Deloitte’s First CMO Walks in No One’s Footsteps

Hal Conick
Marketing News
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Key Takeaways

​What? Diana O'Brien has taken the reins as the first CMO of Deloitte after working for the company since 1985.

So what? O'Brien's role has evolved. Data has become central to her decision-making process.

Now what? O'Brien says omni-channel is non-negotiable and CMOs must strive to add value and exceed expectations.

​Jan 27, 2017

Diana O’Brien, Deloitte’s first CMO, is still trying to bring disparate organizations within Deloitte together, but she’s thought a lot about data, robots, social employees and how to differentiate experiences


There’s no pressure to follow in anyone’s footsteps for Diana O’Brien. She’s taken the reins as Deloitte’s first CMO. It’s a different job than O’Brien expected, as the majority of her focus for nearly two years has been on breaking down disparate silos within Deloitte.

It seemed natural to her to bring the silos under one umbrella, O’Brien says, but, “what I didn’t appreciate when we first started was how powerful an engine we would be in championing our clients by capitalizing on the powers we have now that we’ve brought some of these groups together.”

O’Brien became CMO in March 2015 after working for Deloitte in various roles since 1985. She has pushed out new campaigns, adopted new data technologies and served as the voice of the customer in Deloitte’s C-suite. Marketing News spoke with O’Brien about her time as CMO thus far and her plans for the future. 

Q: How has your role at Deloitte evolved?

A: I’ve had a long career at Deloitte. I joined our consulting practice in 1985. For most of my career, I’ve served clients, so I’m a very client-oriented CMO. Five years ago, I took the responsibility to build Deloitte University. That’s our leadership center in West Lake, Texas, for all of our professionals to invest in their development and create an environment where they not only will be given the opportunity to grow their leadership skills, but to concentrate and spark ideas with clients and their colleagues. That’s a touchstone of our culture today. That was an incredible experience that was unexpected in my career, as was becoming the CMO.

Q: It seems like each company has its own definition of what a CMO is. What’s your vision for CMO at Deloitte?

A: We define my role as a champion for clients and a driver of growth. We have a responsibility to build Deloitte’s reputation, and we do that by creating powerful experiences, unique insights and, ultimately, building lasting relationships with our clients. In my organization, I have a number of leaders that have market eminence and industry sector eminence who are bringing the insights to our clients to help them solve issues that they face.

When you couple what they do—which is build solutions—with the brand, [Deloitte’s] creativity and innovative mindset, our policy understanding, corporate citizenship and investment, all of those things really create a differentiated experience. That’s what enables us to help the business grow.

Q: Are you able to work easily with other executives in the C-suite? That has been a challenge for many marketers.

A: I wouldn’t say that’s been my experience at all. There are some CMOs who are unfamiliar with sitting in the C-suite, but at Deloitte we view marketing as a growth driver, not a cost center. I’m solving problems with my colleagues. I connect the dots across what our customers need the most, what our brand needs in the market place and what our chief talent officer and risk officer might say our conduct would be. I’m connected to every part of the C-suite. The advantage the CMO has, if they embrace it, is that they are closest to the customer. They have the deepest insights and they have the people and relationships to be in touch with the marketplace and understand what’s needed. If they can translate that into the language of their C-suite peers, they become an invaluable resource for problem solving and ensuring the experiences defined in the brand are what they create. 

Q: You’re able to be an advocate for the Deloitte customer?

A: That’s what any good CMO really is: the advocate for the customer. That’s relatively new. It started to change in the last couple of years. CMOs have been embraced and [companies see] them as someone who can solve problems and unite the C-suite, rather than being tactical.

Q: Tell me about your new “Look Again” ad campaign and your acquisition of creative ad agency Heat?

A: Heat was an acquisition we made at the end of [2015]. It’s a tremendous asset that allowed us to become closer to a full-digital agency. We always had a strong practice in supporting [marketing], but we didn’t have the advertising component. Being a chief storyteller is a big part of what you need to have in order to serve as CMO. Our acquisition of Heat was critical for this.

