by Scott Brinker and Laura McLellan – the HBR.org
Marketing is rapidly becoming one of the most technology-dependent functions in business. In 2012 the research and consulting firm Gartner predicted that by 2017, a company’s chief marketing officer would be spending more on technology than its chief information officer was. That oft-quoted claim seems more credible every day.
A new type of executive is emerging at the center of the transformation: the chief marketing technologist. CMTs are part strategist, part creative director, part technology leader, and part teacher. Although they have an array of titles—Kimberly-Clark has a “global head of marketing technology,” while SAP has a “business information officer for global marketing,” for example—they have a common job: aligning marketing technology with business goals, serving as a liaison to IT, and evaluating and choosing technology providers. About half are charged with helping craft new digital business models as well.
Regardless of what they’re called, the best CMTs set a technology vision for marketing. They champion greater experimentation and more-agile management of that function’s capabilities. And they are change agents, working within the function and across the company to create competitive advantage.
Before we describe the role in detail, let’s consider the forces that gave rise to it.
In a digital world, software is the chief means of engaging prospects and customers. A marketing team’s choice of software and how to configure and operate it, along with how creatively the team applies it, materially affects how the firm perceives and influences its audience and how the audience sees the firm.
As digital marketing and e-commerce increasingly augment or replace traditional touchpoints, the importance of mastering those capabilities grows. Digital marketing budgets are expanding annually at double-digit rates, and CEOs say that digital marketing is now the most important technology-powered investment their firms can make.
This rise in digital budgets is not merely a migration of spending from traditional to digital media. A growing portion of marketing’s budget is now allocated to technology itself. A recent Gartner study found that 67% of marketing departments plan to increase their spending on technology-related activities over the next two years. In addition, 61% are increasing capital expenditures on technology, and 65% are increasing budgets for service providers that have technology-related offerings.
The challenge of effectively managing all this technology is daunting. There are now well over 1,000 marketing software providers worldwide, with offerings ranging from major platforms for CRM, content management, and marketing automation to specialized solutions for social media management, content marketing, and customer-facing apps. Relationships with agencies and service providers now include technical interfaces for the exchange and integration of code and data. And bespoke software projects to develop unique customer experiences and new sources of advantage are proliferating under marketing’s umbrella.
Bridging Marketing and IT
In this new environment, the CMO and the CIO must collaborate closely. But executive-level cooperation isn’t enough; a supporting organizational structure is also needed. A company can’t simply split marketing technology down the middle, King Solomon style, and declare that the CMO gets the marketing half and the CIO gets the technology half. Such a neat division might look good on paper, but it leaves yawning knowledge gaps in practice. Marketing might not understand how to fully leverage what IT can offer, and IT might not understand how to accurately translate marketing requirements into technical capabilities.
Instead, marketing technology must be managed holistically. In a virtuous cycle, what’s possible with technology should inspire what’s desirable for marketing, and vice versa. The right structure will help marketing become proficient with the array of software it must use to attract, acquire, and retain customers. It will help marketing leadership recognize how new technologies can open up new opportunities. And it will allow marketing to deftly handle the technical facets of agency and service provider relationships in both contract negotiations and day-to-day operations.
The CMT’s job, broadly, is to enable this holistic approach. He or she is the equivalent of a business unit–level CIO or CTO. People in this role need technical depth—many have backgrounds in IT management or software development—but they must also be passionate about marketing. A common profile is an executive with an undergraduate degree in computer science and a graduate degree in business. Many CMTs have experience in digital agencies or with building customer-facing web products.
Most CMTs report primarily to marketing, either to the CMO or to another senior marketing executive, such as the VP of marketing operations or the VP of digital marketing. Many also have dotted-line reporting relationships with IT.
Acting as the connective tissue between different constituencies, these executives engage with four key stakeholders: the CMO and other senior marketing executives, the CIO and the IT organization, the broader marketing team, and outside software and service providers. We will describe their interactions with these stakeholders in turn.
The CMO and other senior marketing executives.
The chief marketing technologist supports these executives’ strategy by ensuring technical capabilities and advocating for approaches enabled by new technologies. For example, Joseph Kurian, Aetna’s head of marketing technology and innovation for enterprise marketing, championed the use of “voice of the customer” software to collect user feedback across the company’s mobile and web interfaces. The software has improved customers’ digital interactions with Aetna—a key strategic priority.
The CIO and the IT organization.
CMTs facilitate and prioritize technology requests from marketing, translating between technical and marketing requirements and making sure that marketing’s systems adhere to IT policies. Andreas Starke, the business information officer for global marketing at SAP, is the principal point of contact between the two functions and streamlines the planning and execution of marketing technology projects. For example, he led the rollout of a shared automation platform to replace the disjointed systems used by previously siloed marketing groups.
The broader marketing team.
The CMT ensures that the marketing staff has the right software and training. Brian Makas, the director of marketing technology and business intelligence at ThomasNet, saw that field sales reps and support staff were inefficiently coordinating their activities through weekly Excel spreadsheets. He jettisoned that time-consuming process in favor of real-time views obtained through the company’s CRM system—and implemented the new protocol in just a week.
Outside software and service providers.
Here, the CMT assesses how well providers’ technical capabilities meet marketing’s needs, helps integrate the systems, and monitors their performance. Shawn Goodin, the director of marketing technology at the Clorox Company, led the evaluation of six vendors for a platform that would optimize customers’ experiences across channels and devices and integrate consumer data across marketing, sales, and R&D.
The work of these CMTs shows just how open-ended this new role is—and why an executive fully at home in both marketing and IT is essential for the job.