Silver Apples 2018
Presented in partnership with DMCNY
Meet the DMCNY 2018 Silver Apple Honorees
By Claudia Conlon | 10.16.18
Each year the DMCNY presents its highly distinguished Silver Apple Awards to several professionals who have at least 25 years in marketing and who not only have excelled in their careers, but also have generously contributed their talents and time to the marketing industry. We'll be introducing you to the 2018 honorees over the next few weeks, in advance of DMCNY's annual Silver Apples celebration on November 8 in New York. –Ginger Conlon
SVP and GM, Data Solutions
Inspired by the intersection of the art of marketing and the science of data, Tim Suther was drawn to the marketing industry from the start of his career. He has since dedicated more than three decades to being a leader in and an advocate for what he calls data-informed marketing.
Tim’s talent lies in translating marketing initiatives into real business results. He’s adept at using analytics and data-driven marketing to drive transformation and maximize commercial
and societal value—and has done so in various industries. Currently SVP at Change Healthcare, Tim’s previous roles include CMO of Acxiom, SVP at Metavante, and President of Protagona Worldwide. Suther’s influence on the industry is also evident through his work on DMA’s Board of Directors, the Board of Advisors for Loyalty 360, and the North American Advisory Board for the CMO Council.
Tim has received numerous awards, including ExecRank’s “Top CMO” in 2012, BlueFocus Marketing’s “Nifty50 Men in Technology,” and the CMO Club Presidents Award in 2015. These accolades attest to his successes as a data-driven marketer and the significance of his contributions to this industry.
In a conversation with MKTGinsight for DMCNY, Tim shared his career journey, advice, and insights.
What drew you to marketing?
I’ve always been technology oriented, from learning to code when I was 17 to graduating college with a finance degree. With that background, naturally, I was suspicious of marketing. A lot of marketing felt inauthentic and superficial to me. But I had this one moment where I actually saw a dynamic gains curve for the first time and I thought, “Oh my god, this is one of the most interesting things I've ever seen.” It was the intersection of the art of marketing and the science of data that really drew me in; and boy, did I get lucky on that one because that’s what it’s all about today.
Tell us about a particular career highlight or turning point.
When I think of what has inspired me over the years I often think about innovations that created value in a new way. For example, I was blessed back in the 1990s to work for a company that was at the forefront of campaign management, because now those principles of designing for audiences, having holdout groups, and creating systematic measurement are all commonplace. Later, at Axiom, we spent a lot of time helping offline marketers transform and transition their offline skills, assets, and strategies into the online world.
Now, what I'm doing is looking at new and interesting sources of behavioral data. It’s the ultimate dependent variable. People very rarely do what they say they're going to do, so behavior is the honest truth.
Those moments of innovation, when you see a circumstance that requires breakthrough thinking and you’re co-creating with customers to go to where no man has gone before, those are inspiring to me.
What excites you most about marketing right now?
The type of marketing that excites me today is those actions where you can draw a direct line between marketing initiatives and real business results. Over the years, there have been many times that, because it's so easy to measure something, we end up measuring the wrong thing. It takes some art to make sure that you’re measuring the right thing; that you’re measuring what matters. When you can directly connect marketing to a business result it creates a great opportunity for marketers.
What’s overhyped, and what’s being overlooked?
This might surprise you a little bit, but it annoys me when marketers say that they’re data-driven, because that’s like saying, "OK, it's time to turn off my brain and just let the data drive the story."
I think marketers are far better off when they are data-informed, where they’re combining what the data is telling them with their own business judgment to make the right decision. Human behavior is still too complicated to purely reduce to what an algorithm tells you to do; it has to be a combination of what the data is saying, creative savvy, and business judgment.
Share a treasured customer story.
I think the best ones are when you learn something along the way. Back in the day at Protagona Worldwide, we thought we had a better way of making predictions about the future. We were going to out-SaaS SaaS. But we found that nobody really wanted that. When we engaged with customers, they said, "Well, that's really interesting but can you spit out a holdout group for us? Can you make sure that it's statistically representative? Can you create an execution engine? Can you create reports?" What they were doing was specking out what today is campaign management.
The lesson that I like about that is you can go in with a theory about what a customer wants, but often you're wrong. And if you're attentive to what the customer is really telling you, it’s a moment that can spawn something incredible and creative that no one has done before.
Tell us a favorite story about data.
We were working with a large consumer electronics company, and we were trolling through our data looking for an insight that might determine whether someone is in market for a new phone.
We were doing some complex math we were all excited about to infer when consumers had initiated service with their telecommunications company. And when we presented it to our customer, they said, "That's interesting, but can't you just tell us if it's an old phone?" And I thought, "Here we go again." You have all these super-smart guys over-complicating the situation, when all you need to know is, how old is the device? That turned out to be a far more direct process.
So, you can have a theory about what the problem is and the best way to solve it. But listening to a customer can give this moment of revelation like, "Oh, yeah. That's what we should have done."
What advice do you have for someone who's just starting out in marketing?
I think success in life and success in the business world are both about being a problem solver. You have to be attentive to the problems that you want to solve. You have to stay hungry. You have to stay curious. You have to look for opportunities to connect things that have never been connected before. Solve real problems that matter to customers and that matter to your bosses. The more that you do that, the more you'll learn and the more successful you'll be.
What was the piece of business advice that you’ve received?
It’s on the importance of being humble: You're never as good as you think and you're never as bad as you think. You have to stay grounded; work hard, but be humble about it and don't believe your own hype.
What’s your go-to marketing metric?
What I'm sensitive to with marketing metrics is the difference between a business result and a KPI. Often in marketing, KPIs are presented as the end-all, be-all: We've driven engagement. We've driven recall. We’ve increased traffic. All of those things are just KPIs; they’re means to the end, but they're not the end.
I'm interested in results. Did it impact a business result that shows up on the income statement? Those are the measures that matter, but you can't have one measure in isolation. You do need to have KPIs that feed it. Those are the leading indicators of whether a business result is likely to be good or bad in the future, so they're important, just not the ultimate goal.
Share an inspiring quote or personal motto that guides you.
I try to default to happy. With all of life’s trials and tribulations, it’s easy to be the clouds on an otherwise sunny day. Sometimes when those trials and tribulations happen, they're really someone else's problem and you have to decide whether or not they're your problem. So, I try to default to happy.
Read about the other DMCNY 2018 Silver Apple honorees:
Anita Absey, Chief Revenue Officer, Voxy
Matt Blumberg, Chairman and CEO, Return Path
Pamela Haas, Senior Account Director, Experian Marketing Services
Keira Krausz, EVP and CMO, Nutrisystem
Advocacy Apple of Excellence: Stu Ingis, Chairman, Venable LLP
Disruptor Apple of Excellence: Bonin Bough, Founder & Chief Growth
Officer, Bonin Ventures; Investor; Host of CNBC's Cleveland Hustles;
Author of Txt Me (646) 759-1837
Corporate honoree: Winterberry Group
About the Author
Claudia Conlon is working as the research assistant for DMCNY's 2018 Silver Apple Awards. She's a senior studying Economics and Political Science at the University of Miami. Her wide-ranging work experience—from customer service to social marketing to event production—gives her a broad perspective on the interplay of consumers and businesses and how customer experience impacts the economy. This experience and her drive and desire to succeed makes her comfortable taking on new challenges.