We have a long history based on trust and integrity, but we also have a very large practice that helps transform businesses to be more innovative and insightful. We weren’t as well-known for that, and we wanted to establish a creative platform that helps us communicate that to our clients as well as to our professionals. We formed an agency model within our own organization to take full advantage of Heat. We wanted to eat our own dog food. What we’re advising our clients to do and what we want to do ourselves [is use] 


 Look Again - Lemons


Heat, our digital agency, to help us craft a creative platform for our future. It’s a creative platform to emotionally connect to how we behave in the marketplace and arrive at some of the best solutions that our clients need. “Look Again” was our first foray into TV advertising in a while. It’s the essence of what Deloitte is looking at. We will look further to find the solutions you need. We will look within, we’ll look behind, we’ll look forward, we’ll look around to give our people the tools to ensure our clients are moving forward with things that are important to them. TV wasn’t the only thing we did; it was a piece of the story.

Q: TV advertising has dropped off a bit in recent years, but advancements are still being made in the use of customer data and segmentation. As CMO, how do you make use of data?

A: Every company is a data company. Every company is a technology company. We’re all rich with data, and we all have many different kinds of technology. The key is to use the data and the technology to create meaning and understanding, so you can make choices and decisions and be more proactive in satisfying your clients’ expectations. You can be overwhelmed by data, and it can overtake you, but the key is to stay focused on the problems you’re trying to solve and your goals. Then, you can organize and synthesize data in ways that give insight around your customer’s behavior and preferences. You understand performance more deeply and you get real-time feedback on your brand KPIs. That’s what allows you to exceed your customers’ expectations.

Q: When searching for customer insights, marketers have different philosophies. Some start with a problem, some go fishing for insights. What route do you take?

A: You have to be scientific about it​. You have to know the problems you’re solving and organize data to answer those questions. You have to look at data in a holistic way and look at surface trends. Both are important. Those trends can tell you things that you might not be thinking about when you’re just focused on solving a problem, such as “What are the preferences of this client segment over that segment?” When you look at trend data, you can see that people who buy “this” tend to buy “that.” Those are things you might not have asked a question about. We use data scientists, research and analytics to look at the data, so you can find different answers depending on where you’re looking.

Q: How do you navigate omni-channel marketing at Deloitte?

A: Omni-channel is a non-negotiable. You have to be where your clients are, and you have to deliver consistently to them. We understand that you no longer create a relationship with your clients by just having in-person relationships. That’s still important, and we don’t diminish that, but there are digital and social aspects we have to embrace. You have to use digital, social and physical in combination. It’s not to say you invest in all of them equally. You have to start with where your clients are, what’s needed to bring solutions to that segment and how to optimize that channel for that particular client segment. That’s how you meet expectations in ways that are value-creating. You’re giving it to them in ways they can digest and they most want to experience.

Q: Are there other ways to get in touch and stay in touch with customers?

A: We have a number of programs that focus on the customer experience. We bring together the physical and the virtual, engaging the customers throughout. We might use virtual reality to help them experience something. Customers will be in the physical setting and we may be able to have a facilitated dialog right there. We have robots we’re testing now that we put into individual sessions. If I’m in an immersive session with someone, the robot can be present and it could bring people, say a certain executive from one market or an executive from Asia or Europe, into that setting in that moment, and allow you to engage with them. That’s the real-time feedback that executives have received when we create these personalized experiences our clients are interested in.

Q: What’s the most important thing you’d like to see accomplished as CMO?

A: The legacy I’d like to leave is for all 80,000 professionals at Deloitte to be unleashed as ambassadors of who we are, what we are and be able to express that in the marketplace every time they’re interacting with our clients. My No. 1 job is to make sure they’re all ambassadors of our brand.

Q: Is that tough to do? Everyone has a different personality, so I imagine it takes a certain level of trust.

A: It definitely takes trust, but in the 24/7, unscripted world you have to trust people to make the most of every moment and make extraordinary experiences. Our purpose is to make an impact that matters; we want you to make an impact that matters with our clients, our people and within the communities where you live.

We’ve conducted enough research to know there are behaviors that we respond to and bring out when we’re at our best. Things like walking in someone else’s shoes and showing empathy. You understand through the client’s eyes. You ask questions that demonstrate that you understand and you’re willing to listen and lean into their issues. Another is to show up and be fully present—physically, emotionally and intellectually. Show undivided attention. Get into the trenches with them. Get on a plane if need be. Be there for them if they need you. These are things that I think stem from personality. They stem from behaviors of the kind of culture you want to have and the kind of people you want to be around.

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Author Bio:
Hal Conick
Hal Conick is a staff writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @HalConick.
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