Digital transformation of businesses impacts no other core function as profoundly as it impacts marketing. While the digital paradigm touches all aspects of a firm and has the potential to rewrite business blueprints, marketing is one area where the impact is neither incremental, nor evolutionary. We are looking at revolutionary changes on how Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) can reposition their roles and make a fundamental difference to the way their firms operate and grow.

When it comes to assessing the impact of digital on the marketing functions, some areas automatically come to the fore – big data, analytics, modeling consumer behavior, predicting consumer behavior, real time campaigns, campaign ROIs, social media impact. These are increasingly part of the standard marketing lexicon and no serious B2C business can afford to structure a marketing function without factoring in all of this and more.

So how do CMOs and their line managers ensure that there are no slips between the cup and the lips? The storyboard is ready, the possibilities are immense and the success stories relatively new, young firms keep getting talked about routinely. But then the brand managers also have to do what they always did – build the brand persona, market analysis, new launches, repositioning, product sunsets – the works. So how would brand managers – especially the ones who are a fair distance in their existing careers and ways of working -exactly grasp all these opportunities and their implementation? This today is the missing link of the marketing success story – not the availability of options, but the ability to choose what applies to a business and then its speedy, straightforward technology implementation.
Multiple Buying Centers
As the digital ecosystem expands, the enterprise product vendors, as also the new age digital marketing start ups, see a big market in the form of CMOs and their organization. Indeed, research shows that 75% of all consumer oriented marketing budgets now go towards digital forays. Of this 2/3rds or about 50% of the total target mobile related marketing initiatives. Clearly the technology salespeople have marked their market quite well.

But think from the perspective of the brand manager. Yes, a lower cost of reach via Twitter would help the brand, but should one use tool A or tool B for social listening? A brand sells in hinterland India, a country with 800 languages as also in the UK, a country dominated by one language. If one chooses tool A over tool B, can campaigns be supported with regional variations? Who’s a good Twitter influencer? Should one use Pinterest? There’s an existing data warehouse with lots of customer data, though aggregate level – can one map individual social data to the parts of this aggregate?

Let’s not forget – these aren’t easy questions for any marketing manager to answer ab initio. Not because the brand manager cannot understand the sales pitch the product vendor or the digital marketing agency is making, but because the brand manager does not have enough comparative reference points. They are not trained to make these decisions and now it appears that these decisions not only influence big budgets, it also results in perceptions being created on the effectiveness of the brand managers.

Technology product vendors and digital marketing agencies straddle the competing buying centers of the CMOs and the Chief Information Officers (CIOs). Traditionally the questions like the one above would be answered by the CIO organization exclusively. Today, that expectation is changing – partly because it results in multiple buying centers, partly also because of internal lack of coordination.
The Implementation Chasm
Guy Kawasaki says – “Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard”. Technology can do a lot but not without the user understanding the underlying technology. Brand managers can choose to learn a range of new skills alone, or can choose to partner with their CIO organizations to bridge this implementation chasm. Trying to select and optimally configure the best content management system will never excite a core marketing person as much as working with an agency to refine a brand persona would. Digital initiatives are defined and executed on the backbone of good, robust technology implementation, which is best left to those who live by it as a career.

This chasm tends to be bigger in larger firms, where every department tends to have a sliced and diced version of KRAs and KPIs which don’t flow from a central source. Large firms also impose transaction costs of decision making, especially across lines of businesses or product lines. There has to be a glue to ensure that the firm as a whole derives benefits of common technology platforms and standards and benefit from economies of scale, rather than dealing with multiplicity of product features. This is where the CIO organizations can play a big role.
The Technology Answer
The CIO organizations in turn, which in many cases were isolated from the business decision making process, have to step up to understand true business needs, rather than work off the traditional constraints driven technology planning cycles. The technology answer has to match the keenness which business is demonstrating – the technology program managers have to understand KPIs like lower cost of reach or brand amplification via social engagement rather than reporting the daily % availability of their social listening platform. It is a mindset change from the other side too!
Ultimately whether the marketing department fully realizes the benefit of digital or not will depend on how well the firm knits itself around a plethora of technology components involved. A collaborative working set up, built on inter-departmental trust, an agile technology implementation environment and technology aware users who understand the power and limitations of every digital investment being made is absolutely critical to solving the complex jigsaw puzzle. The world of marketing is changing, but the CMOs will have to drive an inclusive change to ensure the benefits match the rhetoric.