Experience, the saying goes, is the best teacher.

So for this week’s “CMO Wants to Know,” we asked marketing executives to share the lessons they learned in 2014 and how they’ll apply them in 2015. Read on for their answers. One of the many topics mentioned is sure to hit home.

Trisha Antonsen, Associate Director of Content Creation, Wayfair.com, told CMO.com:
2014 was a big year for content creators and marketers in terms of really growing and excelling in creation and production. For us it was all about producing quality and quantity across our different brands. 2015 brings a lot of opportunity for distribution and innovative integration into other channels and mediums: TV, YouTube, print, podcasts, social. With all this, the responsibility to clearly educate people on the power and benefits of content marketing becomes more important. I think there’s still a lot of mystery around content marketing. As publishers we need to make sure that, at the end of the day, we’re creating content that people want to consume.

Margaret Molloy, Global Chief Marketing Officer, Siegel+Gale, told CMO.com:
My greatest learning in 2014 is the importance of patience and staying the course. The proliferation of new technologies coupled with the popularization of marketing as a topic of conversation means that marketers can easily become the proverbial kid in the candy store, sampling lots of shiny new things without a mature direction. Building a brand and leading the team that delivers it is a long-term initiative.

Mindful of this truth, in 2015 I will set our marketing vision and guide our team to prioritize the essentials to realizing it. Taking this approach will not preclude innovation, however; it will require simplifying and declining some good opportunities to focus on doubling down on the programs that have the greatest impact.

Jeff Fagel, CMO, G/O Digital (Gannett’s digital marketing services arm), told CMO.com:
Visuals matter more than ever before. We buy with our eyes, whether it’s in line at McDonald’s or through in-stream native digital executions. We now have far better technologies, devices, and precise marketing capabilities available to us. And our shopping experiences are now faster, easier, and more engaging–all thanks to technology.

But to be successful in delivering online-to-offline sales, marketers and retailers first have to be willing to shed their old-school labels of visuals as creative or media assets, and instead place them squarely into the commerce category. 2015 will be the year where we break free from A/B testing and push creative to limitless executions.

For example, marketers can take the creative assets of a single TV ad and localize it into hundreds of thousands of digital video ad units with hyperlocal precision down to the individual price, store, and quantity available for featured products. Ultimately, this is a win-win. On one hand, shoppers benefit from locally relevant, personalized experiences, and on the other hand, marketers see higher returns on their investment.

Jen Gray, VP of Marketing and Creative Services, HelloWorld, told CMO.com:
Everyone these days is in the content marketing business. With both B2B and B2C communications to navigate, marketers are creating mass quantities of materials for their audiences to consume, to rank higher in search engines, etc.–it’s hard to stand out. Our “information superhighway” pretty much has gridlock.

What we continue to learn in marketing our own as well as our clients’ businesses is getting the mix of content right for your audience. Think about the right mix of quality, quantity, complexity, and distribution. Just creating mass amounts of content on the subjects you think your audience wants to hear can quickly become noise and, frankly, a waste of your valuable time and dollars. Is anyone finding your content and reading it? Are they identifying with it? Is it causing your cash register to ring? First, be sure you can answer these questions. Then, invite your audience to experience your content through earned, owned, paid, and syndication strategies. This will help you pass by all the traffic and reach your destination faster.

Amanda Chin, Vice President of Marketing, ShopKeep, told CMO.com:
I’ve always been inspired by Seth Godin’s framework, the circles of marketing. In 2014, I found this framework applies to community building as well. If you expect to build a community of your customers, you have to start with your own community of internal team members. If there is misalignment at home about the company mission and purpose, and there is no passion for your product, you have no right to expect that from your customers. I was fortunate in 2014 to join a company with a team that has a genuine desire to champion our customers, and it’s key for our marketing team to look to them as the heart and soul of our community as we plan our outreach programs.

It’s amazing to me that our team members already visit customers on their own time on weekends and evenings, both locally and when they are traveling out of town. I’d hate to formalize this process as it’s happening organically. But I’d love to make it easier for our team to know where our customers are, through easier visualization of their locations, so when they are taking a day trip somewhere, they know they can just head down the street to the local coffee shop that’s using ShopKeep and share a smile.

Joe Stanhope, SVP Marketing of Signal, told CMO.com:
Marketers know that the future is cross-channel. But despite their significant investments in technology across the digital ecosystem, in 2014 marketers felt like they were stuck in first gear, stymied by organizational silos, fragmentation of data and touch points, and lack of interoperability.

In 2015, marketers will try to close the cross-channel maturity gap. They’ll be experimenting like crazy. Cross-channel data collection will be a key focus as the launching pad for more relevant and cohesive interactions with consumers. Working toward a single view of the customer, marketers will be wiring up mobile, Web, CRM, and point-of-sale channels in order to harness and deploy more data. Brands and agencies will be building big data feeds to enable cross-channel modeling and distribution to a wide variety of endpoints, such as data warehouses, analytics or attribution platforms, reporting systems, and more. Measuring customer behavior across devices and merging cross-channel data will be the precursors to the next, necessary step of activating data.

