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Interview

The CMO Files: Neil Cohen, Vice President, Marketing, Visage Mobile

Get inside the mind of the world's top marketing professionals. In 20 questions we find out what they love most about their job, what their biggest achievements are... and what keeps them awake at night. Read 'The CMO Files'...

 

Name: Neil Cohen

Organisation: Visage Mobile, San Francisco State University

Job title: Vice President, Marketing, & Sr. Lecturer (Adjunct Professor)

Location: San Francisco, CA

 

(1) Where were you born and raised?
I was born in NY, NY – moved to the suburbs – North Miami Beach, FL, when I was 10. That said I consider myself a Californian now -- I’ve been here since I was 22 -- so 33 years.

(2) What was your first job?
Lifeguard – I hated to swim, but it beat bussing tables or working retail and paid 3 times as much.   Plus you are in the sun all day, get to cool off in the pool, and the dress code was awesome.

(3) What was the first product you got really excited about?   
When I was growing up, the space race was all the rage.  I was crazy about anything the astronauts would eat – so I would ingest tons of Tang and these Space Stick snacks which in retrospect were just awful.  

(4) Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
Would have to be my Dad.  He’s 83 and still working at sales, plus he umpires softball games three nights a week.   He has an amazing work ethic.  Better yet, he has a positive outlook on life that is infectious.  If you ask my dad how he’s doing, he will always say “Terrific,” – and he means it.

(5) What has been your greatest achievement?
Probably having both me and my 14 year old making it this far.  More seriously – I’m proud of the work/life balance I’ve been able to achieve.   Career is important and I love my work – but I’d like to think I’m better defined by my family and friends than by my career.
From a career perspective -- I’m extremely proud of what my team at Visage has done this past year in creating an effective and efficient lead generation program.   I know that doesn’t sound sexy – but with limited resources we built from scratch and then launched a program around marketing automation and content just over a year ago – and the hard work has paid off handsomely.   We have not only increased the number of leads dramatically (by a factor of 3X), but the quality has also improved.  

(6) What has been your biggest mistake?
It’s hard to pick because I’ve made so many.  Probably my biggest learning experience came early on in my career when I “volunteered” to take on more work than I could handle – and as a result -- missed a few important deadlines.   That’s when I finally learned to “manage up” and work with my bosses to create reasonable expectations for them and me in regards to what can be accomplished against a doable timeline. 

(7) What is your greatest strength?
I’ve always had this ability to “slow things down.”   I often tell my team – “don’t just do something, stand there.”  The gist of it is this – too often, everything is hair on fire, hurry up, it’s an emergency, just get it done.  I have a different philosophy, which is go slow to go fast.  Stop, breathe, think things through, understand the choices and the consequences, choose a path – then execute crisply.

(8) What is your biggest weakness?
I’ve always been direct and to the point.  That doesn’t work for everyone – or every organization.   I could probably use a bit more nuance in my communications every now and then – but at this point in my life, I’ve lost my filter.

(9) What do you think is the aspect of your role most neglected by peers?
I think the most neglected aspect of marketing is attaching all marketing activity to real revenue generation for the company.  If what you are doing doesn’t generate revenue – why bother.  I think many marketers equate activity and exposure to success—but at the end of the day, it’s about “did you hit your revenue numbers and your target margin.”  If you don’t agree -- ask the folks at Blackberry or Microsoft how their most recent product launches went.    

(10) Which word or phrase is your mantra and which word or phrase makes you squirm?
I’m actually laughing out loud because I’ve got a few one liners that my co-workers have an on-going tally of.
Two mantras I say all the time:
#1 The second hardest thing for a company to do is focus.  The hardest thing for them to do – is stay focused.
This one’s pretty self-explanatory.  Companies don’t focus very well on their core value proposition, be it in product development or marketing.  The best companies are laser focused against “one thing” and excel at it.
#2  I asked for the time, so don’t describe to me how the watch works.
Get to the point.  It’s hard to compress things and make them simple.  Most marketers these days are lazy – there isn’t an adjective or hyphenated word they can’t add to make a sentence or paragraph more complex. And use plain English – loose the jargon and industry speak.  No one will admit they don’t understand it, but they always appreciate a normal conversation without buzzwords.
As far as what makes me squirm – if I hear “we need to make this go viral” one more time…
Pair that with “what’s our social strategy?”  Social is a tactic, not a strategy.
Oh, and – “we need to get to a tipping point.”
Give all three a rest, folks. 

(11) What makes you stressed?
People I can’t rely on.

(12) What do you do to relax?
Soccer (or Football depending on what side of the pond you are on) is a passion.  I play on two teams – the competition keeps me sharp, the game itself keeps me in shape. 

(13) What is your favourite song?
Here Comes the Sun – Beatles

(14) Which book taught you most?
Would have to be two:
Different by Youngme Moon, and the recent Signal and Noise by Nate Silver.   Great books that transcend marketing and statistics and give insight into the people and world around us.  Different is a strong reflection on my philosophy about marketing.  And Silver’s new book is a must read for understanding how to best process data to reach better conclusions and predictions.

(15) Do you have a team or sport that you follow?
I’m a diehard San Francisco Giants fan, and love baseball.   What’s wonderful about baseball is anything can happen, and usually does.   You get your 27 outs, so you are always in the game till the last out is made.  I’m a bit obsessed – I live near the Giant’s ballpark and every morning when I run – I touch all five statues around the park (of our immortalized stars like Willie Mays)..  Been blessed with two championships in the last three years – but it looks like the Baseball gods are not looking kindly on us this year as we are at the bottom of the tables.

(16) Which country would you like to work in?
I can see myself in France or UK, or any place where I can wear flip flops every day.

(17) Which company do you think has the best marketing?
There is so much work to be admired – I’ll go with one of the biggest that I also think does it best – General Electric.  They have been amazingly consistent with their brand, and I love how it is focused around their people, the real engine of that company.  Owning “Imagination” is tough as a brand promise.   GE has found a way to make it part of their entire brand experience for consumers of their products as well as their employees. 

(18) What do you love most about your job?
Every day, I’m provided the opportunity to fail, or succeed – in other words – take smart risks to move the business forward.   I’m blessed with leadership that has faith in my judgement. 

(19) What is your favourite book?
High Fidelity by my favourite author, Nick Hornby.  Sadly, the mix tape has gone the way of the Dodo (sorry, but digital playlists just aren’t the same).

(20) What keeps you awake at night?
My 14 year old on social media.   Seriously, not much.   Life’s too short to fret about work and it’s not like our company has found the cure for cancer and must get the word out to save lives.  It’s enterprise software – so relax people.  And I don’t consider it work, anyway.   I love what I do and have an amazing team to work with.  


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