In the first of our NEW interview series with thought leaders from inside and outside of Questback, we got to pick our CMO’s brain for his thoughts on the changing roles of marketing and insight within companies today. 


What was your most significant takeaway in 2018?

The power of simplicity and by that, I mean the idea of doing one thing and doing one thing exceptionally well. We each have so many (often competing) priorities, initiatives and goals we’re trying to accomplish, that often, we lose perspective and overcomplicate things. So, by streamlining and prioritizing that which is the most important and making sure you absolutely nail each one was my greatest and most important takeaway from 2018.


What’s your top tip for creating that simplicity?

Always stress test your ideas by bouncing them off others. A second (or third) set of eyes is incredibly valuable in helping you to see clearly, especially when you’re working in different markets and across different cultures. Be sure always to question assumptions: Are we saying what we think we’re saying? Are we communicating as effectively as we possibly can? Are we reaching the people we need to reach as successfully as we possibly can?


Is technology a good or a bad thing? 

I don’t think technology is inherently good or bad in unto itself. The ‘what’ we develop the technology for and the set of rules we put around that are where things can go astray. For technology to continue to revolutionize our lives, there needs to be greater trust between the brand and the end-user, and for that, there needs to be a much stronger hand in both the privacy and security embedded within the social contract strictly adhered to by the provider of the technology.


Interesting that you talk about work and play, how do you see technology impacting those different aspects of your life?

Technology is seamlessly integrating into our lives at an accelerating pace. Take the Internet of Things (IoT) or a certain someone called ‘Alexa.’ Sure, as I just said, there are some concerns today about security and privacy. But, as trust and technology evolve, I wholeheartedly believe we’ll become more expectant (and reliant) upon IoT to make our lives easier – whether that’s turning on the lights before arriving home or warming up the car remotely to ordering a new pair of running shoes online with just the power of your voice.


Technology moves at lightning speed. What would you say of the feedback industry? 

As many of us have experienced, feedback has traditionally been something that was defined as a singular point: the annual engagement survey, dreaded by all with little to no net impact on the overall workings within the company. Yet, as technology continues to permeate our lives, we’ve become accustomed to (and even expect the right to) provide our input and our feedback on anything and everything from a product we’ve just bought or an experience we’ve just had. In essence, we’ve moved into a world where continuous feedback is the new normal.


Wow. Sounds like a lot of data for companies to grapple with. How do they mine it for gold?

To date, companies have been focused on transactional data; answers to questions pertaining to what people have done, which systems they touched, how often they performed a specific act and their demographics. In other words, the ‘what.’ However, continuous listening, combined with big data and analytics, gives companies the ability to understand the ‘why’ – the intent. That’s where the real value lies, in the understanding of intent through the insights of the people on the front lines, your employees and your customers. 


It seems that disruption is business as usual. Who has the power to be most disruptive, your competitors or your customers?

It’s funny to think that there was a time (and not all that long ago) when we had four channels to watch and two soft drinks to choose from. Consumers ‘devoured’ what the Don Drapers of the time served up to them. However, with the proliferation of technology and social media, the balance has tipped the other way significantly. If you remember, Myspace, one of the early social networking sites, essentially vanished overnight, not because of the technology, but because of a shift in consumer preference and the behaviors of our peer groups. Chalk this up to the customer. We also see the role the business in society being increasingly scrutinized (and rewired) in response to social movements, including MeToo, Gender Pay Gap and numerous environmental concerns.


What does greater consumer empowerment mean for your role as a CMO?

Traditionally, the role of the CMO focused on communicating a brand’s messaging and providing an overall flow of qualified prospects to sales. Thanks to the growth of digital and performance marketing, the marketing scope has evolved to include accountability for defined pipeline contribution leading directly to top-line growth. Marketing teams today need to be focused on the full ‘unknown-to-customer’ buyer journey by engaging with prospects in a real-time and highly personalized manner through an omnichannel approach leveraging social, account-based marketing, website bots and yes, segmented email nurturing as just a few of the many tools in use today.


Are stories just something we tell our kids at bedtime? 

We might live in a data-centric world, but without a doubt connecting emotionally with a brand is becoming more and more critical. We crave content, experiences, products, and services that are relevant to us. We’re hardwired for compelling narratives, and brands need to use storytelling techniques as a way to cut through the noise, be memorable and encourage action.


How did you find yourself to be at Questback?

What attracted me to Questback, was the shared passion that all Questbackers have for feedback. It’s not just about giving people a voice. Through the power of feedback-driven insights, we genuinely believe we can fundamentally improve the way that businesses operate and evolve moving forward.


What makes an organization great? Its people or its products?

People, without a doubt. People drive the product. People drive the strategy. It’s the people who are the ones who are the ambassadors for the brand, the evangelists for the company’s values and the driver’s behind the company’s success. Through tapping into your people, you’re able to create, as a company, an energy that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to, a superpower that has an outsized impact on customer and employee sentiment.


Are you a betting man?

No, but I do believe strongly in taking measured risks to push well beyond the status quo.


What do you think that means for the feedback industry?

Without a doubt, we’re going to see some big changes in the feedback space, some of which are already underway, including market consolidation and further technological innovation. I truly believe we’ll see enhanced embedding of feedback in our productivity tools as well as in our interactions with brands, utilities, and public services. Fast forward to a place where we’re more disconnected from human experience, whereby tablets and machines are the primary sources of interaction and biometrics commonplace. In this world, brands will need to work even harder to measure and incorporate feedback in new and innovative ways to ensure high levels of engagement and satisfaction with their employees and customers alike.


Stay tuned for the next in our conversations with thought leaders.


About the Interviewee

David Howland | CMO at Questback

As CMO at Questback, David drives the company’s marketing and communications strategy, delivering innovation, intelligence and actionable insights to enterprises worldwide. Embracing emerging trends, David’s expertise lies in launching compelling brand identities and successfully transforming how stakeholders and the public perceive organizations to continually position top companies at the forefront of a highly competitive global marketplace.

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