The rise of the CMO-CTO partnership

When their marketing and tech officers join forces, companies can capitalise on the opportunities that new technologies offer, argues Jamie Kenny.

Agility and collaboration are key when marketing and tech meet
Agility and collaboration are key when marketing and tech meet

Can I have your view on this by the morning, please? So reads a typical email from a chief executive to their chief marketing officer, asking for an informed point of view. Increasingly, the topics that the CMO is expected to have an opinion on are technology and data, which can be an unfamiliar area: a new set of problems to solve, buzzwords to unpick and politics to navigate.

A recent study showed that CEOs ranked technology as the main external force affecting the future of their business. Accenture, meanwhile, declared that "Every business is a digital business" in its most recent vision piece.

This focus on technology is having major implications for the marketing department and the role of the CMO. On the one hand, new technology offers marketing fresh and more efficient routes to market, along with exciting prospects such as the capability for personalised, one-to-one marketing at scale. On the other hand, the marketing department is having to learn new skills, take on responsibilities and build other relationships within the organisation just to do marketing.

Four key areas being considered by CMOs and marketing directors today are social media, mobile, marketing automation and programmatic ad-buying.

Changes in consumer behaviour and the rise of innovative technology have meant that these relatively new areas have gone from being niche disciplines to strategic priorities worthy of the most senior marketer's attention.

While marketers are traditionally good at embracing change, the problem they face is that technology is evolving at an exponential rate, whereas people and organisations tend to adapt at a much slower pace. How should marketers deal with this challenge in order to not miss the emerging opportunities?

One clear opportunity is for the CMO to work more closely with the chief technology officer.

Let's take procuring IT or software as an example. IT research company Gartner has predicted that the CMO will be spending more on IT than the CTO by 2017. This is a significant shift. However, CMOs are traditionally more comfortable focusing on customers, building brands and using creativity to drive revenue. The skills required for procuring systems, ensuring stability and scalability, and reducing costs, are surely better suited to a CTO.

Some may argue that the emergence of the "software as a service" (SaaS) model has meant that those procuring software may not need to be fully versed in data centres and application programming interfaces. But the reality is that, if you are responsible for procuring software, you will also, most likely, be responsible for delivering and implementing it. Moreover, the marketing-technology landscape is a mass of vendors - at least 947, as highlighted by the blogger Scott Brinker's marketing-technology landscape chart. Such a broad selection leaves an awful lot of room for potentially bad decisions, even if they're cloud-based solutions. It would seem inevitable, therefore, that the CMO and CTO must collaborate more closely than they do now.

At first sight, it may be that the CMO and CTO are not a natural double act. CTOs are often (unfairly) characterised as being slow to change and putting a block on marketing initiatives. They also often report to the chief financial officer and tend to be responsible for reducing operational risk and managing costs. CMOs, however, like to move quickly, develop new ways to engage customers and generate revenue. The two agendas are being brought together by a common interest in technology.

Some organisations have responded by bringing in marketing technologists, or chief digital officers, who understand the worlds of marketing and technology. Part CTO, part digital marketing director, they are often focused on optimising digital marketing and aligning marketing technology with business goals.

Whether the organisations hire a new chief digital officer, brief the CMO and CTO to work closer together, or even look to external partners, there seem to be some clear areas to focus on.

First, establish a strategy for marketing technology, with both marketing and IT involved the process. A strategy must have a compelling diagnosis of the business situation and objectives, a clear guiding policy and a set of coherent actions. Having some fluffy technology vision or grand leadership statement will probably lead only to change for change's sake.

Some say data scientists and analysts are the new marketing rock stars.

Second, focus on the single customer view. Almost all organisations aspire to having a single view of each customer in real time. Very few can claim to have achieved this. Legacy systems, security and the complexity of what one writer called "data hairballs" are all reasons for failing to achieve this marketing nirvana. However, with the growth in smartphone adoption, the emergence of sensors (such as iBeacon and ZigBee) and improvements in recommendation engines, understanding the customer journey in new ways is on the horizon.

A coherent plan of action will enable businesses to make significant leaps forward along this path of customer enlightenment, with the single customer view becoming a reality instead of a dream.

Third, marketing must get stuck into the data. A deep understanding of it will ensure that progress is made with analytical insight: you know what's going on and why.

Some say data scientists and analysts are the new marketing rock stars. A good analyst is worth their weight in gold - but for many businesses, untangling the data hairball might be achieved by creating a "data democracy". Empowering people across the organisation from marketing and IT to solve data problems will soon be on every CMO's agenda.

With so much being written about data, and big data in particular, it often feels daunting. Some CMOs' eyes glaze over when the topic is brought up, with a lot of the focus on size, storage and security. The old adage of "How do you eat an elephant?" comes to mind. The answer is one byte at a time.

Big data needs small testing. Adopting an agile-pilot approach, where it is permissible to fail early and fast, will mean that big data delivers actionable insight. Organisations have to act more like a start-up, working in small teams and moving quickly to deploy and reiterate.

The companies that embrace this new spirit of collaboration and agility are most likely to take advantage of technological change. The CMOs who work closest with CTOs may be the ones in the future talking about their shared success at conferences and in boardrooms. 

Jamie Kenny is founding partner at marketing-technology start-up Byte London.