CMOs who can’t upgrade their digital stack are screwed


An interview with CEO Leigh Gammons of digital agency, Tangent
By Magnolia Chief Evangelist, Rasmus Leth Skjoldan


It all starts by—you, the CMO—budgeting for the unexpected

This is Leigh Gammons. The new chief at digital agency, Tangent. He’s the former Global Lead for Experience Technology at WPP. And a former CEO of Wunderman Thompson’s commerce & technology business. That list of his goes on.

He has an important message to CMOs:

“It is surprising—with so much change that we've encountered over the last 10 years—that there is not a workstream in all enterprises for what we don't know about right now.”

“You're going to have to be more ruthless with your roadmap and your budget“


Leigh wants to help CMOs understand and navigate the digital experience landscape of 2023 and ‘24.

In our interview, he spoke of how his business has committed to planting trees to compensate for the cloud energy consumption stemming from the digital experiences they create. He wants you to understand the urgency of sustainable DX.

Yet, he also wants to help CMOs get the most out of their technology, finally get personalization under control; he helps identify what it is about the meager 30% of transformation projects that actually succeed have in common—and he speaks of the fury of executives today when they speak of their vendor lock-in.


As Leigh sits down, ready to voice his conclusions about what clients are going through and what they need the next 24 months, he is a confident character. He’s been around, seen it all, intimately understands his game—and he’s connected to CEOs of companies up to his eyeballs.

But first, let’s return to where CMOs lay the foundation for how they intend to win: By getting more clever with their budgets:

There's a real need for pragmatic delivery. Doing what we said we were going to do. Any kind of new ideas—our CFOs aren't going to listen until the second half of the year. You're going to have to be more ruthless with your roadmap and your budget. We've already seen that happen with Google Optimize being sunsetted. If that's not already on your roadmap, then you've not got budget to have a countermeasure. But it's happened.


The status quo—and how you drag yourself down—is laid out by Leigh, and it comes down to how enterprises function, with all their inherent complexity:

Particularly in enterprise businesses where I spent a lot of my time; we need to think first. Then we might have a business case. Then we'll pull together a budget. Then we'll get a team. And this all might take six months. Then we might start work. At which point we have missed the time to realize the value.

It’s about planning. We all know that. But to Leigh, speaking with countless executives about their 2023 and 24 plans, there’s an almost hidden recurring flaw in budgeting. About not setting aside enough for what you don’t yet know you need:

Having an operating model that is frank about the amount of change we're going to have to encounter. You can have the most perfectly made plan. But 20% is going to be different within the year you're trying to deliver. So build your budget around it.

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Go beyond sheer efficiency and budgeting with the former WPP executive—and you discover that the emerging priority of sustainable DX goes far deeper than you might think:

Bye bye, Dirty Platform

One of the most urgent topics that is under-discussed in digital experience and DX technology is how we get to more sustainable and greener systems.

With the increased amount of work going through cloud computing platforms, it's ended up overtaking commercial aviation and shipping, both individually. It's now about 3% of global emissions. The other two are about 2,5. It's only going to go up. We're putting more and more through these platforms: Now, computing power is going up with topics like generative AI.

It feels like we,  as an industry, are just sleepwalking into it.

Within Tangent, we changed our model. For every project we do, we will report on the carbon output of the experiences we're delivering. Because if you don't measure it, you can't do something about it. 

We have a pledge in our business that every go-live, we plant a number of trees.

Consumers can measure it really easy. There's a website called It measures the page you're looking at versus competitors. Gives you some comparable stats around carbon. Consumers will start looking at stuff like that more. They'll see whether you are putting your money where your mouth is.

Yet, the drive to push for more sustainable digital experiences is not only about his own company. It comes directly from customers, too:

We had a client that, as part of our deliverable, had a KPI that said that: On every homepage visit – get from 1.4 grams of carbon to 0.2 grams. That is an awesome KPI of a program.


We had a client that, as part of our deliverable, had a KPI that said that: On every homepage visit – get from 1.4 grams of carbon to 0.2 grams. That is an awesome KPI of a program. But I think that in future, that will be commonplace. People will be talking about it more. If it's not a KPI of your current program, then it really should be. It feels urgent. It feels like something that's underrepresented in our industry. But so many of the things we're doing could be accelerated to get us there faster.

Leigh even has a term for the kinds of platforms we now need to leave behind: He calls it the dirty platform. To any CMO seeing the opportunity for combining a sustainability agenda with the quality of digital experience, where do you start, you might ask. Here’s what Leigh says to help navigate this new topic:

I think the easiest way to think of it is storage, processing, transfer, and the size of data. So within all of that, am I storing too much data? Is my processing power through the roof? Because I've got so much legacy code and libraries all over the place? And I'm managing five different infrastructures when it can all be under one roof? They're the red flags I will be looking at – versus going straight into infrastructure applications and the deployment patterns. 

