Mendoza School of Business

At Notre Dame CMO Summit, GE’s Linda Boff Keynotes Event Designed To Bridge Practice, Academia

Published: October 17, 2016 / Author: Forbes

World-class marketing leaders recently descended on South Bend, Indiana, for the first-annual Notre Dame Chief Marketing Officer Summit, presented by the Mendoza College of Business and Forbes CMO Network.

Dubbed “Meaningful Marketing: Putting People and Purpose at the Center of Brand Engagement,” the event, part of the ongoing Forbes CMO University Alumni Series, sought to bridge important stakeholders in the evolution of the marketing industry: practitioners and academics.

Speakers included Linda Boff, CMO of GE; Denise Karkos, CMO of TD Ameritrade; Seth Farbman, CMO of Spotify; Margaret Molloy, global CMO of Siegel + Gale; Tony Pace, founder of Cerebral Graffiti and former CMO of Subway; Mark Flaharty, chief operating officer, Advertising, SundaySky; Jim Lecinski, VP, U.S. Sales and Service, Google; Richard Lenny, chairman, Information Resources Inc.; and Pam Wickham, VP, corporate affairs and communications, Raytheon Company.

With the rapid advancements in marketing technology and the ability to target individual preferences with greater precision than ever before, marketers face new challenges – and opportunities – in engaging consumers in meaningful ways.

The Notre Dame CMO Marketing Summit gathered marketing executives and practitioners from myriad pockets of the profession to share their views of the latest trends and to let attendees exchange insights with some of the top experts in the field.

“The Marketing Department has been working with alumni and practitioners over the past several years to develop a working relationship that would benefit students, faculty and the alumni,” said Timothy Gilbride, associate professor and Notre Dame Chair in Marketing at Mendoza, in an email. “These annual meetings have made connections between students and professionals in marketing as well as resulted in research projects for faculty. This year we wanted to create an event that would draw alumni and CMOs to campus who otherwise would not have the time in their schedules to participate in one of our other events.”

Speakers shared key nuggets of inspiration for peers, professors and students in the room. Wickham, for example, spoke of the importance of humanizing a brand—even a brand as seemingly unapproachable as Raytheon. Meanwhile, Spotify’s Farbman shared his perspective on the importance of balancing data and creativity in developing an articulate brand story and creating meaningful marketing: “The best use of data is to help create personal narratives,” he said.

“Organizations are fundamentally data-rich and insights poor,” added Pace, of Cerebral Graffiti. And that can be a hindrance, especially when, as Molloy explained in a panel discussion, “today, brand is about action, while still being about consistency, quality and being interesting.”

IRI’s Lenny called upon all CMOs to deliver against three success criteria: alignment, engagement and relevance. Relevance, of course, as well as authenticity, came up several times during the event, as those are at the crux of meaningful marketing. “One of the biggest mistakes you can make with your marketing is to have it write a check your brand can’t cash,” Google’s Lecinski said.

One of the most arresting comments came from TD Ameritrade’s Karkos: “You have to hold up a mirror to your brand and make sure the inside matches the outside.” That’s because, in an era of transparency and accessibility, meaningful marketing comes from brands that live their promise, inside and out.

And in outlining the reinvention of the GE brand, Boff explained, “Our rallying cry needs to be, ‘how do we create customer experiences that really touch people?’”

The event was open to all Notre Dame students, faculty, staff and alumni, as well as members of the community. The goal was to work to build enthusiasm for a profession at a time when it faces fierce competition from other rapidly evolving business areas.

“It is inspirational for our students to hear from someone like Denise Karkos who was a marketing major and a Notre Dame alumae who rose to the top of her profession,” Gilbride added. “Hearing Pam Wickham describe her efforts to ‘market’ Raytheon to the current and future generation of engineers broadens our students perspective on the role of marketing in a variety of organizations. And then of course someone like Seth Farbman from Spotify speaks both to a product and service that students can relate to and an industry (tech/entertainment) in which many students would like to participate,” he said.

“As students ‘slog’ through homework, exams, group projects, etc. seeing successful alums and CMOs help to motivate them and remind them of the reason they find a career in marketing attractive.”

Note: This article by Jennifer Rooney, Forbes CMO Network editor, originally was published on