Part 3: Insights from a Trifecta of (Female) CMOs -- Alysia Borsa

By Insider InSites Podcasts Archives
Cover image for  article: Part 3: Insights from a Trifecta of (Female) CMOs -- Alysia Borsa

At the recent ANA Masters of Marketing conference, which gathered marketers from around the world, I had the opportunity produce an episode of Insider InSites that curated insights from three leaders from tech, CPG, and media — SAP's Alicia Tillman, named by Forbes as the world's 14th most influential CMO; the recently elevated CMO for The Clorox Company, Stacey Grier; and Alysia Borsa (pictured below), chief marketing and data officer of Meredith Corporation — who just happen to be CMOs while being female.

Episode 44 (which you can listen to in its entirety here) was so chock-full of information that I generated a companion article dedicated to each of these masterful marketers individually. In this Part 3 text companion, I summarize how Alysia Borsa raises the CMO bar by adding a "D" for Data to her title. As CMDO, she joined me to discuss the marriage of data and marketing at Meredith Corporation.

Borsa's dual-title was achieved by an unusual path to this role — best understood by the very evolution of publishing overall and Meredith Corporation specifically. While most of its 40 channels, or brands — fromPeople to Better Homes and Gardens to Real Simple — are steeped in a print-based history, Meredith is positioned now as an omnichannel organization and is the leading media company focused on women.

Its reach of over 180 million consumers is monumental, but the more impressive stat to me is that every month, it reaches 90. percent of all women in the U.S. Although print numbers are in decline — and at an end of an era for the MPA as it closes its doors this month as an evangelizing association and moves to lobbying only — Meredith has stemmed the tide using digital, OTT, and, yes, podcasts to reach about 150 million consumers.

The Meredith mission is to "engage women across platforms to inform, entertain, and inspire [them] to take an action. That's really what we are all about," Borsa explained.

The following topline has been edited for clarity and length. Subscribe to MediaVillage's Insider InSites (just named a top podcast for digital advertising professionals!) everywhere: Stitcher, Spotify, iHeartRadio, GooglePodcasts, Apple, TuneIn, and YouTube .

E.B. Moss: You got deep tech and telecom experience at Nokia and Comcast and as a strategy consultant at Accenture, so you first focused on mobile and data at Meredith. Now, you're in a dual chief marketing officer/chief data officer role. Never let it be said that women aren't great at multitasking!

Alysia Borsa : That's right. I became chief data officer first to centralize all of the consumer data analytics and insights for the entire company. And then, I also became CMO because, at the heart of it, we are a direct-to-consumer company and understanding our consumers is core and critical to all aspects of our business. It's key to driving consumer revenue, which is 50 percent of our business, and key for our advertising partners, as well as our edit and product teams…. We brought the two responsibilities together to elevate that and make sure we are a consumer- and data-driven organization.

Moss: It makes absolute sense. If you have the insights, then you can apply them to reach the consumer more effectively and know how to engage better. You describe Meredith as a diversified media company, and with that 50/50 split between consumer and advertising revenues, how do you appeal to both advertisers [and consumers] these days?

Borsa : They're absolutely intertwined. We're focused on creating intent-driven content and experiences to make sure we're constantly reaching and engaging [the female consumer] to take action and to buy. And we're also enabling "content to commerce," which our brands have the right to play in and then influence. The power of that engagement and data and insights is extremely useful. We also leverage what we call "actionable innovation" for our partners: making sure that we have new platforms, audio, using QR codes and AR and VR and chatbots and AI; and providing opportunities for our advertisers to engage [along with] our predictive advertising platform.

Moss: What's the coolest thing you're doing now and offering advertisers these days?

Borsa : [With] the example of the predictive advertising platform..., we start with understanding our consumers and creating what we call a consumer-decision framework, then use that information to dynamically recommend, activate, and target against consumers based on where they are in that decision tree. We've done that with a couple of core clients right now, such as Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, where we've developed the consumer-decision framework. We're using AI to recommend wine pairings and then target advertising related to that experience.

Moss: What about on content to commerce?

Borsa: We drove over $1 billion in retail sales last year through a variety of means: e-commerce and affiliate shops, shoppable images, video, recipes, and now, shoppable articles. It is taking the consumer through a natural funnel.

We also did something interesting from a print perspective in InStyle Magazine: You can use a QR code and, leveraging AR, you can try on, then purchase makeup from that experience. It's a really interesting way to connect consumers across platforms, give them [an] experience, and then drive to purchase.

Moss: With it having such a focus on women, I'm guessing that that makes the working environment for women at Meredith pretty good?

Borsa: As a woman, I feel very empowered and supported. There are a lot of women in leadership at Meredith. We still need more women at the most senior levels of our organization. But it is absolutely recognized and talked about openly. It's something we are addressing. One example we shared, actually with all of our employees, is from our board of directors…. We now have over 40 percent representation of women, which is progress, right? Again, is there still work to be done? Absolutely. But we are moving towards that.

Moss: And your personal mantra as advice… to supporting and encouraging women?

Borsa: One of my key messages that I truly believe is that women shouldn't feel stuck. If they feel like they are being slighted or being discriminated against at all, there are so many opportunities for change. I don't think in today's world anyone should feel stuck where they are.... Everyone needs to embrace and feel comfortable with change.

Our industry is never going to be static. We have to push ourselves — and should feel uncomfortable in our roles and in taking on new challenges. And if you feel too comfortable, then it's time to change or take on more or something new. Even the definition of what a CMO is or should do is continuing to change. There's opportunity to, again, expand and change as our consumers change and the industry changes.

Moss: Are you hopeful of seeing more women in STEM and embracing that side of the business?

Borsa: Absolutely. And I'm proud that for the data team I run, I have over 50 percent representation of women to men and all my direct reports are evenly split male to female. There's still more work to be done. But I see a lot of progress there.

Moss: Meredith is very involved with SeeHer. (We have a forthcoming interview with Shelley Zalis, who's being inducted into our Advancing Diversity Hall of Honors, and I know how involved she is with that.) What are some places women can go or do things for growth?

Borsa: Whether it's formal or informal mentoring, I think that's really important for women; and it doesn't mean you need a female mentor. Not only are we a part of SeeHer, which has become a company-wide internal and external type of initiative, we also have employee-led organizations and committees, which let employees take the lead on how to increase diversity and inclusion. It's really important to give your employees a voice.

And we're a big supporter of the ANA's CMO Growth Council, where we talked about not only SeeHer, but also Brands for Good, among many others.

Moss: As a last word for any marketer, what's your projection for the future?

Borsa: Marketers need to embrace the data and insights piece to be more informed, but there's always got to be a balance between those two. We can't lose creativity as part of that; it's not either/or. I think that's an evolving, changing way of thinking about the new marketing era.

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