They are really simple terms to look at. Have I got too much data for what I actually need? We all went through huge programs of data collection, data lakes. People built single customer views. Did they use them all? I'm not too sure.

Leveraging new martech

For CMOs or Chief Digital Officers, it can be a daunting task to wield the entire martech stack to deliver the digital experiences across all channels, which in itself can hold them back from progress on any aspirations they might have about greener DX.

This is where Leigh starts to add another layer to our conversation: Speaking of how to combine smaller pieces of tech to form a better whole, also known today as composability, Leigh took time out to speak to customers about what they need over the coming 24 months.

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The lack of flexibility and the lack of composability within many digital experience technology platforms is cumbersome today. It is hand-tying at the moment. Not only for marketers but for business owners and technologists. We've engineered ourselves into these different parts of the business: Like frontend and backend that don't always need to be there. Most pressing, from a digital experience perspective, is having more flexible platforms—where more services can be brought in and aggregated as part of the platform.

Most pressing, from a digital experience perspective, is having more flexible platforms—where more services can be brought in and aggregated as part of the platform.


A particular sore point on how to move to that more modular technology platform has to do with vendor lock-in. This is where the Tangent chief executive starts to be more uncompromisingly forthright—as he relays the sentiment of clients out there today:

Executives are talking about OPEX costs going up, about eye-watering license fees. CMOs are not spending money on the actual experience anymore. They're spending more money on some of their infrastructure than they were expecting to. And on license fees. But they are also feeling a bit helpless as they go into those three-year negotiation cycles for licenses where:

”if I did want to get myself out of the situation, it's going to be 18 months at best. So begrudgingly, I need to sign with where I am today”.

...versus actually doing the right thing for the business over the next three years.

The enterprise customer executives Leigh talks to are mindful of how to balance the short-term with the long. But there’s another problem that was unearthed in their discussions, one about having bought a lot more than you need:

It's a tough conversation to have. Because we know what the right thing to do is. But we've got day-to-day challenges we need to solve. So the honest truth of it is, they're saying:

‘I feel like I'm not spending my budget how I thought I was, and I feel that some of the functionality I was sold… As if this is going to change my world. Either it doesn't, or I don't need it all. I've bought a Rolls Royce, and I actually needed a Golf.

I actually only use 20% of the functionality of this thing that’s got all the bells and whistles. I wish I'd known that it because I would have bought something that did the 20%, and it would have cost me nowhere near the cost. So there's some mis-sold, there's begrudging. I have to re-sign some of those things, but by God: The next time I do a re-negotiation with that technology partner, I'll be doing something different. I don't think I've seen that kind of fury, to be honest. It feels like it's been really pent-up over the last couple of years.


Sounds familiar? Well. Maybe. Variations of this common complaint about expensive, bloated DX software have been around for years. But Leigh’s point is that it’s reached a tipping point. Executives in charge of enterprises’ digital marketing are no longer just slightly annoyed with this. It’s become unbearable. It’s almost getting emotional. Because it stands in the way of progress for the kind of digital experiences that can change companies’ paths. It might even stand in the way of executive’s own career.

Only a few years ago—back when executives decided to sign off on those mega-deals with the software Suites of the world, they were in a different place. They weren’t as savvy as they are today, according to Leigh Gammons. This is what will inevitably allow them to champion what’s called the composable digital experience platform, based on many different technologies coming together:

Chief Marketing and Chief Digital Officers know so much more about the technology than they ever have. And similarly, CIOs and CTOs know so much more about the marketing elements than they ever have. The sentiment I've seen change is that if I've just had five years of being promised things and not getting them, I'm not going to believe the next three next three or five years. That's the shift I've seen. It's about more pragmatism.

Go about two levels up from these conversations and planning activities around technology selection, and you get to the level of transformation. Where Leigh Gammons has spent a couple of decades of his life helping customers thrive in the new world. That’s also the level at which CMOs reside, where the real push for change is happening:

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70% of transformations fail, according to McKinsey. That 70% number, unnervingly felt quite about right, which concerned me—bit it did feel right. I went on their website, and there it was, in black and white.

70% fail. 30% are successful.

We asked Leigh what characterizes the 30% that didn’t crash and burn during their transformation efforts. What do the 30% that are successful look like?

The McKinsey thing sparks something. Because if there's 70% that fails. What's the 30% that's successful? We've got one side where businesses have said, I'm going to solve for one or two use cases, and I'm gonna do that really, really well, but they haven’t solved the bigger picture.

The other side had loftier ambitions in what they’re trying to achieve but have not actually done anything tangible. And I'm pretty sure the 30% that are successful are in the middle of the two. They've walked the tightrope between lofty ambitions and not getting stuck in the detail.

As an agency CEO and trusted client advisor, getting to the right kinds of discussions with customers seems like the secret sauce, the stuff that sets people like Leigh apart from so many other consultants in the field of what’s called digital experience today. He speaks openly about his journey with WPP. Why should you listen to him, you might ask?

