In a recent conversation with a chief technology officer, he asserted all digital technology changes in his organisation were being led by IT and not by marketing. It made me wonder: How long a marketing function like this could survive?
The marketing technologist may be playing an important bridging role between marketing and IT right now, but its rise will be short lived as CMOs become technologists in their own right.
That’s the view of OpenText global CMO, Adam Howatson, who caught up with CMO this week while participating in the Australian leg of the enterprise information management vendor’s global Innovation tour.
“Presently, there is absolutely an opportunity for the role of chief marketing technologist, but I don’t think it’ll persist for much longer,” he said. “The chief marketing technologist is a role that’s become necessary as a demographic bridge for helping traditional marketers embrace and understand the digital technologies changing every industry today.”
According to Howatson, the older demographic CMO has grown up with more traditional business and marketing skillsets such as customer segmentation, targeted marketing, development of messaging, building advertising profiles and managing budgets.
“They’ve been focused on traditional demand generation, curating the brand and representing the company’s footprint in the market, as well as reaching out and leading on customer experience,” he commented.
Yet as a young CMO of 33 years of age, who has always had access to technology and who works in a technology-led company, understanding how technology platforms play a role in customer experience and brand engagement is quickly becoming table stakes, he claimed.
“More and more, there is a need to represent your company from a digital perspective,” Howatson said. “Customers in the B2B and B2C space are making buying decisions and experiencing their buyer journey online. Many are deciding on products and services online before engaging with the vendor, which means you no longer have the privilege of sharing your point of view via a human connection.
“Whether it’s engaging through social, ecommerce, targeted digital advertising, digital assets development or rich media, the chief marketing technologist is helping that traditional business marketer fill that gap between the practices they are familiar with as marketing, and this new digital-first world.”
But as marketing chiefs emerge from the generation Y and Z camps, they’ll need to have as good a grasp on technology and its impact on their organisation as the CIO, Howatson said.
“The CMO will become not just a business administrator, but a technologist themselves,” he said. “You need to be able to have cogent connections with the technology and the CIO.”
Howatson has an engineering background and ran OpenText’s engineering unit prior to being appointed its CMO last October. He started his career in IT, working his way through roles in technical and partner marketing before joining OpenText’s product management group and rising to vice-president. He then ran the office of the CEO and corporate programs function, became VP of engineering for the enterprise software group, and is now CMO.
While agreeing there is some technology lag time in select long-standing industries like mining and resources, Howatson warned every industry is increasingly being exposed to the digital revolution and its impact on customer experience.
“The pace of the growth and acceleration is exponential. The person in charge of customer experience must become a technologist,” he said.
While he sees marketing technologists as a transitory one, Howatson did believe both other emerging digitally fuelled roles, such as chief digital officer and chief data, are more permanent additions to the c-suite.
“Both have responsibility across all division of the company,” he noted. For example, with the rise of big data and supporting analytics technologies, an organisation’s ability to get a better and comprehensive handle on data is better than it’s ever been. This has made the role of chief data officer an increasingly vital one.
“Focusing on data and extracting meaningful trends – whether it’s customer purchase and propensity journeys, digital experiences, cost optimisation and business process information… this role of chief data officer will persist and become more and more important to organisations,” Howatson claimed.
“But the chief marketing technologist who’s helping the luddite CMO get up to speed with technologies influencing their function will have a short window to do so.”
While both the marketing technologist and CMO roles are in market, both will need to become best friends with the CIO, Howatson continued.
“There are times when the technology decisions are going to cross the line and marketing buys technology without the cooperation of the CIO,” he said. “Those who make this step may have security breaches or maybe put the integrity of the data of the organisation in jeopardy. Those mistakes happen with the pace of change we are experiencing.
“While we have the window for a marketing technologist, they need to help establish the relationship with the CIO and IT to prioritise those technology decisions and push up the pace of technology deployment.”
Howatson articulated the role of today’s marketing technologist as either helping technology purchase acceleration, adoption and distribution of technology, or “begging forgiveness for the solution purchase where necessary”.
“These digital technologies may be obsolete in 12 months’ time, so to have to wait six months means missing half the window of opportunity for marketers on that particular technology,” he said.
For those CMOs who aren’t quite up to speed on technology yet, it may not be imperative to understand every one of the 1800 or more marketing and ad platforms in the market. What is important is identifying those that are going to be relevant to your organisation, Howatson said.
To help his own technology smarts, Howatson said he takes an afternoon every week to seek out information on nascent technologies and emerging trends online.
“You must have a passionate curiosity, be technology savvy enough to educate yourself, and you have to talk the talk, speak the language and re-educate yourself on the elements that will be effective in your business,” he said. “There needs to be relentless perseverance in the CMO role.
“If you are a business admin-focused marketer today that doesn’t quite get the technology or thinks you’ve reached a point where you can stop learning and rest on your laurels, then you’re dead.”
Howatson’s advice for today’s marketing technologists
“You have to be a business administrator and speak the language of the business – the costs benefits, customer journey, buying propensities and customer behaviours and what will provide a better experience than your competitors,” he advised.
“Secondly, and the other side of the coin to this, is you have to have an understanding of the technology. Not everyone can have an engineering degree, but the moment you stop taking time to learn what’s new, you are toast. The pace of change is daily and weekly.”
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