Your Next CMO Needs To Be An Engineer

As a discipline, marketing has always been the Wild West, an industry where blind faith and bluff were accepted without question. Marketers buying campaigns in TV have tended to wait for weekly ratings, check their sales figures and estimate whether the two are correlated. The role of chief marketing officer (CMO) has historically been simply to pick the right ad agency.

Too often when we think of “marketing,” we picture someone creative doing the job. Traditionally, marketing teams have been dominated by copywriters, graphic designers and brainstormers — mostly arts graduates. But those days are gone.

Now that media platforms all produce signals and data that can be read to accurately understand message reception, the art of marketing has become much more rooted in numbers and results. Tracking consumer behavior across multiple channels and systems, then to take those learnings and optimize on them, requires some fairly complex process management, and I believe calls for a scientific head more than a creative one. 



In the mar-tech explosion, there are now more than 2,500 software-as-a-service platforms out there for marketing bosses to choose from. Just selecting your vendor stack involves significant systems thinking and serious nerdish reasoning. The old-line, creative CMO is now rapidly dying out.

By 2017, chief information officers (CIOs) will control bigger budgets than CMOs, according to Gartner. With so much of the function of marketing now being processed digitally and systematically, it’s no wonder.

The modern marketing team is now responsible for collecting data, understanding signals, digital purchase journeys, distributing content and analytics. Your company’s chief marketer needs to have these competencies, must have a real grasp of systems, and bring a serious programmatic mind to the creative opportunity.

Most brands knows this. But few have really yet responded by implementing such a fundamental change. While industries like finance, customer support and retail have long since adapted to automation and systemic thinking, marketing is the last frontier of business operations to hold out.

“Forty-nine percent of marketers report ‘trusting my gut’ to guide decisions on where to invest their marketing budgets,” according to a ResearchNow survey for Adobe. While this approach was common practice a few decades ago, today it is just embarrassing. Marketing is changing at such a fast pace; unless you have exceedingly keen interest in this new set of requirements, you are likely to be left behind. Chief marketers must change and, if they don’t, CEOs must change how they recruit marketing leadership.

Historically, company’s chief digital officers have reported to marketing chiefs, a view reflecting the belief that digital is one of many channels serving marketing. But the modern reality is just the opposite, with virtually every facet of marketing now becoming data-centric, never mind programmatic, digital leaders hold the keys to the kingdom.

The change that is required is symptomatic of the inversion that has taken place in media itself. No longer is the purchase funnel simply about just inspiring interest that leads to purchase in some far-flung and separate domain. Today, both the message and the purchase frequently occur rapidly in the same environment, if not bundled in the same message.

Organizationally, however, many brands are built for yesterday’s world. Many marketers know they must reinvent themselves, but don’t know how, according to ResearchNow’s survey. Company leaders, therefore, should be taking the lead to ensure their marketing departments are sufficiently configured, by bringing on smart talent with the analytical chops to succeed. 

With only 14% of marketers reporting skills in analyzing data, companies should look for their next CMO from within the ranks of their engineering team. Engineers are trained to have an understanding of how data can be harnessed for targeted and contextual application, as well as having natural inclination to try out new technology to improve delivery. Take the example of Apple CMO Philip Shiller, who started at the company working as a programmer. 

It’s not enough to simply promote a forward-thinking and digital heavy marketing strategy. You need to have the team with the talent to execute it successfully.

3 comments about "Your Next CMO Needs To Be An Engineer".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, January 22, 2016 at 9:18 a.m.

    The only "medium" that fits this description is digital and here we have all sorts of issues with the validity of the data, how it is defined, etc. as well as little knowledge about whether or nor living, breathing consumers are actually seeing the ads and getting the message. Yes, there is always the direct response aspect--CTRs, mostly---but these represent a tiny fraction of the "audience impressions". For a branding ad campaign, there is a lot, lot more to marketing than using "data" to orchestrate direct responses.

    While I agree that CMOs, who often come from a sales, not a "creative", background, need to be better informed about targeting, and  media-related metrics, they also need to see the bigger picture in the light of a company's strategic direction, how it stands within its product category, what new lines or products should be explored, whiich old ones need phasing out, etc. So, I respectfully disagree. Your next CMO should be the man or woman who is best suited for the whole job, not just one aspect of it.

  2. Gray Hammond from G R Hammond, January 22, 2016 at 11:44 a.m.

    A typical (and rather outdated) ICT POV.

  3. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, January 22, 2016 at 5:57 p.m.

    I agree with Ed. In fact, having come from a tech background myself (aerospace, MA-Applied Math, supercomputers), anyone who follows the advice of the title will get the market failure they deserve... At least if they hire the CMO heavily becuase they have engineering skills. 

    In fact, it's a bad way to think about CMO. The real marketplace winners are those with insight that understands people - specificallly their consumers. There are plenty of agencies and other companies who can supply the tech knowledge needed to execute digital work.

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