CMO interview: Globys’ Lara Albert talks technology in marketing

The big data analytic vendor's head of global marketing talks about why a rise in tech smarts across CMOs has them hitting out against 'black box' solutions

Getting to the heart of how customers behave through data and analytical insight has become a pre-requisite for CMOs looking to keep ahead of disruptive competitors and consumer expectations. As a result, building technology know-how, as well as the teams and operational capabilities to do this at scale, has become priority number one.

One person who knows a lot about the data-driven marketing revolution is Globys senior vice-president of global marketing, Lara Albert. Thanks to her position as a chief marketing officer, as well as brand leader of a big data analytics company, she has a unique perspective on how technology is changing marketing.

In fact, according to Albert, CMOs have become so concerned about technology, they no longer want to just buy a “black box” solution to meet their needs, they want to actually understand it.

“Increasingly in meetings with our clients, they keep saying they don’t want a ‘black box’ solution, or a system that produces a result but doesn’t provide visibility of transparency on how that result was achieved,” she tells CMO.

“CMOs today want insights into how their customers behave, and insights that help drive the marketing being done. And they want insights into what’s working, what’s not and why, at scale. Without those insights, the 25 per cent less cost, 10 per cent increase in RPU or 6 per cent reduction in churn is irrelevant.

“They are looking for a new approach to drive improvements in retention, increases in revenue, and so on. If they don’t have the insights, they don’t feel like they can drive systematic improvement. Any gains are perceived as a one-off and unsustainable over time.”

Changing face of marketing

Albert has had plenty of time to witness as well as participate in the changes technology is making to marketing.

After starting her career in consumer marketing and brand management roles at Kraft, she moved to America Online and her first role in the technology sector. Just over five years ago, Albert switched to B2B marketing with VeriSign, which had made a number of acquisitions within the telecoms vertical. Shortly after that, the vendor spun out its telco and analytics offering into a new entity, Globys, and Albert became its vice-president of global marketing.

While part of the transformation as a CMO was triggered by shifting industry sectors, Albert agrees marketing has become a whole new ball game thanks to technology.

“When I first got into marketing, it was much more about the creative side, generating great TV campaigns and on-pack promotions,” she recalls. “Clearly this has changed thanks to mobile, social and the use of technology. I’ve had to become more familiar with these emerging trends and as we help clients move their businesses forward.”

In her role at Globys, Albert also meets with many CMOs globally, and says several common themes are driving further change to marketing leadership.

“A lot of companies we work with are facing real competitive pressure and changing market dynamics,” she comments. “In response, we’re seeing a much greater focus on customer experience and enhancement, and more customer-centric versus product centric approaches.

“This requires much greater levels of sophistication and moving from traditional reporting and dashboarding, to using technology to translate insights into decisions and actions in real time. Marketers are turning to technology to obtain that sophistication and to move from traditional business intelligence and data warehousing analytics to ‘big data marketing’. This is where you’re leveraging data science, automation and behavioural analytics to be much smarter about engaging with customers.”

In Globys’ targeted sectors of mobile, telecoms and financial services, most CMOs have also realised doing things differently is the key to sustainability and leapfrogging the competition, Albert claims. Technology is key in enabling that.

Marketing and IT alignment

It’s inevitable that with this focus on technology, the relationship between CMO and CIO crops up. Albert is encouraged by a rise in the number of CMOs bringing their technology counterparts into the decision-making process.

“Even at an early-stage meeting, marketers are bringing in people from across different business groups such as those involved with monetising the base, and analysts from IT,” she comments. “Because marketing groups are now so much more involved in the choices of different technologies, we’re seeing much greater involvement earlier of both marketing and IT.

“Previously as a vendor, you’d find yourself in a scenario where they’d say ‘let’s not bring IT in, we’re the business owners and deal with them when they have to’. Now, marketers want IT to understand how this tech platform can help them, and why it’s different.

“You could take this as having to now convince a whole team of people that what they’re doing is still valuable and you’re not replacing what they’re doing. But it’s also about augmenting what they are doing and inserting a different element to the whole picture to make things faster, easier and smarter.”

Albert also believes the push for more systematic technology adoption and understanding is because marketers increasingly realise they’re responsible for their organisation’s most important asset: Customers.

“Every CMO wants to say they fully and completely understand their customers and have a comprehensive and accurate view of their customers and how they’re behaving, choices and preferences. IT is not on the hook for that,” she says.

“That’s why I think we’re seeing these marketers insisting that what you present them is not any sort of black box. While it’s important to highlight business impact, it’s not enough. If you’re going to have a 20 per cent impact on revenues this year, how and why, and how is this sustainable? What can you learn from the results of that?”

Questions to ask vendors

To help CMOs still struggling with how to get their heads around assessing technology, Albert offers up several tips and questions they can ask. The first is: “What am I going to learn about my customers that I wouldn’t already know and what am I going to uncover?

“If the marketing function is at all interested in driving customer experience enhancement, it comes down to what they can learn about individuals that allows them to act in a smarter, more personalised manner,” she says.

“The other question to ask is how does this solution drive better results? A lot of companies make claims of an impact on churn or lift in response rate, but the reality is marketers want to understand how that is achieved. CMOs may shy away from specifically knowing how a technology works, but they still want to know what’s driving it. Is it testing capability? Or delivering one-to-one context-based offers? Is it machine-driven optimisation? What is the ‘it’ behind the box?”

The third consideration on Albert’s list is understanding how the solution not only works today, but will evolve.

“One big challenge marketers face is they have these toolkits they have to hire specialists to configure or build. That’s the balance with these solutions they interact with today,” she says. “Because of that model, those solutions don’t evolve naturally; they have to be reconfigured. That’s a very manually intensive process.”

Marketers should ask how solutions will evolve as they have new problems to address, or as competitive dynamics change, Albert says.

“How easy is it to run a different set of marketing strategies or uncover a completely new insight into customer behaviour? As new things are introduced, adopted and consumed, behavioural patterns change. If you don’t have a solution that is designed to capture that and reveal it in a way that drives better marketing, then you’re stuck.”

A final one to watch is being locked into one way of marketing. “If I’ve hardcoded how to run marketing strategy based on all my current service plans, product offerings and what’s available and then the whole world changes, what do I do?” Albert asks.

“Now marketers are making more decisions around tech purchases and justifying these to the CEO, they have to be able to answer these questions, roll their sleeves up and understand how these technologies work and how they’re different or better than alternatives.”

Read more: Friday infographic: Marketing automation's influence

Lara Albert’s key attributes of a CMO

  • Being business focused: “The most important challenges on the CMO’s desk are those that relate to the business specifically and performance,” she claims. “As head of marketing in our company, I try to focus on those areas impacting our business from a performance perspective.”
  • Being analytical: “Today’s CMO is much more analytically minded than when I started my marketing career,” Albert comments. “That’s due to the fact that companies have so much information and data to work with. If the CMO is not in a position to embrace that – whether it’s about their customers or the performance results – then they’re going to have a hard time succeeding in the new world.”
  • Being a visionary: “The CMO in many cases has their pulse on the end user/customer, and the market more so than anyone else in the c-suite,” Albert claims. “As a result, it’s the CMO’s position and responsibility to help guide company vision on a number of fronts – innovation, strategy – given their knowledge of the market and competitors.”

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