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Is a chief marketing technologist the key to uniting IT and marketing?

22nd Sep 2016

Is the emergence of the chief marketing technologist (CMT) heralding a new era in marketing-IT relations? 

Marketing has changed dramatically over the last decade, during which time it has become an increasingly technology-dependent discipline.

The age of Big Data has heralded a new era for marketing, enabling deeper customer insight and greater personalisation than ever before. But for today’s marketing departments to become truly data-driven, they have needed to embrace the latest generation of marketing tools and technologies.

Anticipating the changes ahead, several years ago Gartner predicted that the chief marketing officer would be spending more on technology than the chief information officer by 2017, and that forecast could well come to pass, such is the importance of IT to today’s marketing teams.

A recent research survey of over 500 marketers across the US and Europe by DataXu, entitled Modernizing the Mix: Transforming Marketing Through Technology and Analytics, found that 78% of US marketers and 63% of European marketers believe that understanding marketing technology is now a critical skill for senior marketers to be successful.

Elsewhere, GumGum recently surveyed Fortune 500 companies to see the state of play in marketing and IT.  Ben Plomion, CMO at GumGum, says: “57% of marketers deem a good marketing organisation as being ‘digital first’. This is hardly surprising. But when placed in context, we start seeing a pattern emerging. For example, 41% of marketers say they already influence their enterprise’s tech investments, and 39% say the same about their company’s CRM. Marketers are very much stepping on the toes of their IT colleagues.”

And this is unsurprisingly causing some problems for many organisations. While there is a growing demand for marketers to be more tech-savvy, CMOs and the marketing department are more at home focusing on their customers and building their brand than they are dealing with IT procurement. To emphasise this point, estimates suggest that there are as many as 950 different vendors in the marketing technology landscape, so the potential to make a bad decision is a very real one.

Still, the proliferation of software as a service has enabled marketers to quickly and easily implement technology without the involvement of the IT department, regardless of the risks. Keen to keep IT out of the picture so that they can avoid pesky red tape and be more agile, marketing departments have embraced software as a service solutions as they don’t demand deep technical knowledge and allow them to roll out solutions quickly and easily. This has, however, given rise to increasing amounts of shadow IT in today’s organisations. 

From the marketing team’s point of view, the ability to cut the IT department out of the equation altogether can be quite appealing – if there’s a tool that looks like it could support a campaign or initiative, they can quickly get it up and running without IT’s lengthy evaluation and procurement processes. Marketers would argue that this enables agility and innovation.  

However, the other side of the argument is that the proliferation of shadow IT can have serious long-term implications for the business, creating inconsistent business logic, incompatible systems, duplication of resources and also potential compliance issues.

What’s more, it ultimately creates organisational dysfunction, generating animosity between IT and the rest of the business. The Logicalis CIO Survey of over 400 global CIOs revealed that 90% of CIOs worldwide are bypassed by line of business at least sometimes, with a third (31%) of CIOs routinely sidelined when it comes to making IT purchasing decisions.

Bridging the knowledge gap

Fortunately, the solution to balancing marketing’s need for digital innovation with the need for IT governance may have already emerged, in the form of chief marketing technologists.   

Described by Gartner as “part strategist, part creative and part technologist” and “broadly the equivalent of a CTO and a CIO dedicated to marketing”, chief marketing technologists (CMTs) have become popular corporate appointments in the last five years. Indeed, research by DataXU suggests that as many as 70% of businesses may now have a CMT or equivalent in their organisations.

“Unlike a traditional CMO role, the CMT role bridges the knowledge gap between marketing and technology by offering expertise in both disciplines,” says Chris Le May, DataXu SVP and managing director of Europe & Emerging Markets. “It also brings, at board level, a new perspective from someone who can advise and lead on areas such as procurement, management of marketing technologies and the team structure required below them.”

Gartner describes CMTs as “part strategist, part creative and part technologist” and “broadly the equivalent of a CTO and a CIO dedicated to marketing”.

