Skip to main content

Jim Davey has led marketing at Hasbro, Timberland, and Paramount Consumer Products, among others. Now, the former CMO is teaching graduate students what he’s learned. We picked his brain about the changing dynamics of marketing organizations and tried to steal a few lessons from the class he is teaching to the marketing professionals of tomorrow.

“To me, the headline for a marketer today, across any business, is complexity,” says Jim Davey, a 30-year marketing professional who has served as the CMO or senior vice president of marketing for iconic brands such as Hasbro, Timberland, and Paramount Consumer Products. From his days as a brand manager for LEGO in the mid-1990s to marketing leadership roles at Nickelodeon, Davey has seen his chosen profession evolve dramatically and rapidly. Regardless of the industry—whether it’s been toys or “Timbs”—he’s witnessed firsthand how new platforms, greater data, and increased personalization are demanding more varied skills and creating more areas to manage.

“There’s one specific development that has created overwhelming complexity for marketers at all levels, and that is how we’ve now scattered to millions of digital channels to view and engage with content versus just a few channels, which used to be the norm,” says Davey, who now runs his own marketing consulting group from Massachusetts. “The number of diverse channels we now must feed has driven the need for massive, specialized content development and distribution, more detailed analytics on media spending and optimization, and extra focus on the many shopper personas and journeys.”

Davey says this complexity requires specific strategies and frameworks to manage so that marketers can focus on the areas that will add the most value. It also means the skill sets required to staff a marketing team have expanded from primary core marketing skills and abilities to areas such as e-commerce, Amazon, performance marketing, fast-turn content production, social platform management, digital tools, and vendors.

“The list seems to expand every year,” Davey says. “And AI integration is on deck.”

His credentials as a marketing leader would be reason enough for an interview, but we also wanted to chat with Davey because he is now sharing his knowledge with future marketing pros. In 2022, he began serving as an adjunct lecturer for the MBA program at his alma mater, Boston College. We cornered him when he wasn’t teaching or consulting to ask him how the marketing profession has changed during his career and to see if we could pilfer a bit of new knowledge from what he’s imparting to the master’s students in his Strategic Brand Management course.

Q:  You posted on LinkedIn recently about something that many of our readers can likely identify with—the propensity for marketing to inadvertently become complicated. In order to align on target, relevance, positioning, competitive set, and differentiators, you stressed the importance of asking yourself two questions: “Why do they need it?” and “Why do they need it from me?” But what do you think is often the cause of this inadvertent complexity?

Jim Davey:  I continue to see this play out in my consulting practice where I see companies with differing views of the brand’s strategy struggle with misaligned campaigns and executions. It happens when new strategies are layered on top of current strategies on top of core strategies and then wrapped in overarching strategies, like a big burrito. That causes complexity when there needs to be prioritization. It’s like building a house where there are so many changes by so many parties over time that you can hardly recognize the initial blueprint and what was intended.

Q:  Beyond asking those two simple questions you mentioned, what’s the solution to better prioritization?

JD:  During my time across six companies during my career, I developed a process called the Brand Blueprint. The goal is to focus on how to align teams—product, marketing, retail, sales—in which customers matter, how we serve them, and how we win through differentiation. The Brand Blueprint links research and analysis to brand positioning to brand actions, so that everyone in the organization understands the path forward. Essentially, it’s an aligned brand strategy. Then, there’s at least something to check back to as new product, marketing, or distribution decisions are made to ensure consistency and make sure the blueprint is a working document.

Q:  The MBA students in your Strategic Brand Management course at Boston College are preparing for careers in client- and agency-side marketing, as well as building, improving, analyzing, and buying and selling brands. What’s different about the students you teach today compared to when you started your career?

JD:  Having grown up in a world where new information or specific answers are just a few clicks away, today’s students have far greater knowledge about the world, brands, marketing, and culture than previous generations. They’re also used to frictionless and efficient online experiences as companies like Google, Amazon, and Apple keep raising the bar. The result is that they really know how to get things done efficiently. The challenge is knowing when to slow down, spend time [with], and dig deeper into areas that need more focus. One example is in communication skills like writing, responding, conversing, and presenting. It’s so turnkey and efficient in so many ways now, but the best students are taking the time to learn how to be great communicators both on- and offline.

Q:  In your course, you teach what you say are the “core elements” of brand management and the art and science that go into it. How did that art/science balance change how you led brands in recent years?

JD:  It absolutely affected how I led brand marketing. The idea of art and science has never been more important, with the science side accelerating and pivoting every year. Where this has the biggest implication for a brand leader is the makeup of the team. With the exploding complexity and new skills needed, it’s hard for one leader to have deep experience in dozens of areas, so the key is shaping the team so that there is expertise in all the right areas. The leader’s role is then threefold: ensuring they have enough understanding of each area to help set strategies, bringing all the pieces together with the right mix of art and science, and getting the internal resources and alignment needed to be successful.

Q:  On that note, how did the structure of your brand teams evolve in recent years?

JD:  This goes back to our earlier discussion of transformation. Marketing and brand teams have transformed to mirror changing consumer wants and needs. As consumers get their content and make their purchase decisions across multiple channels, marketing teams have expanded to show up where their customers and prospects are. So that does mean more expertise in influencer/social marketing, digital advertising, content creation, and analytics to understand if we’re making the right media and creative choices. It’s also “producers” in smaller companies who can do a little of everything.