We got to know our clients incredibly well—and what they were trying to achieve. That's always been my background: Sit down and have a really honest conversation about where you're going, what your goals are, and how experience and marketing technology, and designs, will meet those goals.

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People like Leigh are often unsung heroes in the digital transformation of the world’s largest companies. They may get on stages to present to peers—but to you and me, opening a browser and exploring the online world, they’re largely unknown. Getting to know them better might just help executives leading the charge in digital marketing, digital transformation—and all the tech required to make it happen.

In the last couple of months, I've joined a business called Tangent as CEO, leading the business into its next phase of growth. They are an experience technology and digital experience design partner. They build platforms, they build capabilities, and they build systems for clients, but they also do it through incredibly compelling design. So it's a business I've known for a long time. It was too good an offer to turn down. I’ve also known Magnolia for coming on seven years now. As part of our conversations about potential digital experience platforms, it was always up there as someone we'd have a conversation about. So I feel incredibly familiar with this space.


Leigh speaking at the Magnolia Kickstart Event 2023 in London

Transformation sounds great. But inside the belly of any enterprise, digital marketers are responsible for getting new campaigns out to the right people, and they’re doing that by pressing buttons and looking at screens, imitating what their end users will see in the end. We wanted to learn what Leigh thinks about both the needs and the problems for the digital marketers eventually tasked with executing the last mile of all those transformation strategies:

Digital marketers today, I feel sorry for them because they're bombarded with “you need to look at this. This is a trend that's out there. This is a data source that we've got. Go and build something that works for consumers.” There are so many tools and technologies that should be able to provide that as a service. Insight should just come from different parts of the business for them to then go and act on. 

It's like asking someone a question and saying you can't read any books to get the answer. We should be more forthcoming as a business. We've got great BI-suites. We've got CDP platforms, we've got, you name it. We should be able to coalesce that into a better insight-driven story for digital marketers. As opposed to saying, “Go and guess. And we will tell you if you're right or wrong.”

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Leverage new martech via "composability"

Creative teams around the world often tell themselves that they need empathy to succeed. They need to put themselves in their end users shoes. See the world through their eyes. Yet many of them have felt that new technology trends like what is known in the industry as composability and headless, have prevented them from shaping the digital experience in ways that are intimate enough to what their target audiences will perceive.

As we go down this more composable, flexible route in the future of architectures—we need to not lose sight of keeping creative freedom in the hands of digital marketers.


As we go down this more composable, flexible route in the future of architectures—we need to not lose sight of keeping creative freedom in the hands of digital marketers. Not restricting everything they can do—and making sure they can get a good experiential feel for the things they're building and creating for consumers. There could be a tendency, as you go down a more composable route to take away some of those capabilities. You need to be pretty steadfast around keeping them because it's possible to have both things. It is possible for there to be a win-win. So keeping freedom within the hands of digital marketers and not restricting it with technology.

If you ever find yourself saying, “I'd love to do that, but I've got to go speak to developer”—you're probably doing it wrong.

Unmess your personalization game

What if we look backwards instead of forwards? What if we take a harder look at the last 24 months. What did customers fail to get right?

I have got a big topic. I think we've all missed out on personalization. There's so much research showing that customers are willing to give up data, sometimes personal data, to improve their experience. And get some kind of value-based reward or discount or whatever it may be. So there's a value transaction that customers are happy to provide, and they say, “Look, if I give you that information, then I'm happy to get something in return.” So there's a customer need. Yet that consumer feeling is still… Well, it can be creepy, I can feel targeted, it often feels clumsy. So it baffles me when you sit and figure out how much money has been spent on personalization as an initiative altogether.

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Here’s Leigh piecing it all together—because personalization has been such a difficult puzzle for many organizations to solve:

I think for personalization not to be done well, we got to really delve into why that is. It's about truly, what they need, and understanding who they are—both through first-party, third-party data, as opposed to just providing a quick upsell. That's the bit that I think we've missed.

Design the data collection alongside the journey. Then, how the experiences are designed—is also based on how assets are stored and tagged. You need to be able to find those things and resurface them at the right time. That's only possible if you’ve got the right data inputted against the right type of assets. And then finally, and this is probably the bit that a lot of people did, you need the technology to be able to deliver those types of optimization and personalization experiences.


The Next 24 Months is a series of interviews with Magnolia's chief evangelist, Rasmus Leth Skjoldan. The series include interviews with some of the world’s greatest minds in DX technology, digital transformation, and digital marketing.

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Rasmus Leth Skjoldan

Tangent is a digital partner that helps scale your team and ship innovative products faster with their three core capabilities: product strategy, product design, and technology & engineering. Leigh has over 15 years of experience leading global businesses for FTSE 100 companies, boutique consultancies, and agencies.

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Leigh Gammons