for asking. It will be my honor to connect on LinkedIn, and I would love to hear from the readers on their thoughts and best practices so we can continue the conversation and sharing.

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.