The most common responsibilities for CMT’s include aligning marketing technology with business goals; selecting, evaluating and choosing marketing technology providers; crafting technology-enabled digital business models; and, arguably most importantly, facilitating projects and communications between the marketing department and internal IT.

Sean Harrison-Smith, CEO and founder of Ceterna, explains how he has witnessed chief marketing technologists working in tandem with the IT departments.

"The CMT typically has two areas of focus. The first is how to reach an ever-changing, ever more tech-savvy audience. The second is how to ‘harvest’ data from these new technologies to create competitive differentiation,” he says.

"We work with one cutting-edge retail customer whose entire technical strategy is being driven by the CMT rather than the more traditional CTO. The role of this individual is to understand what technologies are available and how marketers can use them to best effect for ‘sow' and ‘harvest' purposes.

"Traditionally, we have always found that CTOs are the ones driving technical decision-making but now it's much more that. The CMT identifies what's out there and what they want, then the CTO makes it happen."

Other ways in which CMTs are breaking down the silos between marketing and IT and improving relations include:

  • Facilitating communications between marketing and IT. Marketing and, to a greater extent, IT have their own languages and so it is important for CMTs to be fluent in both, ensuring that IT can understand marketing’s digital requirements and practices, and that marketing can understand how technology needs to be managed. A report by Sapient Nitro into the role of the chief marketing technologist recommends: “The ideal marketing technologist must have a solid grasp on strategy and fundamental concepts, and a creative background is always beneficial… In our view, the CMT role must straddle both functions as a native, not with a major in one and a minor in the other.”
  • Working out budgetary agreements between marketing and IT. Anton Buchner of Trinity P3 explains: “The chief marketing technologist must unite the technology and marketing budgets for a common vision. This doesn’t mean that there needs to be one budget. It means that there needs to be agreement as to the percentage spent on marketing technology between all leaders within an organisation.”
  • Acting as the liaison between the two departments when there are technology requests from marketing. Scott Brinker explains: “CMTs facilitate and prioritise technology requests from marketing, translating between technical and marketing requirements and making sure that marketing’s systems adhere to IT policies.”
  • Managing the speed and progress of technology projects. There can often be a significant disparity between the speed that marketing want to roll out a technology project and the timescale that IT believes is appropriate. This is a common cause of friction between the departments, and is one of the reasons that marketing will forge ahead with shadow IT projects on some occasions.  The CMT therefore needs to act as arbitrator and ultimately the decision-maker. Buchner recommends: “The chief marketing technologist should be accountable for governing how quickly a business can move in order to implement a marketing solution, either internally or with the help of external technology providers. This involves working together with IT and marketing. However, in practice, technology resources are often stretched to deliver quickly, so it involves pragmatic risk/return and pros/cons analysis.”

So has the emergence of the CMT heralded a new era in marketing-IT relations? The evidence is circumstantial at present – but promising nonetheless.

A recent survey by cio.com revealed that while 60% of CIOs report that their relationship with marketing has become more collaborative in the past three years. Elsewhere, the latest Squiz State of ANZ Marketing Technology study reports that half of marketing and IT teams now describe their relationship in positive terms. 55% of IT respondents have indicated a "collaborative" or "awesome" partnership, along with 46% of marketing respondents.

While this evidence is purely circumstantial, the fact that 70% of organisations have appointed a CMT in recent years raises the tantalising possibility that they are successfully bridging the gap between marketing and IT and assisting in this growing collaboration.

“Digital is the first among equals – no department can function in today’s age without it - and it’s this point which is spearheading the increasing convergence of marketing and IT departments, and the ongoing evolution of the role of the marketer,” concludes Plomion.

“These once-independent departments now find themselves progressively interdependent – a successful marketing strategy is nothing without digital being central to how it is devised, and no digital platform is complete without marketers. And this has given rise to the role of the chief marketing technologists, whose role straddles the expertise required in both marketing and IT.”

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