Business Blurred Lines: The CMO And The Cloud – Part 1

July 10, 2014 by Olivier Blanchard - 2 Comments

For decades, the role of the CMO seemed pretty static: the channels didn’t change much, the methods didn’t either. The job was basically a management game that balanced strategy, creative, production, and media buying. And since most consumer products companies outsourced much of their marketing and advertising to ad agencies, the job sort of became more of a juggling act involving budgets, agency relationships, and legal. Without going into a long drawn out treatise on the CMO’s role, what makes a great CMO and a lousy one, and how broad the role can be depending on the individual, the brand or even the industry, the fact is that for the past couple of decades, the role for many companies had sort of slipped into a slump of aggrandized quasi-relevance. (Which probably helps explain why five years ago, the average tenure of a CMO was somewhere around 14 months.)

There is probably a whole series to be written on the need for a CMO reboot, but today is not the day to take on that monumental of a task. Today, let’s keep things simple and touch on a CMO tweak. A CMO improvement. A CMO app update, in today’s parlance, if you will. What I want to point at today is a sandbox that every CMO could be using and should be using… but that many CMOs aren’t using yet. Why aren’t they? Putting aside pathological change aversion and the occasional A-grade brand of late-career laziness, two main reasons: 1) Many CMOs simply don’t know that these capabilities could be at their disposal at the click of a button. 2) Many CMOs simply don’t have the kind of dialog/relationship with their IT department to be able to take advantage of new technologies properly.

This is the part of the post where I bring up “the cloud.” I know. #eyeroll. Everyone is talking about the cloud again all of a sudden. (I say “again” because the cloud isn’t new.)  Cloud this, cloud that, cloud cloud cloud. But the cloud happens to be at the core of today’s topic, most notably the lack of understanding in regards to the cloud that many marketing professionals (among them CMOs) seem to suffer from, still. In ten years, this won’t be a problem. Every CMO at the top of his or her game will be intimately involved with cloud capabilities. But today, right now, most marketing departments I run into are still relatively out of the loop when it comes to what can be done with it, and more to the point, how the cloud can be leveraged by marketing departments as an operational force multiplier.

Before I go on, I need to be super careful not to slip into the technical aspects of this discussion. I want to stick to capabilities and “doing things” rather than get under the hood and talk about how the things are made to work. Clear your minds of servers and IT and ethernets and bandwidth for a minute, and focus on the sorts of things marketing departments could do better, faster (and cheaper) if they could. If they had the sort of computing power that almost unlimited amounts of cash could buy. Things like real-time market research, virtual product modeling, real-time global sales tracking, real-time digital campaign monitoring, consumer insights, predictive modeling, and so on. To get us warmed up, here’s a little video from the 2014 IBM Impact conference that will give you a little more insight into what I am talking about:

(If the video doesn’t play for you, go watch it on Youtube by clicking here.)

Also, if you missed IBM’s latest spreecast on the topic – Cloud: Reshaping The World Of Business -, do yourself a favor and put aside an hour this month to watch it, or to make your marketing management team and your IT management team watch it together. (Click here to go watch it.)

Here are some things I want you to think about as you click on those links and start to feel light bulbs blinking on:

1. Sit down with your IT management team to discuss your needs.

If your IT department is still wrestling with its own in-house servers, running into capacity issues, suffering outages, and you are fairly certain that your IT capabilities are outdated, you probably need to have a sit-down with your IT management team to discuss your needs and how they intend to address them properly in the next 3-18 months. Invite the CFO into that discussion, by the way, since that discussion cannot end with “budget shortfalls” and “next year” and “we have a plan” or anything along the lines of “we can’t really do what you want right now. If the objection is financial, the cloud is probably the answer (you’ll basically be outsourcing computing capabilities on demand, and the cost of doing that will be a fraction of what an old-school “we do it all in-house” IT manager will think it costs). If the objection is technical/current capabilities/”we’re tied down to the technology we have already invested in,” no, you aren’t tied down to anything. If the “technology you have invested in” (dusty old servers and software solutions) isn’t doing the job, move your technical needs to the cloud, where you can have access to all the software and capacity you need on demand.

2. It helps to know what you are talking about, so don’t ask your IT management team about the cloud without already knowing the answers to all of your questions.

