Marketers: stop undergoing digital transformation and take back control!

@Yann Gourvennec
5 September 2019

While digital transformation is deeply changing marketing jobs, the CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) gradually feels the change (and the danger) coming. In its report entitled « CMOs: Define Your Role In Digital Transformation », Forrester warns marketers: while digital transformation offers the promise of an improved customer experience, it nevertheless represents a threat to a sometimes too passive marketing manager, whose professional life expectancy is already limited (it is estimated at 4.1 years on average with variations between countries). To counter this threat, the CMO will have to work with the company’s IT department, using customer experience as a success indicator.

CMO and digital transformation: half-empty or half-full glass?

There is a paradox in digital transformation: it brings the CMO additional levers, while at the same time putting him increasingly at a disadvantage. A statement of half-empty glass / half-full glass, which I will detail here with the help of this report from Forrester.

Half-full glass: digital technology, a way to make every marketer’s dream come true

In a good digital transformation glass, any marketing manager has a great opportunity to achieve what he or she has always wanted: bringing the voice of the customer into the organization. Digital tools allow to develop interactions with customers and collect previously inaccessible information: mobile applications, chat, social networks, clicks, viewed pages, percentage of abandoned purchases… signals, whether weak or strong, abound and are only waiting to be collected and analyzed.

If properly interpreted, these signals will be a way to improve, even reinvent and re-enchant the customer experience, by becoming part of a user’s daily life.

Half-empty glass: a CMO facing the threat of extinction?

Unfortunately, beyond expectations is reality. First, this figure: according to Forrester, only 16% of CMOs are involved in their company’s digital transformation. This percentage shows how far CMOs are excluded from the process, especially when compared to other positions: 42% of IT managers are involved in the company’s digital transformation, 40% of CTOs (Chief Technical Officers), and 23% of CEOs. CDOs (Chief Digital Officers) are emerging in companies, eclipsing CMOs.

Still too focused on advertising and traditional channels (television, radio, etc.), CMOs are not yet able to challenge the CDO’s position and take the lead on their company’s digital transformation. The Forrester report points out that companies are lagging behind in their perception of digital transformation challenges. The IT department has a better understanding of the speed of digital technology than the marketing department and often takes the lead.

How to reconcile CMO and digital transformation?

Let’s stop questioning how we look at our glass, and instead see how to fill it. The CMO, regardless of his position, will – sooner or later – have to retrieve the subject from the CDO or from the IT department, if it has not already done so.

Indeed, on the IT side, digital transformation is seen from a tool perspective (data lake, infrastructure, big data). On the marketing side, data is often under-exploited, due to a lack of knowledge and expertise. Marketers are aware of these challenges, as it is underlined by the graph below: 32% think technological skills are one of the biggest challenges to be overcome. Marketing needs IT and vice versa: departments must collaborate and silos must be broken.

Source : CMOs: Define Your Role In Digital Transformation, 2019, Forrester

A digital strategy can only be implemented in the long run, whereas a rapid return on investment is expected from the CMO. However, an advertising campaign will be much more effective in the short term than, for example, the composition of a digital team to manage cross-referencing customer data. According to Forrester, maintaining a budget dedicated to short-term ROI-oriented actions and continuously investing in their company’s digital transformation are CMOs’ new challenges.

To do this, resources must not be wasted and the CMO must not get lost in the creation of multiple POCs (proof of concept) and pilot projects. Creating fewer projects with a better chance of success will require collaboration with the company’s IT department.

CMO: a dark present but a brighter future

What will become the famous CDO we mentioned earlier?  By definition, the CDO is a mission doomed to end. Indeed, sooner or later, there will be a digital takeover by marketing teams. These seem to be moving in the right direction: according to Forrester, 22% of the CMO’s budget is devoted to technology. This represents the 3rd largest expenditure pole, behind the cost of campaigns and service salaries.

The Forrester report also highlights that while recruitment and the use of external service providers will be necessary to strengthen a marketing team’s skills, internal training should not be neglected, both in terms of digital tools management, strategy and methodology changes. Forrester recommends a multidisciplinary marketing team with skills in social sciences and satisfaction surveys, for example.

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