Wanted: Data-Driven, Digital CMOs

There was a time, not so long ago, that the firm’s CMO basically acted as the chief brand steward, running a marketing department that focused on maintaining brand equity and making sure the company was sending out the right message to the masses. Data and analytics? They were usually scoffed at … That was the purview of the down-and-dirty world of the direct marketer, right? Direct marketers were the ones who obsessed over response rates, cost per order, lifetime value and so on.

There was a time, not so long ago, that the firm’s CMO basically acted as the chief brand steward, running a marketing department that focused on maintaining brand equity and making sure the company was sending out the right message to the masses. Data and analytics? They were usually scoffed at … That was the purview of the down-and-dirty world of the direct marketer, right? Direct marketers were the ones who obsessed over response rates, cost per order, lifetime value and so on.

Well, suffice it to say that those days are over—marketing in today’s multichannel environment is about much more than just cute creatives and killer copy. Today’s marketing is increasingly digital and data-centric. A recent article appearing in Ad Age explained that “real-time data-driven decisions, enabled by technology, have made the marketer’s job much more measureable and accountable.” Interestingly, the same article also points out that the average tenure of a CMO is a meager 28 months. No coincidence.

What it boils down to is that today’s CMO is expected, de rigueur, to be a pro when it comes to all things digital. We have two important trends to thank for this fact. The first one of these trends is the general transition to digital. Look, it’s no secret that over the past few years there’s been an incredible shift of marketing spend from traditional over to digital media. It’s the scale and speed of this transition that’s so breathtaking.

According to a June 2012 survey by RSW/U.S., 44 percent of marketers report that they are now spending at least half of their budgets on social and digital media. This represents a 42 percent increase from 2009 alone! And this is not the end of the process. I think it’s safe to say now that the proverbial tipping point has been reached—this trend will only accelerate in coming years.

Anyone who’s worked in the digital marketing arena knows that success in the space all really boils down to data: Impressions, clicks, conversions, opens—this is the vocabulary of the digital world. Well, guess what? Today’s CMO needs to have a deep understanding of these terms, what they mean and how the underlying technologies work—at least on a high level—and be generally comfortable playing in the digital space. Think about it: without a significant digital background, how on Earth can a CMO possibly be expected to run a marketing machine where at least half of the marketing dollars are being spent in the digital space? Not happening.

The other major trend is the inexorable fragmentation of the IT infrastructure within enterprise firms. Basically, what’s happening is that because technology has evolved radically over the past 10 years, it’s giving different stakeholders at companies the ability to purchase and use technology outside of their organization’s firewall, and often without IT’s involvement. Very often, in fact, IT is even without IT’s knowledge!

This is huge shift. Just a few short years ago, mind you, software was what you ran on your computer or on the company mainframe, and it was pretty much always purchased and managed by IT. Well, those days are most definitely over. What’s happened is that the emergence of the SaaS/Cloud model of software delivery has turned that world on its head.

Today, any marketer with a credit card can sign up for, say, a CRM tool or a marketing automation tool and be off to the races in seconds flat. Ask any marketer and they’ll explain how this has been a huge boon to their departments, liberating them forever from the clutches of IT.

Now, of course, a big reason for this excitement is the oftentimes frosty relationship between marketing and IT. Personality types side, in its essence this rocky relationship actually has a lot to do with conflicting mandates. It’s the IT department’s mandate to act as the stewards of the firm’s information and technology infrastructure. Essentially, it’s their job to keep internal systems running and make sure they’re secure. That’s about it. No, it’s not their job to build you a new landing page, or set up a new email campaign for this fall’s reactivation campaign.

Today’s marketing department, on the other hand, is much more focused on operations than anything else. Today marketing is about creating, testing and launching numerous marketing campaigns across various channels using different tools, and evaluating their performance using real-time analytics. And running an operationally focused marketing team requires the ability to build, dispatch and analyze lots of campaigns in rapid succession. Until recently, this heaped loads of pressure on the IT folks, who groaned under the strain. So you can see why marketers have cheered and embraced the emergence of Web-based SaaS marketing tools.

Okay, I got a little sidetracked there, so I’ll get back to the central point, which is that because marketing is rapidly becoming the de facto owners of their own IT infrastructure, this mean that they now control the technology itself and the data contained therein. It’s a big responsibility, requiring marketers to manage and safeguard this vital corporate infrastructure and information, taking on the dual roles of chief marketing technologist and data steward. But with this responsibility comes great power—to use these awesome tools and information to really, truly understand who customers and prospects are, and send out highly personalized and effective marketing campaigns with demonstrable ROI.

But evaluating performance in this environment means not only using new marketing tools and digging through mountains of data. Just as importantly, it also means understanding what it all means. In other words, just because you’re a CMO does not mean you don’t need to know how many opt-ins you have in your company database, or how many fans on Facebook.

And guess what? It’s hard to be comfortable with digital if you’ve never played in the space. But how many CMOs are also digital pros? Not too many. So not surprisingly, firms are finding that it’s incredibly difficult to find leaders with the hard-to-find combination of senior management leadership and digital marketing experience. Given this reality, it’s not too surprising to discover that many companies are running through CMOs in a conveyor belt-like fashion.

Do you know any data-driven digital pros with senior marketing leadership experience?? If so, bet your bottom dollar these executives will be cashing in big time in coming years.

—Rio