CIO should be a CMO's best friend: Sephora marketing chief

CMO of US make-up brands talks about how digital has disrupted the retail space and why technology is an increasingly important capability in modern customer engagement

The CIO is a key partner for CMOs when comes to making the transition to a world where digital lies at the heart of every customer interaction, claims the CMO of US-based make-up brand, Sephora.

Speaking at the Adobe Digital Marketing Summit in Salt Lake City, Sephora’s chief marketing officer, Julie Bornstein, said the CIO is her “best friend” within the business today. She attributed the stronger tie between marketing and IT to the rise of digital and ecommerce.

“I’m a big fan of his [the CIO] and vice versa,” she told attendees. “We see our relationship as a partnership and as a huge asset to the Sephora business.”

According to Bornstein, retailers have historically viewed technology as a back-office function, and tried to spend as little money as possible on technology or outsourced it. More recently, they have begun realising what a critical asset IT is thanks to digital disruption.

“Technology has moved to the consumer and it’s all front facing,” she commented. “IT therefore needs to be a core asset."

While ecommerce was originally seen as a threat to bricks-and-mortar initially, it’s now considered a key opportunity to engage customers in a more holistic way, Bornstein said. “We see digital as a true weapon in connecting with consumers and creating a great retail experience.”

To meet the needs of a more digitally savvy customer, Sephora invested in an in-house technology team a couple of years ago, and is working with technology vendors such as Adobe to understand how to best tackle digital within the retail context, Bornstein said. She claimed the investment in IT has been a significant organisational change.

“Today, we paint the picture and start with the consumer experience in mind,” she continued. “Even if you’re not an IT company, you should realise now how valuable it [technology] is.”

The growing need for a relationship between CMO and CIO also popped up during an executive panel session for press during the Summit.

Adobe senior vice-president of digital marketing, Brad Rencher, said the company was witnessing a transition in the way the two roles work together.

“CMOs had been striking out on their own because IT was perhaps moving too slowly and they wanted to go their own way,” he commented. “In the last two years, forward-thinking and digital-first CIOs have realised what IT and the CIO office can deliver as enterprises go through this digital revolution.”

Adobe’s new reseller agreement with SAP, as well as its partnership with Epsilon and other third-party vendors, is of a reflection of the need for marketing solutions to play within a broader enterprise environment, he said.

Adobe CMO, Ann Lewnes, said her and the vendor’s CIO had made peace several years ago.

“The CIO has looked upon us marketers historically as the ‘fluffy people’, and we were at the bottom of the food chain; they didn’t give us any marketing technology support,” she said. “But now people realise marketing is driving the business and CMOs must be more in tune with the numbers.

“You can’t adopt marketing automation without hooking up to the back end. CIOs are the stewards of the back-end operations, while CMOs are the stewards of customer experience and we are much more aligned than ever before and we have to get even more aligned.”

Lewnes added Adobe’s own CEO, Shantanu Narayen, claims the CMO will soon be more in tune with the numbers than the CFO.

Narayen also pointed out the first thing now discussed at Adobe’s weekly management meetings, is not just what subscribers did in terms of engagement on the site, but also what’s happening through the entire marketing function. Key factors include how many people the vendor is touching, trial numbers, and how many individuals downloaded a piece of software.

“You won’t find a company where there is a clear distinction between what is marketing and what is technology; these are becoming blurred,” Narayen continued. “This will require that every CIO and CMO work together to provide this unified view of the enterprise; it’s not an option anymore.

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“At Adobe, we have to serve not just marketing with our products, we need to work with every enterprise and financial system that exists. This allows someone like Ann to not just be more creative, but also enables CMOs to drive the business.”

Digital's disruptive force

In line with the Summit's focus on reinvention, Sephora's Bornstein also touched on the wider digital economic trends influencing how brands engage with customers. One example is the evolution of the Internet from one-way street to dynamic social Web, she said. Retailers used to getting immediate feedback from customers on what they did and didn’t like in-store are now starting to recognise the same capabilities and opportunities in digital delivery.

“Now, with anything you do, you can get instant feedback on what customers like and don’t like,” Bornstein said. “We can’t pretend we don’t know anymore.”

Another major mindset shift has been around the level of complexity involved in customer engagement. “Originally it was about being an ecommerce business; now it’s digital consumer touch points that go into the store, mobile, Web, and it’s much more complex for an organisation to manage,” Bornstein said. “It’s also expensive and it’s moving fast. “

Bornstein was one of the ecommerce pioneers at US department store giant, Nordstrom, and initially joined Sephora to head up its ecommerce team. She was appointed CMO one year ago and now oversees both digital and marketing functions.

“The benefit of this union is that we have all of our resources pooled and can think about our money and our people holistically,” she said. “Whether it’s a consumer experience created in digital, or an ad we run, we think about it in terms of how the consumer experiences it.

“It also doesn’t hurt having a P&L through ecommerce to help fund all these great initiatives we want to do.”

CMO evolution

As part of her presentation, Borstein also touched on the changing role of the CMO and highlighted three key trends triggering the position’s reinvention. The first was globalisation, and the fact that younger generations of consumers don’t identify any territorial borders around brands.

“Border definitions are irrelevant to consumers, which means we need to think about them and market trends globally,” Bornstein claimed.

The second trend is personalisation, an industry buzzword which she believes still has to come to fruition.“Mobile enables personalisation in a whole new way, and it’s still out there as an opportunity,” she added.

The third trend contributing to the CMO’s reinvention is content, and its importance in the way brands communicate and engage with customers and prospects.

“Content and commerce were originally very separate but are now coming together,” Bornstein said. “The power of content in the consumer experience, whether it’s in-store, online or via a device, is going to become more important.”

- Nadia Cameron travelled to Digital Marketing Summit as a guest of Adobe.

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