Dave Reibstein

by Natalie Miller • @natalieatWIS

CMO education program to bridge the gap between traditional, digital, and data-driven marketing

A Q&A with Dave Reibstein, Professor of Marketing, The Wharton School

Published November 04, 2014


The era of big data is changing the way marketing professionals do their jobs, and even those with a strong set of skills feel angst over what lies ahead. To give CMOs the knowledge they need to use cloud, analytics, mobile, and social technologies to better understand and engage their customers, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania will deliver a new program next spring in partnership with IBM.

Dave Reibstein, a longtime professor of marketing at The Wharton School and former chairman of the board of the American Marketing Association, has been involved in the creation of the program from its initiation.

“I’ve done a lot of work with various chief marketing officer organizations,” he explains. “I have also participated in a large number of CMO gatherings. It’s always the CMOs who are speaking for others to learn from them. I wondered what opportunities there are for CMOs to learn and prepare themselves for the new environment that they are facing.”

Insights Magazine sat down with Reibstein to talk about the program and the biggest challenges CMOs face today.

Insights Magazine: What are the big changes you’ve seen over the years in the marketing field?

Dave Reibstein: One of the easiest ones to identify, and which there's been a lot of discussion about, is the abundance of data that one is now confronted with. We hear the terminology, ‘big data.’ That is one domain that we can think about the need that exists. The question is one of, ‘Ok, there is this sudden found data. What do we do with it and how do we prepare our organizations so we feel well equip to manage the huge influx of data? There is the capability of new technologies and new data and new analytic tools that are becoming available to us. As well as other things. For example, we hear about Watson and some of the artificial intelligence that has been developed by IBM. That is a new opportunity that people need to be familiar with. We hear about data analytics; that is something that people need to be familiar with as well. We hear about all of the A/B experimentation and how does one start to try and use that. Our belief is that the participants, the senior marketing executives that are in this program, don’t need to be equipped to do all the data and analytics. They are going to have people on their staff who do that. They need to have an understanding of the potential and how you build an organization that can try and capitalize on that.

IM: What are marketers today who are not embracing these technologies missing out on?

Reibstein: The simple answer is an in-depth understanding of customers and what it is that appeals to customers. Because of the abundance of data and some tools and techniques, they’re not getting a great exposure to some of the possibilities. We could couple that with the opportunity then to start customizing and personalizing the outward-bound efforts that come. So it’s both inward and outward. And it’s the ability to continually learn. What it is that we are going to be able to do is talk to the class about what some of the new tools and techniques are for dealing with the world that we are in right now and in the foreseeable future. We also want to help them build an organization that will continue to adapt and learn and adjust over time. It’s not like they are going to need to come back and take this course every two to three years because the world’s changed. It really is about how you build an organization that continues to morph and organically grow as the environment around us changes.

IM: How has customer engagement changed over the last decade?

Reibstein: In most industries, customers have become much more promiscuous. That is, they’ve been able to switch from one supplier or one brand to another because of the abundance of information that is now available to them and because the speed of which new competition is coming into the market. One has often thought, you gain a customer and you can rely on that customer for years to come. The proclivity of customers to switch from one vendor or one brand to another has continued to grow. So that’s just one area to illustrate. 

IM: What are some examples of data-driven insights that are critical to CMOs?

Reibstein: I don’t know how much I can get into some of those specifics, but if one thinks about the notion that not everyone wants the same thing, historically what we have done is figure out what one average is appealing to the market and that is what one should offer. If you start to recognize that some people are interested in certain dimensions and others are interested in others, and then the ability to either design or direct particular offerings to match some of the heterogeneity in the marketplace should be in a better position to better serve what that market needs.

IM: Can you give some details about the CMO program at Wharton?

Reibstein: There's been a belief on my part that there is a tremendous need that exists to get CMOs ready for new world. That brings into play IBM. IBM has been regularly doing surveys of CMOs and discovered CMOS feel comfortable doing things in their daily job, and there is recognition of the need to better understand the complexities of the world that they are going to be facing and also the recognition that they are not currently equip to deal with it.

[It’s a two week program.] There will be some initial work to be done before they get there, then it will be 3.5 to 4 days at here at Wharton, and then some work once they leave. And then, and this hasn’t been fully completed, but there's going to be a little bit of reconvening that we are going to be doing subsequent to that. But one should not think of it as two continuous weeks here in the classroom. The first time we are running it is in June 2015. Then we are going to see what the level of enthusiasm and demand is, but the idea is to run it twice a year here [at Wharton]. Also then we’re also going to expand this and run it in Europe and subsequently in Asia. We are going to run it one or two times a year in each of those parts of the world as well.

I am just one of the professors here who will end up doing the teaching in the program. I’m one of the directors of the program. We will take other faculty as we need it; and we fully anticipate that we will need it. I’m fully confident that I’m not going to be the only one teaching.

IM: What are the key values for a CMO to attend this class?

Reibstein: This program is designed for senior most marketing officers, generally under the title of CMO or chief commercial officer, at either fast-growing companies or Fortune 500 companies. We’ve done a fair amount of work trying to assess what else is out there in the marketplace and we don’t believe there is anything that is at all close to it. I think we benefit a lot from having a partnership with IBM, given the space that they are coming from and with what we are looking at—all the new tools and techniques and being able to deal with the influx of data—having IBM as a partner in this is certainly a unique offering.

What [a CMO] would not say directly [to a CEO] is, ‘I need to be retooled,’ but that’s what it is that a lot of CMOs are feeling today. So they are going to come up with a way to try and express that. There is this new world that they need to be at the cutting edge of and by participating in this program and learning from other industries and learning from some of the very best academics as well as practitioners is going to be the best way to approach what it is that we are having to confront in 2015 and the decade ahead.

IM: What will be the biggest takeaways from participating in this program?

Reibstein: Let me mention a couple of them. One is going to be developing a network organization. It’s not like we are going to be able to do everything. What's really going to be critical is for us to develop partners that we network with to fill in gaps that are not necessarily in our core competence. Every organization ends up asking themselves, ‘Do I build this competence myself or will I be quicker and better able to serve particular markets by coming up with partners that I can network with?’ So I think a full understanding of the need for and how to manage a network organization is clearly going to be one of the dimensions.

Another one is going to be learning how to do adaptive experimentation. Experimentation is going to be a key part of that, but the adaptive part is learning and adjusting and learning and adjusting and learning and adjusting—so the continual evolving and then adapting our organization to what it is that we’ve learned as we go through that.

It’s going to be a very exciting program. What's going to be nice is—a lot of these senior marketers are used to being on stage where they are giving and this is going to be a class filled with peers and the opportunity to learn from each other is going to be a key part of it.



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