Today’s CMO Needs a Few CTO Chops

Today’s marketing department is dependent on technology, which means that the CMO needs to know which technology to use, and how to buy it.
Article Outline

The marketing industry has plunged headlong into a technological re-invention over the last decade. Software platforms, marketing automation, mobile ad exchanges, social media tools, and apps (of all descriptions for all kinds of purposes) have turned marketing departments into tech nerve centers.

Unfortunately, not all marketing leadership has kept pace with these rapid changes. Some chief marketing officers cling to the issues they find the most familiar – and continue investing in outdated marketing techniques at the expense of new technology. Even more make investments in technology they don’t fully understand, and/or are not prepared to use well.

Understanding technology and wringing the most value out of it has become critical to the marketing department’s success. But many large and growing mid-sized companies spend significant budget on a range of technology platforms without having the organizational structure, technological know-how, or cross-communication with their technology department to use those platforms to their full potential.

Setting your company up for success with technology requires taking a page or two from the CTO’s playbook. You don’t need to go back and get a degree in computer science; you just need to approach the challenges from a new point of view.

Here are four technological trends in marketing that require a CTO mindset from the CMO in today’s market.

1. Data Usage

Data collection has ramped up exponentially in marketing departments. Marketers now use technology to track and assess the demographics, psychographics, and buying behaviors of their most loyal customers. But when it comes to actually activating that data and using it in new and innovative ways, many marketing departments stumble. They sit on a stockpile of incredibly valuable customer insights, yet struggle to put that data to work.

Data sets at large companies (and even some smaller ones) are so large and unwieldy that the only answer is technology that segments, personalizes and automates the data usage process. Understanding the best platforms, the best tactics and the newest trends in using data most effectively will continue to be a key driver of CMO performance.

Do you need a business intelligence tool? Do you need to hire a brilliant Excel jockey? Do you have capabilities you’re not using in your existing tool set? Can you reconcile data from different sets? It’s well worth your time to determine the fewest, most important questions you need to answer, and focus on the tools and techniques that will get you those answers.

2. Personalization

The white noise in digital, mobile and social spheres is reaching a crescendo. We all are bombarded by so many one-size-fits-all marketing messages that many people now auto-filter mobile and social ads and brand emails, unless there is a really good reason to pay attention.

Personalization goes a long way toward being that reason. Personalized app push notifications, conversational emails, and ads that break through the clutter will continue to gain importance. This is the classic marriage of the creativity of the marketing department and the insights and activation of technology. Expertly crafted conversational emails laser-focused by the data and segmentation of the marketing department’s technology will drive results in an increasingly overcrowded digital landscape.

As this study from VentureBeat points out, opportunities for personalization vary across channels — ads, web, mobile, and email — because customer engagement methods and the resulting data are different. And while stated goals stress lead generation, much of personalization is done for existing customers. That’s where you have the most data, of course. There is a growing trend toward real-time data that lends itself to personalization, which could be handy in your lead gen efforts. However you choose to employ personalization … don’t neglect it. Your competitors won’t.

3. The Convergence of Paid, Owned and Earned Media

The old divisions between paid, owned, and earned media (e.g. news stories) are slowly fading. The emergence of native advertising has put a spotlight on how consumers prefer paid media to have the same storytelling hooks and compelling content of earned media. Narrative storytelling campaigns by brands like REI and Patagonia in their owned media (on websites and in video) now mimic the storytelling prowess of the best journalists that were regularly relied on for earned media. And earned media (such as public relations placements) are now often paired with an ad boosting ad budget on social media to gain a wider audience.

Understanding how all three of these divisions of media interact, intersect and amplify each other is a complex task. You’ll need monitoring platforms and amplification tools. The most effective CMOs are harnessing technology to power results across earned, owned and paid media and using the insights and analytics from their results in each division to adjust and optimize their marketing decisions, performance, and spend.

  4. Leveraging user generated content (UGC)

Thousands of loyal customers equipped with smartphones are an increasingly useful resource for marketing departments. User-generated content from brand loyalists has more credibility than your own content, and can spread throughout the social sphere, impacting a whole new circle of customers – and potential prospects who never knew you existed . It puts you on the right side of the trust issue; people trust other people more than they trust brands. According to a Nielsen study, 84% of consumers say they either completely or somewhat trust recommendations from family, colleagues, and friends about products – making these recommendations the information source ranked highest for trustworthiness. And according to BrightLocal, 88% of people trust online reviews written by other consumers as much as they trust recommendations from personal contacts.

If you’re getting positive word-of-mouth, you can harness these stories through social campaigns, re-purpose the content on microsites and email campaigns and other marketing initiatives to expand the reach of this serendipitous viral content.

How do you know when you’re getting this kind of attention? You have to be listening. And that takes technology. You could also look into referral marketing software to see if it would be appropriate for your company, your product or service, and your customers.

So, how do you get these CTO chops?

Evaluating and buying technology is hard for CTOs too, but there are particular reasons why it’s hard for CMOs:

  • You have not been trained how to buy technology
  • You’re often buying a system that does something you’ve never done before
  • Most systems are not apples-to-apples, so a standards checklist is just a place to begin

We’ve got something to help you: David Raab’s eBook, “When Marketers Buy Technology: Issues, Obstacles, and Solutions” offers eight steps to making better technology decisions. In abbreviated form:

  1. Define business goals in specific, quantifiable terms such as “10% increase in qualified leads.”
  2. Specify system requirements. To build these requirements, you can design the actual processes needed to execute the marketing programs (or other tasks) defined as business goals for the system.
  3. Consider a wide range of vendors.
  4. Select against requirements. Make sure the vendor performs against a scenario of your actual process.
  5. Look beyond features. A system that can’t meet your functional requirements isn’t worth further consideration, but assuming those are met, look to other factors such as customer support, training programs, industry experience, underlying technology, future direction, and financial viability.
  6. Plan for deployment.
  7. Define a long-range plan.
  8. Consider organizational context. The kinds of systems your company can deploy depends on business strategy, financial resources, staff skills, and corporate culture.

If you’d like to learn more about how to approach your own technology projects with that all-important CTO mindset, check out the rest of “When Marketers Buy Technology.” It’s a dry topic, but it’s not a dry read, and it will set you up to make more informed technology decisions for the rest of your career.

David Bunker is the Director of Content for The Abbi Agency, a digital communications firm with offices in Reno and Las Vegas. In a former life he worked for newspapers and magazines (remember those?) as an award-winning reporter, editor and freelance writer. 

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