The rise of the CMO as technology leader

CMOs are the new driving force behind technological change and decision-making needed to achieve company growth. So how can IT and marketing work together to overcome internal conflicts and collaborate effectively?

By 2017, CMOs are expected to spend more money on technology than CIOs, as they crunch through vast amounts of data to drive customer insights, make decisions in real time and deliver demonstrable ROI, according to Gartner research.

As technology reshapes and expands the ways in which marketing is understood and practised, opportunities are emerging for CMOs and CIOs to collaborate in new ways, and in the process transform the entire organisation to drive business growth.

According to Gartner’s research, nearly one-third of marketing-related technology and services are already purchased by marketing departments, and marketing exerts influence over almost half of all technology-related purchases. From digital promotion platforms such as the internet, mobile devices and social media, to behind-the-scenes initiatives such as customer databases and big data analytics, technology and marketing are now inextricably connected – and leaders in both areas must work together to achieve unified outcomes.

Old versus new

Despite the clear role digital marketing plays as a driver of company growth, the CMO’s involvement in IT purchasing decisions is a source of conflict in many organisations, says Pat Freeland-Small, marketing and communications strategist at P5 Strategic Marketing and former CMO at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

“Many organisations have major tension between CIO and CMO offices because the CIO fights to protect existing technology systems, structures and processes,” he says. “The CMO on the other hand looks for new ways to push technology and communications to drive market growth and build corporate reputation.”

While the CIO’s desire to stick with proven systems and technologies is understandable, Freeland-Small says it’s vital that companies continue to try to break down the silos between teams, processes and data to ensure everyone is working towards common, customer-centric goals. This means putting individuals with technology smarts inside the marketing department.

“Smart CMOs ensure they embed entrepreneurial and technology-savvy staff within their marketing and communications teams. This helps to keep IT departments engaged in the communications challenges and arms the CMO’s team with the authority and resources they need to move forward.”

Better measurement, more accountability

This CMO-driven push for technological change has a lot to do with two distinct advantages that digital marketing platforms now provide: targeted dialogue with the consumer and the ability to measure the results of that dialogue. This measurement can be done in real time, with the results available in an actionable, easy-to-understand format.

“Good CMOs look at new ways to engage broad consumer groups directly. This is already being done through targeted and personalised communications via new mediums, through online communities and using database profiling. More and more, the results of these activities are measurable and accountable, and are becoming integrated into boardroom reports.”

Outsourcing and upscaling

The CMO’s growing role as technology leader isn’t just about transforming in-house technologies and processes. According to oDesk, an online workplace of freelancers, external sourcing of technical talent is becoming increasingly popular as companies call for more niche skills and pursue higher cost efficiencies. By way of example, demand for mobile app developers via oDesk has grown by more than 250 per cent in the last two years. Freeland-Small says this is an area where CMOs can drive innovation.

“Proactive CMOs often lead new technology and communications capability through outsourced solutions to a communications or campaign need. In turn, these solutions can prove scalable for broader organisational goals.”

Reducing the risks

As the lines between marketing, communications and technology blur and the number of platforms multiply, new risks continue to emerge – from the more obvious, such as protecting social media account passwords, to larger, more strategic concerns such as customer privacy. There is also the problem of brand integrity, with user-generated content such as blogs and online reviews often overwhelming the original marketing message.

To help their company preserve and improve customer ROI in an ever-more fragmented and volatile marketplace, CMOs have no choice but to take a leading role in defining the company’s technological roadmap, and to work in partnership with the IT department towards common strategic goals.