An interview with Morgan Gardner, CMO of Fishbowl.
In July 2022, Fishbowl brought on Morgan Gardner as Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) to build and lead a rockstar team in transforming the company’s brand. As a seasoned leader with a customer-centric, data-driven approach to marketing strategy, Morgan is helping Fishbowl deliver and serve its customers at the highest levels.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Morgan on her career experience as well as her journey as Fishbowl’s CMO. This is part one of a two -part series with Morgan, as she will not only talk about her expertise, but also the importance of having a high-performing team to lead a brand transformation, strategic advice for small to mid-sized business (SMB) leaders, and industry trends she sees unfolding in 2023 and the years to come.
Thank you so much for doing this! Before we dig in, can you give us a glimpse of what you love about the culture at Fishbowl?
Fishbowl loves a good office prank – I’ve had the privilege of being on both the pranking and receiving end of these pranks. I can personally attest to picking up 25,000 pennies spread across my office floor.
I’ve never worked in an office with more access to snacks and food. We joke that working at Fishbowl comes with a salary and a meal plan. It’s a regular struggle to not wander into one of the office kitchens and walk out with a handful of sour patch kids.
The people at Fishbowl are truly incredible – when I walked in on my first day, and really every day since, I have felt genuinely loved and cared for by my co-workers. It’s an incredibly rare culture filled with compassion, empathy, laughter, and fun, alongside some powerhouse business partners and mentors.
Fishbowl has brought you in as the CMO to build up a brand-new marketing team and implement a brand-new strategy. How’s that process been for you?
It’s been extremely challenging, but also very rewarding. It was a clean slate for the Fishbowl Marketing team. Once we had restructured and built out the team, had our optimal technology stack in place, and our data properly tracking and providing visibility into channel performance and funnel conversion, we were able to really set the vision for how we would scale our efforts, where we would invest our spend, and how we would measure success.
Now a year later, we have learned so much, and are excited about the road ahead.
Can you walk us through your first steps in building a brand strategy from scratch and what key areas you focus on?
While each company I’ve worked with has been unique, the first few steps are usually the same in the onboarding process and transformational marketing work.
The first step is really centered around learning and asking questions. This step is imperative and often overlooked by leaders in new roles who are eager to create immediate and measurable value to the business.
From there, I like to create a strategy for how we will approach the key operational components:
People: Who do I have on the team, what roles do I need on the team? How junior or senior is the talent, are they coachable, are they in the right role to maximize their potential?
Systems: Do we have the right systems in place to optimize our work efforts, communication, and data tracking? If we do, what clean-up work is needed to make sure we can track the data we need, and if we don’t, what systems do we need to consider ensuring we can operate with complete visibility and efficiency?
Process: Do we have a clearly defined and fully operational process for how we manage our strategy work, tactics, team collaboration, roles, and responsibilities?
Metrics: What can we measure today? Is it accurate? Do we trust it? Can we take action against it? What do we need to be able to measure and how do we optimize our people, process, and systems to produce better performance outcomes as shown by the metrics?
SMBs navigate through a complex and ever-changing business landscape, and the role of a CMO is becoming more pivotal to a company’s success. Can you tell us how you view this role and talk a little bit about the main responsibilities of a CMO at an SMB?
The need to have a defined marketing strategy and a deep understanding of your customers and competitive landscape is what matters most.
While business landscapes will change and marketing tactics will become more advanced, knowing your customer and how your product fits their unique needs, compared to your competitors, is truly the foundation of a marketing strategy.
As a CMO at a growth-focused SaaS SMB, my core responsibilities over the last year have been:
- Building a high-preforming marketing team; hiring the right people with the right skills to help prepare us for scaled growth.
- Understanding the business holistically and how each department supports an ideal customer journey.
- Evaluating the potential strategy for global expansion into new markets.
- Understanding our customers, our competitors, and how we position ourselves correctly in the market to be the best fit product for our ideal customers.
From strategic product direction, sales growth, brand awareness, and attracting investments. What do you think is the most critical role of a CMO?
Product Positioning. If your product is not positioned correctly, your marketing will not be as impactful, or even successful, and your sales team will struggle to sell the value of the product to your customers.
For the last few questions of the interview, I wanted to get a little bit more personal and get Morgan’s take on female leadership, personal challenges, and advice for other current and future CMOs.
The average age of a CMO is 39 years old. Can you share with us what it’s like to be a young executive and the challenges you’ve had to overcome along the way?
It’s amazing how much your age plays a factor in how people perceive you and your intelligence.
Many people assume that because you are younger, you likely don’t have the necessary experience needed to fit the bill. During my first year as a CMO, I’ve had a number of video calls and face-to-face interactions where I can tell that people are surprised when this younger CMO is addressing them, and candidly, I love it.
For most of my life, I have been intrinsically motivated to prove people wrong when they doubt me or my abilities. I am extremely competitive and there is something that fuels me when I get the sense that someone thinks I am not capable of doing something.
When it comes to marketing, and being a younger than average CMO, I believe my work speaks for itself, and the data shows the success of the work outputs. While I cannot control what people might think of me or my age and how that correlates to my ability to successfully do the role, I can control how I respond, how I build and motivate my team, how I foster my continued personal growth.
According to demographics and statistics only 32% of all CMOs are women, what advice would you give to other women in tech looking to grow as leaders?
Being a woman in leadership is extremely attainable and something women should never count themselves out for. No matter what your career aspirations are, it’s important that women know that when you have a seat at the table, you should never question if you deserve to be there.
Ask the hard questions, challenge the status quo, and don’t be afraid to push back on things that feel wrong or strategically off course. And if you are still fighting for your seat at the leadership or strategy table, keep pushing.
Hard work rarely goes unnoticed by great leaders. Align yourself with mentors who believe in your abilities and can help you grow and learn, so that when the opportunity presents itself, you are ready.
In your opinion, what specific traits make a successful CMO? How do you work to inspire this new marketing team that you have built at Fishbowl?
I think this is a great question for my marketing team to answer. But I will do my best to answer this one.
When it comes to the marketing team we have built at Fishbowl, I have truly never had more fun or been prouder to lead a collective group of amazing and deeply talented people.
When I took the job at Fishbowl, I wanted the team we built to never dread coming to work on Monday.
One of our core values at Fishbowl is centered around leading with truth and love, and I deeply believe that you cannot have one without the other.
As leaders, we sometimes forget that while we are trying to hit our numbers, drive revenue, manage budgets, prepare for board meetings, and motivate a team, our employees have lives, families, hobbies, passions, and sometimes, unfortunately, health issues.
No matter if you are the CMO, or a Marketing Specialist just starting out, I think leading with empathy, and remembering that we are all just people doing the best we can each day really helps keep things in perspective, while also driving desired results.
What advice would you give a new CMO stepping into a team embarking on a full marketing and brand rebuild?
Start with the data and talk to your customers. I cannot stress these two things enough, as they have helped us more than any playbook or strategy ever could.
The data is the truth behind how things are actually going from an operational standpoint and creates a roadmap of changes that have to occur to unlock the next phases of growth. Talking to your customers tells you the truth about how they perceive you, how they feel about your brand, and how well the product actually delivers the value you are marketing.
I have been so lucky to get to spend time with some of our customers in their warehouses, and their truthful feedback and amazing business stories are motivating and help remind me of the “why” behind it all.
Thank you for this fantastic interview, Morgan. We look forward to spending time with you soon for part 2 of this series.