Achieving a unified, actionable view of the customer’s cross-channel journey is still a ways off. But in the coming year, it will be very exciting to watch the results of cutting-edge campaigns that will be utilizing the latest cross-channel capabilities.

Matt Rosenberg, SVP of Marketing, 140 Proof, told CMO.com: 
Last year, 140 Proof studied the way people use different social platforms and found that they are very conscious of the different ways to connect, the content available to share, and privacy of each option. Users are customizing their social experience, cultivating different personalities across platforms, and avoiding the brand intrusions they don’t want to see. This all means marketers are going to have to start working smarter, and stop trying to be their consumers’ friends on social. It’s more crucial than ever for marketers and advertisers to manage targeting, messaging, and frequency to keep their audiences informed, without driving them crazy. At 140 Proof, we plan to leverage these learnings to do what we do even better: make ads works for real humans.

Laney Lewis, Senior Director of Marketing, Clearleap, told CMO.com:
Today’s great marketers know where their consumers are and do their best to predict where they’re headed. Their secret? Moving fast. Whether it’s getting in on the latest popular platform, like video or mobile, or jumping in the conversation on topical cultural or industry moments, like the World Cup or Sochi Olympics, in 2014 we learned that staying on your toes is the key to staying relevant and successful. In 2015, we’re focusing on staying flexible and taking advantage of great opportunities for engagement whenever they come.”

Brad Mattick, VP Product and Marketing, BrighEdge, told CMO.com:
2014 was the year of content creation, but looking back, I think we all could have spent more time focusing on performance, both of our own content, as well as our competitors’. Even though we saw vast amounts of money being poured into content, most of us still struggle to measure the return of our investments and digest the sea of unstructured data that we’re currently swimming in.

In 2015, we’ll be doubling down to better use the data we have, which will ultimately improve our ability to make real-time recommendations for targeting and optimizing our content marketing. With the content marketing competition as fierce as it is, I think that the key to marketers’ success will be contingent on the fusion of human creativity, technology adoption, and machine learning. In other words, rather than being “creation-driven,” like we were in 2014, we’ll be data-driven in 2015.

Christine Warner, Senior Content Strategist, Skyword, told CMO.com:
Based on my content marketing and brand strategy work in 2014, I plan to champion multichannel personalization in 2015. A single engagement with personal relevance isn’t enough. All marketing efforts must work together to deliver an experience that addresses personal needs and interests. To achieve integrated personalization, you need to uncover insights about the people you’re targeting that can be leveraged in each touch point. Don’t market to the masses–market to the individual.

Jay Acunzo, Director of Platform, NextView Ventures and Co-founder, Boston Content, told CMO.com
I learned that all content marketing truly should be is the act of solving the same problem that your product solves. That’s the only definition we should ever need, but it unfortunately gets shrouded in noise and hype. Yes, content solves customer problems through a different form than product, and even less well (hence, our ability to funnel people to our products), but both departments are tasked with providing solutions for customers by building assets the company owns. When they work in harmony, great content helps customers before they’re ready to buy, while great products help customers after. But both address the same core problem for which the customer seeks solutions.

This may seem simple, but it’s amazing how many organizations still don’t think this way. So, in 2015, don’t just get closer to sales–get closer to product. They are in the business of understanding customers and developing solutions to their problems or fulfillments of their desires. As marketers, we’re now in that exact same business.

Mark Gambill, CMO, MicroStrategy, told CMO.com:
The biggest thing I learned in 2014 is something we all learned back in school but sometimes forget or put to the side because we are mesmerized by all of the bright and shiny digital and social tools and objects–and that is, always place a primary emphasis on understanding your customers and what they truly want. It doesn’t pay to generalize, especially in the age of personalization.

Making the investment in our relationships and in knowing what helps our customers succeed will help us make appropriate investment decisions related to our marketing spend in 2015. Ultimately, all marketing investments need to play a role in addressing customer needs, whether it’s direct path to purchase or part of the mosaic that is your brand and messaging.

Dan Kimball, CMO, Thismoment, told CMO.com:
While 2014 saw many social media milestones and improvements, it also brought with it some consumer privacy blunders on the part of corporations as they looked to engage on social. This year, we can expect consumers to become even more protective of their personal brands, while also engaging consumers through user-generated content (UGC). CMOs looking to leverage UGC in their marketing campaigns will need to understand these sensitivities as well as the legal rights consumers have around the content they produce. In 2015, we’ll see CMOs approach UGC as they do other third-party content. Before they use it for marketing purposes, they will first seek proper rights and permissions or risk losing brand ambassadors.

Gary Survis, CMO, Syncsort, told CMO.com:
Last year we experimented on many different digital marketing tools. This year, we are going to make decisions: Stop doing the marginal performers, double down on what is working, and keep experimenting with what is new. There is rapid change in the tactics we can utilize to connect with our target audience. Successful marketers in 2015 will be those who test new ideas and act on the ones that work best.

