In partnership with The CMO Club, The CMO of the Week series profiles CMOs who are shaping, changing and challenging the world of modern marketing. For Drew Neisser's complete interview with CMO Award Winner Colette LaForce, click here.
Leadership is one of those qualities that some are born with, some acquire naturally but most of us grapple with over our entire careers. Someone who almost certainly falls into that first and very enviable category, however, is Colette LaForce. True to her name, she proved to be a pioneering force for success during her tenure in the marketing department at micro-processing company Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), where she held the reigns from 2012 until earlier this year.
I spoke with LaForce following her receipt of a much-deserved Leadership Award at the CMO Awards, where we discussed her achievements in transparent marketing operations, weathering a major corporate restructuring and revamping her company's brand-on a global level. While our conversation was inspiring, it was also pithy. LaForce is long on meaning and short on message, which explains one strategy behind her success: simplicity. Read below as she shares more key insights driving her transformative know-how. Believe me: if your company is facing some daunting, large-scale changes, you'll want a leader of LaForce's ilk to handle it.
Keep it as simple as binary code
Describe the role of the CMO today and you'll probably hit every adjective in the book. It's a complex job, and as most will tell you, it just keeps expanding. The natural tendency for most in marketing, then, is to overcomplicate the tasks at hand. As CMO of AMD-whose competitors include the formidable Intel, IBM and Nvidia-Colette LaForce was handed some hefty tasks, as I just mentioned. Multi-year global brand transformation, anyone?
So when I ask for a kernel of advice on how she kept her marketing team's and her own eyes on their objectives through AMD's changes, her answer is simple-literally. "People can't remember ten goals, or even five," she says. "Great leaders, like great sports coaches, prioritize just one or two compelling goals for the team to commit to and focus on." This of course requires some uncomfortable narrowing of focus and introspection on the part of the CMO, and, as we'll discuss in a moment, a solid unit dedicated to carrying out these explicit goals.
Get everyone on the same server
As one should before an interview, I peeked at LaForce's LinkedIn profile prior to our discussion. I saw that she calls herself a "transformative CMO," and I pried into the meaning behind it. "For me, the word 'transformative' represents a desire to be a steward of change," she says. "Stewardship is really all about making lasting contributions that leave your environment in better shape than it was the day before." In other words, LaForce sees herself as a leader who helps foster an environment for change, rather than force that change from the top down.
Real transformation, as she tells me, can only happen when your team is firmly aligned with the company's vision and objectives. LaForce and her fellow executives, for example, came to the conclusion that evolving AMD would require extensive revamping of the brand on a global scale. Building a solid marketing team dedicated to the changes, she says, was of top priority. Like a steady ship's crew in the face of a perfect storm, she and AMD relied on them to stand firm and carry the company through its period of transformation. "Without a baseline for purpose, values and mission and an outstanding team to execute," she says, "we could not have effectively united 10,000 employees and millions of fans worldwide."
Make space on the hard drive
A successful multi-year transformation is one thing, but to continue to evolve, AMD of course needed a little room for curiosity and experimentation. LaForce carved out part of her budget for "innovation marketing," and she credits AMD's position as a challenger brand with attracting employees who have a natural inclination to innovate and one-up a formidable opponent. "Being the underdog can be a great motivational tool that builds character, forces innovation, fosters creativity and can be very rewarding," LaForce shared.
Here's one example of their efforts to transform their category. You may assume that because AMD makes computer chips, its relationship with customers is more robotic and nerd-driven than mortal or meaningful. However, LaForce and her team worked to change this perception, and they had the data to prove that it was working. "Semiconductor technology powers the devices we use every day, giving people very personal, rich computational and graphical experiences that literally enable us to change the world," she says. "Our research with thousands of users echoed this sentiment, and we focused our marketing on building a more emotional connection with buyers."
While she hasn't announced what comes next, we have no doubt she'll be on to another exciting new frontier, in true LaForce fashion.
CMO of the Week is an exclusive Social Media Today column published every Thursday.