Best case scenario, your IT management team will breath an audible sigh of relief when you ask them about the cloud, and next thing you know, you will be watching football games at each other’s houses and celebrating Christmas together for the rest of your lives. Worst case scenario, your IT management team might have been colonized by server trolls and their answer to the question (following a not-so-subtle eye-roll) will be along the lines of “No.” Unreliable, unsafe, data security breaches, blah blah blah. (Translation: too much work, I’m not really current on cloud computing but don’t want to admit it, I am way out of my depth with any technology more recent than Windows 95.) In the first instance (the best case scenario), knowing what you are talking about will help you and your IT team collaborate faster and more efficiently. You will be able to tack to the straightest line between where you are and where you want to be. In the latter instance (the worst case scenario), you will be able to diplomatically point out your IT trolls’ BS and steer them in the direction you want them to go in, lest they lose face in front of the rest of the organization. Just don’t put yourself in a position where a change-averse IT manager (yes, they still exist and their population is larger than you think) will be able to pull the wool over your eyes. CMOs and other marketing professionals MUST become literate, if not fluent, in matters of technology and cloud computing.

3. Assuming that your IT management team isn’t completely useless (if it is, it’s probably time to make a change), marketing departments must start working closely with IT on a quasi-daily basis.

If your marketing department doesn’t have (or seem to have) one or more dedicated IT pros on the payroll, you are probably doing it wrong. For starters, the relationship that marketing departments have with IT can’t be limited to technical troubleshooting. “We need a laptop and some passwords for the new hire” and “hey, I can’t get into my email for some reason” cannot be the extent of a marketing department’s relationship with IT. For starters, IT should be helping you manage databases, software, market research. They should be Marketing’s internal partner in regards to social listening, monitoring platforms, digital marketing, e-commerce, reporting, testing new tech, data strategy, and so on. This requires two things: 1) Technical literacy on the part of decision-makers and key actors within the Marketing department, and 2) open collaboration between Marketing and IT, where IT is invited by Marketing to help manage technology adoption and optimize its use across the department.

If IT isn’t part of a Marketing department’s daily operations, that department is essentially working in Windows 95 era Marketing mode. (Yes, the creative might be good, but what does it matter if from the audience side, the targeting isn’t dialed-in and the publishing isn’t throttled properly?) An embedded (or properly merged) IT department can help Marketing departments accelerate market research, product tests, campaign tests, and consumer feedback. It can help Marketing departments better leverage social and digital technologies. It can help Marketing departments sort through its mountains of data and actually derive real-world insights from all that data. (Egads! Not just collect it but… use it?) It can help Marketing departments track changes in market dynamics and model these changes over time to establish clear baselines, trends and predictive models. It can help Marketing departments improve their CRM practices for better customer retention (see the Social Business Reboot series for the value of customer retention.) In other words, with data and technology now integral components of the marketing discipline, a marketing department that doesn’t dive into the IT world is bound to be outpaced and outdone by more modern competitors. The same is true of a CMO: an absence of technological fluency and a penchant for working in an IT-free silo are very dangerous red flags in any tenured CMO or new CMO hire.

Does this mean that IT’s role inside the organization is changing as well? Absolutely. The evolution isn’t Marketing’s to bear alone. IT needs to change as well. The macro: IT needs to reinvent its value proposition inside the organization, not just as the guardians of a bottom-heavy and arcane hardware infrastructure, but as an internal technology-driving strategic partner. The micro: IT needs to become more operational, closer to day-to-day line-of-business needs, and more involved with technology planning and tactical support.

To avoid any chicken/egg confusion, the impetus is on Marketing (and other lines of business) to lead the way in regards to this transition into more organic collaboration. The reason is simple: IT being in a support role, it cannot be responsible for dictating the technology and operational needs of other departments. IT is there to help solve their problems and identify solutions. The specific needs and requirements have to come from the line of business. That is why technologically fluent CMOs are so important. (Them, and a push towards either shattering silos or building bridges between silos.) Tech-savvy CMOs are the catalysts behind this next business evolution, and the companies that both promote and hire accordingly will fare a lot better than those who fail to either see the importance of this change in the role’s foundations or refuse to act in time.

In Part 2, I will share segments from another interview of IBM’s Eric Saint-Marc, who is probably one of the most insightful person on the planet to talk to about this stuff, whether your choice is English or French, so be on the lookout for that later this month.

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This post was brought to you by IBM for Midsize Business and opinions are my own. To read more on this topic, visit IBM’s Midsize Insider. Dedicated to providing businesses with expertise, solutions and tools that are specific to small and midsized companies, the Midsize Business program provides businesses with the materials and knowledge they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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