CEOs Can’t Ignore the Digital Revolution Anymore

To do so is tantamount to corporate malfeasance

Not too far in the past, brand stewards—specifically CEOs—could get away with just paying lip service to the notion of a fully optimized digital corporation.

Illustration: Carl Wiens

And while we’re still years away from a mature and fully integrated marketing and advertising technology ecosystem, there is definitely enough momentum being generated that soon low-tech CEOs will no longer have cover to hide.

In the past couple of years, several major trends have converged to create progress that can’t be held back. They are: cloud-based marketing automation technology, programmatic-based media buying, audience targeting, maturation of social media and Web-based video, advances in personalization and addressable advertising via data management platforms, cross-channel attribution modeling and measurement.

What this ultimately means is that the digital transformation is here. Your competitors know it. Your employees may know it. If you are a CEO who is either actively or passively stymieing fully optimized digital implementation, you are committing nothing short of malfeasance relating to your fiduciary duty to your board, your staffers and to your shareholders.

Recent research from Gartner clearly indicates that there are many executives dragging their heels. While growth is cited as a top priority for CEOs, only 22 percent listed technology as a key focus.

Gartner also predicts that by 2017, CMOs will be spending more on IT than their CIO counterparts. Marketing is now a fundamental engine of IT spending with no indications that this trend will abate anytime soon. What this also clearly reveals is the need for CMOs and CIOs to develop close, strategic working partnerships that will create a whole-is-greater scenario where both marketing and IT become joint owners of goals and outcomes.

In order for that to happen at a pace that will maximize potential, the CEO must lay down the law of cross-functional organization, otherwise legacy attitudes and fear will keep these fiefdoms from becoming team players.

When it comes to cross-functional technology integration, the wait and see approach no longer cuts it. Chances are that some of your competitors already have it in place, which means they’re learning how to market better, smarter and faster than you.

The enthusiasm and willingness to evolve and embrace a new way of doing things in this new age of the customer is essential.

Your customer needs to drive all of your technology decisions. Learn the expectations of today’s consumers and how you can best make them happy. Focus on finding efficient, more impactful ways to serve and engage them. Map what your customer needs and wants and use that as a guide to what changes you need to make across the organization. In order to do this effectively, you will need to have a thorough understanding backed by data that is actionable, central and accessible. This will allow you to move forward faster without getting hung up on change management and the obstacles that come with traditional technology adoption.

Get started by bringing together the best and brightest in your organization. Embody and embrace a culture of change and innovation, and allow there to be space and opportunity for discussion and dissent. Actively search for people in your company who are tech savvy. Don’t minimize the impact these employees can have on the company. If you have to, go outside your organization and find people with fresh perspectives and different skill sets that ignite new energy and ideas. In fact, every CEO should ensure that his or her human resources team is tasked and empowered to reshape the personnel to meet the emerging demands of an increasingly digital organization.

This is an age of disruption. You want to be in a position where you’re anticipating the technology, its use and how it’s going to have an impact on the way business is today. Doing otherwise is likely a road to irrelevance, if not ruin.

Will Margiloff (@wmargiloff ) is CEO of IgnitionOne.