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Q&A: Phil Clement, former Aon CMO, on the future of the marketing leader | B2B Marketing

Phil Clement, the former global CMO of Aon, shares his advice for aspiring marketing leaders

Phil Clement headshot

With more than 12 years at the helm of marketing for a Fortune 250 company, Phil Clement is a man worth listening to. Here’s what he said about the future of the CMO.

How did you start your career?

When I finished my MBA from the University of Chicago, there was a track that people like me were meant to follow. Starting your own firm as I did just wasn’t it. You were meant to join a big consultancy. But within a year the economy had dipped and many consultancies were struggling financially, while I had this nice little business.

That was a risky move. Is risk-taking something you advocate?

Many marketers are too afraid of risk, but the risk in not taking bold approaches is far higher. You just have to think deeply about those decisions, including the desired impact and the worst possible one. For example, if you can’t measure a project, try not to do it – there is too much pressure in marketing to take that route.

What advice do you have on making sure those risks are educated?

I always ask myself: ‘Have I spent enough time this month finding out what’s going on in the market?’ I like to spend at least 10% of my time understanding trends. Networking with those who are experimenting helps you avoid the challenges that others have come against. Everyone has other friends in marketing – some may have tried a bit of AI, another may have gone back to doing seminars. Getting that feedback from other practitioners is one of the best ways to experiment. The notion that you have to do it all yourself is quite flawed.

Which trends do you currently enjoy learning about?

I’m fascinated by brain science. Now we can watch how a brain reacts to advertising; whether it stores the memory in a place corresponding to rational thinking or emotion; which emotions elicit stronger memories. Now we know, scientifically, that love is stronger than hate – which is why we respond to the positive marketing of soft drinks, for example, and ignore the negative information we hear about them regarding our health.

Which trends should CMOs invest their budget on?

I haven’t found a marketing trick yet that has a long-term sustainable advantage, so you have to think for yourself to find new and alternative approaches. Right now there is a huge swing towards content but it remains to be seen whether brands will stay wedded to it. While I don’t think the pace of change is any different to how it’s been for the past 10 years, the potential for change is far greater. AI, for example, could change everything; literally turn everything upside down.

What about a new CMO – where should they invest first?

The first thing I would invest in is really understanding the company. Marketers tend look at their role as being all about marketing but often it’s not; it can be about HR or a financial strategy. You need to understand how marketing fits into the mix and best supports the company; ultimately it’s not about your department, it’s about what the board want to achieve.

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