Everyone seems to be talking about the “digital CMO” these days. But even if the world is far more digital than it was only a few years ago, the job of the CMO remains the same in many fundamental ways. A CMO's job is to understand consumers first and foremost. And that means CMOs today have to build the brand, create consumer awareness, and drive conversions, just as they always have.
Moreover, when examined from a larger perspective, the transition to digital is hardly unprecedented. CMOs have always had to adapt as new technologies and opportunities emerged. Radio, TV, and direct mail all caused seismic shifts in the marketing world. Digital is ultimately just one more (multifaceted) channel for delivering effective messages to consumers -- which explains why many of the best digital marketers come from a direct marketing background. CMOs who have a fundamental grasp of positioning and branding should have no problem making the transition to digital as long as they are prepared to do their homework.
What has really changed for CMOs?
All of that said, there have been very real and important changes in the marketing world in the last decade. And CMOs at major companies do need to be able to put their traditional marketing skills to work if they want to thrive in the digital age.
The fundamental change the digital age has brought is that brand-centric marketing approaches no longer cut it. You simply can’t have the same tagline, products and experiences for everyone. The rise of Big Data has given marketers the ability to target individuals rather than entire demographics, and CMOs who don’t take advantage of these new tools will be left behind.
The rise of retargeting in the online display world is a great example of this trend. Not too long ago, it was standard practice for major brands to buy up all of the inventory on a Web site. Today, more and more CMOs understand that there is no reason to serve display impressions to everyone who visits a site in the hope of reaching the right person. It makes far more sense to target the right person in ad exchanges through the exchanges' real-time bidding process. Thanks to the growing number of sources of online data, it's now possible to target individuals based on everything from the terms they have searched to the items in their carts. You can even base your online targeting on offline purchases -- a practice that Facebook has recently taken an interest in.
There's little doubt that changes in the media world have forced many CMOs to adapt to this more fragmented approach to marketing. After all, media fragmentation makes it far harder for CMOs to reach a massive audience. The good old times of serving a TV ad to half of Americans while they watch "Dallas" are over. Now CMOs have to worry about a growing list of marketing channels that includes mobile, social, and online video.
If all of the changes have created some inevitable headaches for CMOs in recent years, they have also given CMOs a good reason to celebrate. With the rise of digital marketing, advertising’s accountability problem is finally coming to an end. For the first time, CMOs can clearly demonstrate that the dollars they are investing are generating returns. And thanks to metrics like view-through attribution, digital marketers can now demonstrate the value of their campaigns even when an ad is never clicked on.
What CMOs today need to know
So how do those CMOs who are lagging behind catch up with digital? To start with, successful CMOs are doing three things within the marketing organization: working with the best digital agencies, hiring incredible digital talent (who else can judge agencies' work?), and continuing to experiment. It's worth remembering that experimenting doesn't just mean testing an edgy creative. In the digital age, experimenting means embracing new platforms and devices even before they go mainstream.
Only a year or so ago, mobile ads seemed hopeless. Savvy CMOs stuck with mobile -- and many are now seeing the rewards as mobile ad technology improves. CMOs in our data-driven age also need to rethink the partnerships they form within their organizations. CMOs have long been accustomed to working with the chief financial officer and the head of sales. It's now time that they work with their chief information officer (CIO) and chief technology officer (CTO) as well. The CIO is responsible for customers' data -- which, of course, is critical for Big Data marketing initiatives. The CTO, meanwhile, will likely be selecting the company’s digital marketing platform, meaning the CMO and CTO have to be on the same page.
None of these changes should be cause for alarm. If you’re a CMO and you don’t like change, you’re probably in the wrong job. After all, we’re still in the early stages of the data revolution. If you think there’s a lot of information to handle now, just wait until the Google Glass data starts pouring in.