Over the last few months, I’ve been asked to speak more and more about the emerging strategic role of marketing, particularly as it relates to technology, something I first started to explore in 2012. The explosion of customer data provided by social and digital have put extreme power in the hands of marketers, if only we’ll learn how to wield it (this recent article in Harvard Business Review outlines the enormous opportunity for marketers as other parts of the business start to slow in their ability to deliver value). We’re entering a new era of big data, automation and the ability to drive business strategy by delivering real-time access to the voice of the customer. Is your team ready to let go of decisions made based solely on “gut feel” (though you shouldn’t entirely, for our brains are the most advanced supercomputers on the planet) and get ready for the Chief Marketing Technologist, who’s much more of a “quant” than a “qual”? Savvy, forward-thinking marketing leaders who “get it” can position themselves to deliver enormous business value and take a seat at the big table if they can figure this stuff out – fast.
The average lifespan of the CMO has increased from 23 months in 2006 to over 45 months in 2013. Forbes magazine suggests this is a reflection of the growing strategic nature of the role – and there’s enormous opportunity to solidify this position by delivering measurable business results, thanks to big data. Technology is playing an important role in this. By 2017, Gartner analyst Laura McLellan predicts that CMOs will spend more money on technology than CIOs.
At the moment, however, most marketers are falling down on the job – badly, especially when it comes to technology. A 2012 survey from ITSMA and VisionEdge Marketing paints a stark picture of marketers and their ownership of their own technology choices:
• 59% don’t specify marketing technology
• 45% don’t recommend marketing technology
• 46% don’t select marketing technology
• 15% DON’T HAVE ANY SAY AT ALL
This is a shockingly hands-off approach, and one that could very well come back and bite you if you allow it to continue. The Wall Street Journal ran a story that suggested CIOs, not CMOs, should be responsible for digital leadership in most organizations. The article predicted that a new role, The Chief Digital Officer, would fall to IT because “IT is everywhere”. Russell Reynolds, one of the world’s top recruiting companies, describes the CDO as “[someone] who can oversee the full range of digital strategies and drive change across the organization.” (I don’t know about you, but that sounds like something marketing should own).
And it’s not just technology where marketers’ chops are being questioned: it’s also the ability to deliver business and operational intelligence (real-time insight into business performance); two things that are of enormous value to the entire organization, and two things that marketing is uniquely well-positioned to deliver in the digital age because of your access to that same massive data stream. In 2012, a survey of more than 300 US and Canadian executives that showed 93% of them believe they’re losing revenue because they aren’t able to access or act on information already available to them. And they are missing out on something – the New York Times referenced a study of 179 large companies that found those adopting “data-driven decision making” achieved productivity gains of up to 6% – that couldn’t be explained any other way.
So what’s your opportunity? To blend the “Art and Science” of marketing; the art is the storytelling (something you’re so very good at) and the science is the technology and strategic business value that you can deliver by leveraging big data generated by social media and other customer interactions online. This is a wellspring of fantastic intelligence, if you have the technologies and skillsets to process and analyze it. In Inc. Magazine, Brian Halligan described it as delivering to a “segment of one” – think about sites like Netflix and Amazon, which use a combination of individual leverage (the more I use the site, the more it learns about me) and group leverage (the more people like me use the site, the better the site can predict what I may want or like) to deliver a better customized, higher-revenue experience.
There are many examples of marketers who have leveraged big data in order to deliver business value. Steve McKee, who writes for BusinessWeek, has written about how his team took a look at simple web metrics and their relationships, the increases and decreases in media buys, and used that data to increase the effectiveness of a clients’ media spend by 9%. Pamplin College in the U.S. did a large-scale study to see what the relationship was between social media mentions and automotive recalls, and found a direct, predictive connection.
One of the biggest challenges behind turning social media data into business and operational intelligence is the need to make structured and unstructured data play nicely together (structured data is the stuff that’s easy to put into a database – often things like sales numbers, or numbers of clicks; things that are easy to count and don’t require any interpretation. Unstructured data, however, are text-heavy, things like conversations and facts. Unstructured data is irregular and requires analysis to be understood by everyone – it’s complicated). This will require skillsets you are unlikely to see in a typical marketing department today (unless you’re Target). McKinsey predicts that in the U.S. alone, right now there’s a need for 200,000 people with skillsets in data analytics. And the way you attack data will also need to change; Avinash Kaushik, Google’s digital marketing evangelist says that the ideal breakdown for big data resources should be 15% data capture, 20% reporting and 65% analysis. At the moment, for most of us, that’s flipped, with most resources devoted to capture and very little to analysis and actionable insight.
So what’s next? Like many others, I think it’s the age of the Marketing Technologist – the person who, in the words of Scott Brinker, is “Someone who has a hybrid between business and technology, a strong background in engineering and IT, is an early adopter of technology, but someone who also understands the pragmatic realities of scaling technology. But most importantly, someone who brings those skills and combines them with a deep love and passion for the marketing mix. This is a technologist that reports to the CMO, not the CIO.”
What do you think? And, even more importantly – are you ready for the pace of business as unusual?