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teal digital marketing design

Gartner's take: How not to fail as a digital CMO

May 08, 2015
By Karsten Scherer

As early as 2012, Gartner’s Laura McClellan predicted that by 2017, chief marketing officers will spend more on IT than their CIO counterparts. That’s a huge statement, and one that I’m sure many at the time laughed off as unrealistic. Given that "the new battlefield" for differentiation is customer experience (nicely summarized by Gartner’s Jake Sorofman) and much of that experience has become digital, it’s safe to say that in three years, many leaders have altered their thinking. Consider this: Gartner itself, as an organization historically geared toward advising IT and business leaders, has already acknowledged this shift by developing a research and advisory offering focused specifically on marketing leaders. I spent the last couple days at their inaugural Digital Marketing Conference in San Diego, which was built around three main tracks: innovating with data; sourcing for and structuring digital marketing functions; and above all, designing exceptional CX. 

CMOS have a (hot) seat at the table

Among much superb content, Sorofman’s session on what makes digital CMOs successful stood out. Setting the stage and using 2014 CMO survey data as his baseline, he outlined what today’s CMO is up against: the emphasis on customer experience has never been stronger, and CMOs are on the hook for delivering it. CEOs have mandated business growth as the top priority … also something CMOs are on the hook for. The competitive landscape’s complexity has become staggering—and guess who’s on deck for that? The upside is that CMOs undoubtedly have a seat at the table now. The flipside is that the new real estate comes with high expectations. In Sorofman’s words, “that seat is pretty hot right now.”

In a universe of options, what should CMOs laser in on?                                                                     

Based on hundreds of conversations with marketing leaders and their annual survey, Sorofman and his colleagues identified several focus areas that successful digital CMOs have in common. To thrive as a digital CMO, try doing the same: 

1. Become an inbound advocate: Shift from finding customers to getting found

Social and search have fundamentally changed how consumers both relate to and buy from brands. Given how much noise the digital landscape generates, how can you make your brand stand out? ”Contextually relevant conversations” was a phrase I heard often this week. It means conversion rates for inbound marketing techniques are higher than their outbound counterparts because your prospective buyer finds you when they’re ready to buy. How do you tap into that? Figure out your buyer’s digital habits so you have a target to aim at. Get good at content that pulls in as opposed to turns off. And you’ll need become really, really good at storytelling.

2. Tell authentic stories: Shelve the commercial pitch

Sorofman  said “[Y]ou earn the right to your buyer’s attention when you start with what’s at stake for them.” True customer engagement and the hard sell don’t mix well anymore. Digital leaders need to recalibrate how they think about content and whether what they present to their buyers actually has relevance. Getting a handle on powerful content means getting back to brand basics: What is your brand promise? Can you wrap a point of view and effective storylines around it? Once there, can you morph those stories into attention-grabbing campaigns?

3. Be seamless: Break through silos between channels and experiences

”Seamless” was another oft-mentioned word this week. Want the surefire quickest way to create a disjointed brand experience for your customers? Show them the seams between the different avenues they have into your company. This is often a result of marketers concentrating on internal silos (each individual channel) and not the overall customer experience and journey. Effective digital CMOs develop models that capture how their buyers interact with their brand both offline and online. They use that to figure out where those channels cross each other and how to add CX value.

4. Find the right data, not Big Data: Use data to target precisely and measure relentlessly

I didn't hear a single marketing leader all week complain about having too little data. Instead, many expressed frustration at not being able to use their data lakes to target better or understand where to best allocate resources. What should you consider here? Choose the right metrics. Leverage your own as well as third-party data to refine your buyer personas and segments. And finally, harness predictive analytics to your advantage. This then serves as the basis for more effectively targeting offers and experiences to your buyers.

5. Fail fast: Experiment aggressively and challenge business model assumptions

Today’s digital leaders are expected to tinker with everything from long-held assumptions to products to business models. Successful CMOs aren't ”just” marketers anymore, they’re business innovators. Sorofman had a delightful turn of phrase that stuck with me (and has a far wider range of applicability than ”just” marketing): “test and fail to learn and scale.” He advised digital leaders to sock away 10 percent of their total marketing budget and use those funds to do test and learn. Areas to focus on once you've set aside that budget? Kick the tires hard on every facet of your competitive advantage and figure out where your next new revenue streams are coming from.

Many digital CMOs are being regarded as the de facto leaders of not just their organization’s digital marketing transformation, but also as key players in the overall transformation of their organizations into digital businesses. Developing patterns like the ones described above will go a long way toward winning in that new battleground of customer experience. Digital CMOs who master them will, not coincidentally, also be the ones whose companies have separated themselves from the pack in the eyes of the most important piece of the ecosystem: the customer.

Read more

Check out my recent post, You've come a long way, Big Data, but still have far to go

Karsten Scherer leads analyst relations globally for TEKsystems. He enjoys exploring the intersections between clients, the analyst community, technology and business analysis. You can reach him @TwoARGuys on Twitter.

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