Julie Ginches, CMO, eXelate, told CMO.com:
The average lifespan of the CMO used to be a pretty dismal number, with sources quoting as low as 12 months. But lately we’ve seen that number steadily rising, now averaging around 45 months, according to research firm Spencer Stuart. The reason? CMOs have been waking up to the power of data–and the technology that enables them to glean all-important customer insights from that data. In 2015, the opportunities to learn and grow businesses from technologies that inform customer intelligence are better and easier to implement than ever. So, at eXelate, our strategy for the year is to do everything we can to help educate and empower the CMO to leverage data in new ways: to be more relevant to individual customers no matter what channel or device they are on, to find more prospects likely to convert to a sale, and to measure what’s working in faster ways. We will practice what we preach by launching an effort designed to customize information and programs tailored to the needs of the marketer and their organization.

Christopher Penn, VP of Marketing Technology, SHIFT Communications, told CMO.com:
The biggest marketing learning in 2014 for us and our clients was leveraging big data tools much more effectively to uncover hidden opportunities. For example, we fed our digital marketing data into big data tools like IBM Watson and found all kinds of hidden associations that have radically changed how we formulate strategy. These associations and correlations aren’t intuitive, and they’re not visible to the naked eye or even simple analysis tools like a spreadsheet. Going forward, these tools will become part and parcel of every data-driven marketer’s toolkit if they want to remain competitive. The good news for marketers everywhere is that all of these tools are coming down in price; many are becoming accessible even to small businesses. It’s now a question of training and education, rather than access.

Nelson Rodriguez, VP of Global Marketing, Aquent, told CMO.com:
Our marketing department has, traditionally, been very tactically focused. Our goals have likewise been very tactical: order and lead generation. While it’s a given that marketing should have measurable goals closely tied to business goals, without an agreed-on strategic framework, discussion of specific tactics happens in a void. In 2014, we made a shift toward articulating our strategic vision, and it has gone a long way toward helping us evaluate our tactical priorities, focus our efforts, and, more importantly, say “no” when a proposed initiative doesn’t fit our strategic goals. As a result, our 2015 plan is both results-oriented and strategically informed.

Kim Riedell, SVP Product and Marketing, Digilant, told CMO.com:
My biggest takeaway from 2014 is that consumers’ multidevice browsing habits and constantly shifting interests make traditional segmentation models insufficient for synthesizing the wealth of data currently available to marketers. We have moved well beyond identifying consumers with broad segments like “soccer moms” or “car enthusiasts.” In 2015 we should move toward far more dynamic models that can ingest the volume, velocity, and variety of behavioral data and develop consumer personas based on real-time information. Targeting an individual based on multiple identifiable characteristics, rather than a collection of consumers based on a single shared attribute, may result in campaigns that reach fewer consumers but pay off in the form of vastly increased engagement and conversion.

Chuck Cordray, CEO, Inlet, told CMO.com:
One of the biggest lessons we learned last year is that marketers need to meet customers where they want to be–it’s not just about your Web site or your mobile app. The question to ask in 2015 will be, “Where and how do my consumers want to engage with my brand?” The plan for savvy marketers this year will be to put consumer experience first and communicate where it is most convenient for them. Brands that can’t do that will be left out in the cold.

Yasmeen Coning, VP of Marketing, Genesis Media, told CMO.com:
In 2014, marketing became an integrated part of every layer of business for Genesis Media. Marketing was a true collaborative effort across all sectors of the company, from sales to product to operations. When marketing is involved in every aspect of the organization, it helps bolster visibility and brand equity across the board–helping ensure ROI and, ultimately, bottom line. As we kick off 2015, it’s imperative that each sector of the business continues to join forces in order to increase growth and profitability. As the saying goes, there is no “I” in team, and that is something all companies should live by.

Louise Doorn, CMO, Dstillery, told CMO.com: 
Data and technology dominated the marketing discourse in 2014 and will remain top of mind for marketers in 2015.

It’s not an easy task to deliver marketing automation, quality data science, and meaningful analytics across paid, earned, and owned media. The mandate for every marketer is to establish a scalable framework with reliable technology partners in 2015. This framework should be flexible with open APIs to evolve based on customer data and campaign effectiveness analytics.

But the framework alone is not enough. Marketing science and technology is one part of the equation. Consumer and public opinions determine brand reputation. Building a likable brand based on quality products with high integrity and solid service has to be a central tenet. Marketing will continue to spill over into customer experience–an important focus for 2015. There continues to be a huge opportunity for brands to surprise and delight consumers and inspire them to share remarkable experiences through their social graphs.

Alissa McCue

Alissa McCue

Alissa McCue has over 10 years of marketing and public relations experience working for top brands in retail and technology. As Senior Manager of Public Relations at ShopKeep, a leading iPad Point of Sale System, Alissa is focused on highlighting ShopKeep's major achievements and thought leadership in the POS and technology space for independent businesses.