CMO 2.0 Conversation with Peter Mahoney, CMO at Nuance

Written by on March 11, 2013 – 4:30 pm -

Peter Mahoney, the CMO at Nuance, and I have been crossing paths on and off for the past few years in social media. So, it was great to finally speak in person and prove to one another that we were in fact not social media bots.

After getting a degree in Physics, Peter started his career in marketing and sales at IBM, even though that was the furthest from his aspirations at the time he started to work. After stints at PictureTel he ended up with Nuance, where he has been for the past nine years — seeing it grow from $150M in revenue to more than $2B in revenue this year.

Peter believes that marketing has become more strategic in the past few years — especially in the tech sector, where it had not been seen as a strategic piece of the business on par with some others. It has also become much more technical — involving optimization, lot’s of data, and digital capabilities. However, fundamentally, marketing is still about connecting people with the right product.

Even in B2B environments, marketers need to realize that it is people who are buying products, not companies. Another huge change in marketing has been caused by social media, which allows a marketer to have a different and deeper kind of conversation with their customers. It also allows your customers to have conversations about you without you being there. In fact, engaging in social conversations may be the biggest sea change in the marketing mix.

Nuance has grown primarily through acquisitions, and in the nine years that Peter has been there, there have been around 65 acquisitions. The good news of being in constant integration mode is that there is a good relationship between marketing and IT — a requirement for success as marketing is becoming more and more technical. That being said, marketers also need to beef up their technical capabilities internally.

Part of Nuance’s brand is to humanize technology — they sell, after all, technology that can hear, talk, reason at some level, see you, and have memory and context, — so having a humanized brand, especially the ability to listen to social conversations, comes almost natural to them — it’s part of their DNA.

The role of marketers has really shifted to one of being connectors rather than communicators. Marketers no longer need to consider themselves the spokespeople of the company in market place but instead need to think of themselves as the company advocate within the company.

When it comes to branding, companies need to be honest — and honesty means many different things. It is about connecting the right audience with the right product — not some kind of made up hyperbole. Marketers need to communicate very precisely what the product or service does in the terms that are interesting and relevant to their audience. Honesty is also something marketers need to have when engaging in social media conversations — which at scale are really good at outing falsehoods.

Next we talked about the importance of culture in marketing — both employee culture and consumer culture. As many other CMO’s I interviewed recently, Peter is convinced that there cannot be a dissonance between the internal employee culture and what the brand stands for. You cannot come up with a brand attribute and make it happen — it has to be part of your true essence and your values for it to be perceived as real in the marketplace.

The way Nuance deals with the various cultures that come through acquisitions is by celebrating diversity — including diversity of culture — as part of their culture. They don’t try to strip new groups of their personality or their individual group culture, but they instead understand how that links to the overall corporate message and culture. Peter compares it to marrying into a family that comes from a different culture — you do not want to completely throw out the old culture. You want to bring it along and add it to the mix and change it a little, but also recognize the fact that there’s this broader thing that has a set of values and a culture that they are interested in.

Other things that we discussed include:

  •  The importance to having a good core set of technical vendors as partners to marketing.
  • Understanding the role of the marketer in social conversations — when to engage and when not to.
  • The changing role of content marketing in the age of social recommendations.
  • The challenges for marketers that have products embedded in other people’s solutions.
  • The future applications of speech recognition, and the possibilities that open up when you combine speech recognition with data.
  • How to walk the fine line of promoting “do good” applications as part of your marketing mix when you in fact help people with disabilities and other impairments.
  • What to do when the culture of partners is different from your own culture.
  • The importance of understanding consumer cultures as part of marketing.


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