By Richard Silberman, Writer/Researcher, IBM Communications
Yuchun Lee knows about taking risks — and about winning. For seven years following college at MIT he was a member of the infamous MIT blackjack team, spending weekends in Las Vegas counting cards (it’s legal) and winning bundles.
During that same period, Lee and two partners started Unica Corp., a pioneer in marketing and analytics software. They bootstrapped the business (with no outside capital), built it into an industry leader and sold it to IBM in 2010 for about $500 million.
Today, as vice president of IBM’s Enterprise Marketing Management group, Lee has a lot to say about risk as he helps Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) worldwide understand the enormous gamble they’re taking if they fail to adapt — and fast — to the new age of marketing.
“The world is changing and the job of CMO is evolving in a very dramatic way,” Lee said. To succeed today, CMOs require a new way of thinking about marketing and a new model of customer engagement.
“Marketing is fast becoming less about selling than it is about servicing your client,” Lee said. “In fact, if you are successfully marketing today you ought to feel like a service.”
Helping CMOs navigate a new era
Lee is leading IBM’s efforts to reshape marketing by offering an enterprise marketing management (EMM) suite of solutions that lets companies better understand their customers and then deliver the relevant offers and personalized service they demand.
The EMM suite provides a system of engagement that collects and analyzes customer data from all customer interactions and integrates it into applications that execute highly-targeted marketing across online, social and mobile channels. When fully instrumented, a company can deliver a single, unified experience to each consumer.
“Any company that expects to survive in the future will need a system of engagement,” Lee said. “Marketing in this way is going to be a cornerstone of smarter commerce.”
In implementing an integrated system of engagement, Lee offers two pieces of advice that every CMO should take to heart.
“The number one requirement for a successful marketing transformation is that the CMO had better be talking to the CIO and both parties must be closely aligned to make this work,” Lee said.
“Secondly, you don’t need to buy the kitchen sink and do the whole transformation at once,” Lee said. “However, it’s essential to build a solution from a single provider and not take a piecemeal approach.”
“If you do it right, each phase will actually pay for itself,” Lee said.
Marketing transformation brings big returns
Enterprises that adopt a system of engagement can expect a sizable return, according to Lee. “We have hundreds of customers in highly competitive markets that are able to produce three to 10 times return based on systematically addressing the issues involved,” Lee said.
Considering this, Lee wonders why so many CMOs continue to drag their feet on marketing transformation.
“Frankly, by not moving forward quickly, a CMO is leaving money on the table and doing his company a disservice,” Lee said.
Lessons from blackjack, applied to business
The MIT blackjack team that Lee played on is the subject of both a book (Bringing Down the House) and, in broad strokes, a movie (21). But while Lee’s card-counting adventures make for great storytelling, the experience also served him well in practical terms.
“I learned to recognize and understand luck, skill, trends and adversity on a gut level,” Lee said. This insight proved invaluable as Lee built Unica from nothing and ran the company for nearly 20 years, surviving four recessions.
Lee sold Unica to IBM and joined the company because he saw the need for a major player to redefine the role of CMO, address key issues such as lack of standards, and establish best practices and new technologies.
“What IBM is doing right now for the CMO is basically what IBM did 20 years ago to help shape the job of CIO,” Lee said. “The amount of resources IBM is pouring into this space is just incredible.”