Insight/ General Management

Why A CMO Needs A Technologist


by Blaise Heltai
General Partner
NewVantage Partners

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You’ve probably seen other articles with similar titles to this one. If you haven’t, do a quick search. You’ll likely find descriptions of a new position called the “Chief Marketing Technologist” or something about close alignment with the CIO. Here we offer a somewhat different perspective.

First, what is a CMO anyway?

No two CMOs have the same job description. There are many roles that an individual CMO may or may not play in a given organization, depending on the industry, the size and scope of the company, its culture, its organization, and its leadership.  For simplicity, let’s bucket the principal roles a CMO may play into a few categories:

  • Brand management
  • Advertising, marketing communications
  • Customer experience management
  • Voice of the customer
  • Digital strategy and, increasingly, digital operations
  • External communications, internal communications, public relations
  • Government relations

Many assume that CMOs all have the same job, consisting of just the first three of the functions above, and that the tension between marketing and technology exists in those domains in some universal way.

That technology is moving fast, that the bulk of marketing communications is moving to digital, and that there is so much data to consume and monetize are all true. That the marketing function is the sponsor of, or is dependent on, an increasing number of IT systems is also the case. That the CMO may have many functions in his organization that require technical competence is also often true. It’s not hard to conclude, then, that uniting those functions--for example, direct/online/mobile marketing, search engine optimization, analytics, customer relationship management, digital asset management, and content management--under a single technical leader may add value. In many situations, it’s a sound choice. But simply reorganizing a marketing function, or any function, is seldom transformative.

Another case that’s often made is that increasing dependence on technology implies that the CMO organization should own, operate, and maintain the systems that support the marketing functions. Distributed IT works in some companies, while centralizing it makes sense for others. It is difficult to make the case that marketing is somehow so different that it needs to be treated differently than other functions or business lines; everyone is increasingly dependent on technology.

Finally, there is the argument that new things are happening all the time, whether it’s mobile, social, cloud, or big data, and that a marketing technologist is the way to keep a pulse on what’s happening. There’s certainly merit in that. Agencies, technology vendors, and new service providers are filling the CMO’s inbox. One important function of a technologist aligned with the CMO is to identify what’s meaningful to the business’ specific objectives and needs and to filter the hype. But even this, as a need, can be overstated. After all, the average 14-year-old is better equipped to talk about social media than most technologists.

But there’s “one more thing.” In our work with many Fortune 500 companies, we see one issue come up again and again: The CMO organization is generally blind or, at best, near-sighted to other operational aspects of the business. Some examples:

  • The bulk of the functionality for a large and very expensive project in a financial services company to develop a “marketing alert” system already existed in its fraud-detection systems.

  • A CRM system that, once implemented and compromised by budget and resource realities, ended up providing no more functionality than simple additions to the company’s legacy contact center desktop.

  • Data wanted from that same CRM system, including “voice of the customer” insight provided in near real-time, already existed in call-center logs, voice recordings, and chat and e-mail repositories, and was not being leveraged.

  • A sophisticated campaign management system was about to be implemented in an insurance company while the most important targets, which are the company’s digital platforms, had limited capability to deliver targeted messages. Those digital capabilities were simultaneously in planning, but with different assumptions, and would have led to an inability to achieve the goals of either initiative without significant rework.

A marketing technologist, properly construed, would have helped these organizations avert these mistakes. The “one more thing,” and it may be the most important function of the technologist, is knowing what you have--whether that’s specific capabilities of current systems anywhere in the enterprise, potential capabilities of those systems, or detailed attributes of data sources. In addition, and just as critically, the marketing technologist would be aware of all initiatives for new applications in the enterprise and inform those requirements with the mindset of a marketer.

It is not that marketing has technical needs that outstrip those of sales or distribution or logistics (pick the one most relevant to the business), but that those functions have built-in technologists, in fact, if not in name, and marketing, historically, has not.

Why You Need A CMTO 
While the specific functions of a marketing technology leader certainly vary according to the particulars of the enterprise and the specific role of the CMO, there are some universal, and typically unfilled, needs.

  1. To coordinate technical and analytic functions within the CMO organization: That may mean reorganizing to encompass those functions under a CMTO, but that’s a decision that depends on the overall organizational structure and culture.

  2. To act, at the least, as “business owner” for applications and systems that support marketing: That in itself is a professional task, requiring considerable technical savvy, even if it’s only to produce good business requirements. Whether the IT functions, such as development, testing, and maintenance, report into marketing seems less vital and dictated by how IT is structured in the whole enterprise.

  3. To look externally at emerging trends in technology and associated behavior: While there is a role for the marketing technologist here, possibly to coordinate and synthesize thinking, and to be an expert resource on the truly technical aspects, it is really incumbent on everyone in a modern marketing organization to understand the trends that clearly impact the CMO’s world.

  4. “One more thing”: This is to thoroughly understand the enterprise’s technology capabilities and be fully engaged in major initiatives in order to leverage the company’s entire resources and influence the direction of its technology.

About Blaise Heltai

Blaise Heltai is a general partner with NewVantage Partners, a business and technology strategy firm specializing in data and analytics. Heltai was former executive vice president/e-business and Internet strategy for Fleet/Bank of America, where he led the e-Catalyst online banking transformation during a 10-year tenure. Heltai was an early pioneer in online banking. He previously held executive positions at Bell Labs and was CEO of fileTRUST.