Q:  You have a section in your course about managing brands across countries and cultures. This is an area that some of today’s working professionals might have had to learn on the fly as the world got more connected during their careers. Can you offer any advice to those people based on what you are imparting to your students in this area?

JD:  In some places, global brand management is an entire course, so there’s a lot there, but one of the things we focus on is how to identify where on the spectrum you want to be in your strategy—from fully global to fully local. As with every other part of marketing, it comes back to understanding your consumers. If they use the product in similar ways and have similar needs, you have the potential for a very efficient global model where you can leverage the same products and marketing assets around the world. Apple iPhones or LEGO toys are good examples of this. If consumer wants and needs are different around the world, locally driven strategies are going to be important. Food or leisure or household products, which tend to vary more across countries, are examples of this. The key is always understanding which elements of the marketing mix should be global and which should be local.

Q:  I saw in your course syllabus that you have a module about how consumer values are shifting every year. How do you think young marketers need to prepare for this reality as they enter the workforce?

JD:  The key is always being obsessed with how consumers are changing and the implications for your business. That needs to be part of your DNA as a marketer because the company expects you to be looking around the corner at what’s next. Who knew that people would pay real money for digital items in a digital world, buy a car online, or choose a brand based on its values? Without consistently checking in with consumers, you’re in danger of missing these changing signals. Glossier, the beauty company that launched in 2014, is a prime example of this. They have managed to maintain a strong and clear brand strategy, but they also have demonstrated an ability to pivot as commercial and consumer needs change. Look at IKEA, another brand we study. They have upended what constitutes “value” while somehow getting consumers to do the work of assembling their own furniture.

Q:  I read somewhere that a surprising percentage of young people today want to have a career as an influencer. Are your students curious about this burgeoning influencer marketing world?

JD:  It’s definitely a thing, especially in the world of marketing. And it seems like a pretty cool gig—make fun content, get brands to pay you, and have a flexible life. I just don’t think we know yet what an “influencer life cycle” looks like. Will you be as popular five years from now? Can you keep making hundreds of pieces of successful, engaging content each year? And how will TikTok affect the model, since you’re often following your interests versus specific people? We’ll see . . .

Q:  I’m curious about multichannel creative development. What does multichannel creative development mean to a graduate student in 2023 and into the future?

JD:  It means understanding and managing what I call the “content supply chain.” We now think of supply chain with regards to products: get orders from retailers (or consumers), figure out what factory to make them in, make a quality product, then ship the right products to the right places. We need the same mentality for content: figure out what to make based on consumer needs (ads, videos, social, e-com), figure out where to make it (internal, external, local), then send customized assets to the many distribution points for consumption (social platforms, streaming TV, YouTube, Amazon). Marketers who can help make the content supply chain work will be in demand.

Q:  You are currently working on a book about marketing efforts that have gone awry. Can you explain the project?

JD:  There are zillions of books and articles and videos about “best practices” and “success stories,” but very little on marketing mistakes. Unlike the medical community or the engineering community or the military, we don’t seem to share and learn from our mistakes, so we end up repeating them with each generation. The book will be based on interviews with marketers who have a combined 1,000+ years of experience and are sharing their marketing miscues (anonymously) and analyzing what they would have done differently. Hopefully, we can all learn from these stories and not make the same mistakes ourselves.

Q:  Do you feel there is more to learn from the moments that go awry?

JD: Absolutely. But when they happen to you, it could be devastating to your business, your clients, and your career. Sometimes they are unrecoverable, so why not learn from someone else’s mistakes and still get the learnings, the way doctors and engineers do? To learn from mistakes doesn’t mean it has to be your mistake.

Q:  What have you uncovered in the interviews thus far? Any teases you can give us?

JD:  One thing I can tell you already is that most of the 100 marketing mistake stories I’ve heard so far track back to six or seven different root causes. If we can have our radar up for those situations, I think we can eliminate a lot of marketing fails, misspent budgets, corporate frustration, and personal heartache. Stay tuned . . .

Q:  Where can we follow the book’s development?

JD:  You can follow me at for updates on the book and more marketing-related thoughts.

Back to Basics: Jim Davey’s 3 Questions for Marketers to Ask Themselves

Having worked in leadership marketing roles for entertainment, outdoor, and toy brands, I’m often asked how my approach changed when I moved from one industry to another. Of course, each industry (and brand) has its own unique challenges and opportunities, but there are three brand-building questions I always asked myself regardless of the industry I was in or the brand we were building.

  1. Who are we for? It’s amazing how much misalignment and confusion there can be inside a brand about the customers you want to be targeting.
  1. What do we know about them? Without this detailed information, no marketing or product or retail plan can be successfully created.
  1. How are we relevant and different? You absolutely must understand the positioning of your brand—product, service, marketing, and experience—in a way that is relevant to the audience and differentiated from competition.

These are easy questions to ask, but usually difficult to answer unless you have the core consumer research to prove (or disprove) your hypotheses. If you are at a crossroads on your own brand-building work, try starting with these basics.

This article originally appeared in FULL CIRCLE as syndicated content and is subject to copyright protections. All rights reserved. Image(s) used under license from Shutterstock.