How CMOs are using technology to win in business

To help organisations get ahead, many chief marketing officers (CMOs) in the UK are adopting cutting-edge technologies and driving IT decisions. But some are still coming to grips with the technology and skills needed to fully automate processes, go social and mine data.

With the continued rise of tech trends such as cloud, social media, data analytics and e-commerce, marketers in the UK are today faced with a huge and growing array of marketing tools – and technology decisions.

Technology procurement and marketing strategies have become intertwined, with the marketing department now making many of the technology decisions previously handled by the IT department. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2017, CMOs will overtake chief information officers (CIOs) as the biggest spenders on IT and technology.

This shift is opening up exciting new opportunities for marketers – but it also presents a significant challenge in keeping up with tech trends and staying on top of customer behaviour and expectations.

Smart marketers move to automation

Historically, marketing automation software has been used mainly by the big players, with high cost and lack of expertise preventing smaller businesses from taking advantage of its benefits. But this has changed over the past couple of years, with software vendors tailoring products to smaller enterprises, and the software-as-a-service delivery model making automation software more affordable.

The technology offers big benefits to acquire and nurture leads. It allows organisations to manage marketing processes – lead generation, segmentation, social media marketing, cross–selling and upselling, and analytics and reporting – at larger volumes and in a more efficient, consistent and measurable way.

A recent article by MarketingWeek looked at several companies using marketing automation software, including Holidaylettings.co.uk, which uses the software to track and optimise the performance of its different online platforms. The holiday rentals website has boosted conversions by 77 per cent year on year, slashed reporting time and outperformed usual peaks in its revenue by 350 per cent, according to its digital marketing manager Dan Taylor-Edwards.

If it’s not on social media it didn’t happen

For marketing departments across all industries, social media marketing is no longer a ‘nice to have’, it has become the norm, forming an integral part of a marketing strategy. According to the Social Media Examiner’s global 2013 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, 86 per cent of marketers believe social media is important for their business. Evidence of the growing focus on social media can also be found in marketing spend, with UK social media advertising expenditure hitting £588.4 million in 2013 – a 71 per cent increase from 2012, according to the UK’s Internet Advertising Bureau.

How CMOs use social media varies across industries and organisations, but a 2013 survey by the Direct Marketing Association confirms Facebook is the preferred social platform for campaign development and evaluation.

There is still some uncertainty around how to measure results and therefore the effectiveness of social media marketing. A report by industry publication The Social Media Examiner found that just 26 per cent of organisations were able to measure their social activities and only 37 per cent believed their Facebook marketing was effective.

But even so, social media is considered a key and ever-evolving part of any marketing strategy. And with platforms such as Pinterest, Instagram, Vimeo and Snapchat now altering the landscape, CMOs can’t afford to ignore it.

The game changer – data analytics

In an increasingly global and competitive business environment, data has become one of the most precious assets. According to McKinsey & Company, “Big Data is the biggest game-changing opportunity for marketing and sales since the Internet went mainstream almost 20 years ago”.

Using analytics, organisations can access an unprecedented array of customer insights. CMOs can analyse data to understand and predict consumer behaviour, the impact of marketing expenditure and target customers more effectively.

A 2014 survey conducted by Circle Research looked at marketing professionals in Europe – 90 per cent of whom came from the UK – and found that 82 per cent of companies either already use big data or plan to within the next three years.

But many marketers don’t know how to make the most of big data. It can be overwhelming, due to the ever-growing volume and complexity of data, rapidly changing customer behaviours, lack of internal skills, and legacy IT systems that make it difficult to access and centrally manage reliable company-wide data.

The sheer scale of big data is a challenge for 46 per cent of business decision-makers in the UK, and a further 36 per cent said there was a lack of useful data, according to a 2013 study for SAP by Loudhouse Research.

Marketing automation software, social media platforms and data analytics are helping organisations deliver more efficient and effective marketing strategies. But research shows that marketers are yet to realise the full potential of these technologies, pointing to challenging and exciting times ahead for the CMO.