No, CMOs Should Not Think Like CTOs

or-shaniData-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Or Shani, founder and CEO at Adgorithms.

Marketers aren’t shy about admitting how their reliance on technologies helps them reach their customers or the data helps to understand them. Whereas chief marketing officers (CMOs) once relied on sheer gut instincts and divine creative inspiration to give customers what they suspected they wanted, CMOs are now expected to use cold, hard facts to give customers what they now know they want.

This drastic shift in approach has landed the CMO role we all once knew on the endangered species list. And in typical Darwinian fashion, a new role is slowly emerging in its place: the chief marketing technologist officer (CMTO). This role is defined less by its dependence on left-brain creativity and more by its demand for right-brain logical thinking.

Different companies have different recipes for the CMTO role, but usually it’s some mix of interfacing with IT, identifying marketing technology solutions, aligning technology with business goals and developing new digital business streams. And, oh yeah, leading brand and creative strategy and customer acquisition and retention.

Part man, part machine, so to speak, this hybrid role attempts to solve a problem that Forrester predicted years ago: The explosion of technology in marketing is forcing CMOs to spend a disproportionate amount of their time looking at technology and data.

The problem with the introduction of the CMTO role is that it’s based on the assumption that CMOs are best suited to take on the new responsibilities created by the demands of technology. While there is indeed a need for a solution, training marketers to think more like technologists than creative strategists is creating a whole new set of problems.

One problem that immediately comes to mind: Who’s going to do the CMO’s job? The introduction of technology hasn’t eliminated the need for brand and creative strategy; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. We now have more channels, devices, data and customer touch points than ever before. Technology has stepped in to help wade through these components by identifying the right customers at the right place and right time and informing the types of messages we should create to pique their interest. But truly connecting with customers once we’ve found them is still a function of strategic planning, emotion and intuition, all of which technology can’t solve for.

Another fact that doesn’t seem to slow the haphazard transformation of the marketing role into a technologist role is that machines are better than humans at tasks involving data, yet horrible at tasks that require creativity. Marketers that traditionally told the creative story must now tell the data story. Even the most sophisticated human will pale in comparison to a machine when interpreting information and insights produced by marketing technologies. And even if the marketers were to nail that portion of the program – thereby identifying immediate new opportunities – they’d have to execute on it at a pace not possible by humans.

Meanwhile, who’s telling the stories that build emotional connections with customers again?

You see where I’m going with this. There are simply some tasks that humans aren’t “programmed” to handle and don’t benefit from human discernment or decision-making. Self-learning technologies are emerging to take on these tasks, working on a scale not humanly possible. They’re not replacing CTOs, and they couldn’t replace CMOs either. Instead, they’re solving the problems that the hybrid of these two roles isn’t particularly great at: liaising between multiple technologies, running analyses that inform decisions and executing on those decisions in real time with little need for marketer discernment or intervention.

You might be thinking, “Well yes, that’s precisely why we need all of these marketing technologies. And why we need the CMTO to fit all of them together.” The issue with that approach is that it perpetuates the seeming need for a technology marketing stack that’s far too complicated. The better solution is to reduce the complexity in the stack by ignoring all of the unnecessary features and functions baked into the platforms and instead focus on setting and meeting strategic business goals and objectives.

None of this is to say that marketers’ roles shouldn’t shift to account for technology’s influence on their industry. It’s more that there’s no logical case for marketers to take on the day-to-day babysitting of marketing technologies while the human aspects of their jobs are left to fall by the wayside. Marketers still must own brand. They still must own customer acquisition and retention. And while they should intimately understand how technology and data are influencing their ability to do these things, they shouldn’t have to wear the data or technology hat themselves.

If the CMO were to get more involved in any other area of the business, I would advocate they push more into the customer experience realm. The experiences customers have with a brand throughout their entire journey, from awareness through billing and support, have a direct impact on brand perception. This experience is the difference between one-time customers and loyal brand advocates.

Let the technology team – or just the technology – tell the data story so CMOs can get back to doing what they are great at: storytelling and creating emotional brand connections.

Follow Adgorithms (@adgorithms) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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  1. Adam Raboch

    But Charlie – these CMO’s are the exception and not the rule.

    Even were their numbers greater, a highly knowledgeable group of individuals would have trouble keeping pace with the data-crunching power of an AI, running 24/7. And of course most companies don’t have teams of highly-proficient “CMTO’s” employed.

    The future lies in learning how to collaborate with and harness AI’s, and not trying to compete with them.

  2. Oliver Dechant

    It’s funny to me that the author advises against relying on gut instinct, then uses his own gut instincts (and conjecture) to persuade away from a tech-focused CMO.