Why technology matters now to CMOs more than ever

Sheryl Pattek

Sheryl Pattek is vice-president, executive partner at Forrester Research

Today’s marketers find themselves living in a brave new world where customer understanding and the ability to provide value to customers across an exploding number of engagement channels throughout their buying journey is now the name of the game.

The plethora of these offline and digital engagement options has forever changed the balance of power, putting customers in charge. As a result, technology is now necessary to help marketers engage effectively with customers and handle the external fragmentation and internal data sources that drive decisions and results.

Whether you’re a CMO in B2B, B2C or B2B2C, you must accept the fact that you can no longer run marketing without technology. Implemented well, marketing technology can provide the foundation you need to deliver the consistent customer engagement that empowered buyers demand across their life cycle.

At a recent Forbes CMO Network event hosted at the offices of leading venture capital firm of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB ), attendees were provided with a unique insider’s view of the newest cutting-edge companies and technologies coming out of Silicon Valley. It quickly became obvious that marketing and technology are growing even more intertwined every day, providing new and exciting ways to engage customers across the buying journey,

So, whether you’re ready or not, it’s time for you it’s time to ramp up your technology IQ now or risk being left behind. Why now?

  1. Technology innovation to enhance customer engagement is coming fast and furious. Since 1995, the legendary Mary Meeker has accurately predicted the most important technology dynamics and their impact on business and consumers, from the rise of the Internet to the spread of mobile computing and the growing importance of China. Clearly, when Mary talks, the industry listens. And it was no different at this event. Mary provided a crisp and invigorating outlook for important evolving technology trends in social, commerce, media, and mobile monetization, what Mary calls “the reimagination of everything.” Here at Forrester, James McQuivey, our leading analyst and author on this subject (Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation), refers to this phenomenon as digital disruption. We agree with Mary’s premise that every conceivable human activity is in the process of being disrupted and transformed — from connectivity (mobile phones) to purchases and cash registers (Square), manufacturing (3D printers), and even education (Codecademy).
  2. Influence is rising in importance. Up to 80% of today’s buyers begin their purchase journey with a referral from their network. With a referral in hand, buyers control the rest of their purchase journey, trusting validation and messaging from their network significantly more than from vendors. With this in mind, you must understand and begin to incorporate influence into your brand strategy. Look to new vendors that measure and monitor influence such as Klout and Appinions to explore the possibilities. My soon to be published research, “How to Build a Strong B2B Brand” (subscription required), will explore this subject in more detail and provide practical advice on how to incorporate influence into your brand strategy.
  3. Curating content effectively is the final frontier. There is no doubt that the right content at the right time in the right context helps customers solve their business problems. But, at Forrester, we hear over and over again how CMOs are challenged to create and curate great content customers care about, want to buy into, participate in and share with peers and social media connections. Content curation capabilities developed by Flipboard provide an interesting approach to solving this challenge. By collecting and curating information and stories into magazines on any topic imaginable, Flipboard provides a platform for businesses to build their thought leadership and tell their brand story in new ways. Cisco Futurist Feed is just one example of how brands are putting technology such as Flipboard into practice.

With the rapid advancement in technology providing so many complex choices, it’s no surprise that many CMOs feel ill-equipped to provide the vision and strategic direction required to make sound and effective marketing technology purchase decisions. As discussed in my research report, “The CMO’s Role in Technology Purchasing: How CMOs Should Plan for Technology Investments”, here’s how to crack the code and make marketing technology work for you:

  • Use technology to run marketing like a business. As a CMO, you need a marketing technology infrastructure that can pull together disparate data, customer input, responses, and campaign results from various systems to tell a concise and easily understood story on the ROI of your efforts.
  • Build the right marketing technology strategy for you and your company. While you may have used technology in parts of your organization, it’s time to consolidate all of your efforts into a concise, customer relevant strategy. Focus on answering key questions to build a strategy that works for you: How do I align the right technology to the buyer’s journey to deliver the right message to the right customer at the right time, and should I focus my technology investments on customer-facing, customer engagement, marketing operations, or measurement and analytic technology? These are important questions and ones a future-savvy CMO can’t afford to overlook.
  • Define your role. Not all CMOs are comfortable with technology or ready to tackle the challenge. As a C-suite executive, the onus is on you to define your long-term role as a technological visionary for your enterprise. Take Forrester’s marketing technology skill assessment to analyze your skills along the important dimensions of strategy, process, technology, and measurement and analytics — all critical components to your success. Define the skills you have, what skills you need to build, and get started now.
  • Identify how to work effectively with your CIO. You and your CIO need to have alignment on a joint vision for customers and a focus on them. CMOs that choose to ignore or miss key integration points, will not achieve the desired benefits from their technology investments, and instead allow the technology to dictate their strategy and marketing processes.

Technology use in marketing is here to stay, entwined together forever. It’s time for CMOs to understand how technology fits into the new marketing equation and lead efforts to implement the right technology solution for their organizations. And, it’s also time for CMOs to build and maintain a strong relationship with their CIO to lead this charge. At the end of the day, CMOs must achieve their marketing objectives, grow the business, and improve customer experience. And when it comes to that, technology is the key to the kingdom.

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