Tomorrow's CMO Will Be Plugged Into the Entire Marketing Cycle

Introducing the Chief Everything Officer

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The checkout screen at the gas station knows more about you than you think.

Illustration: Shaw Nielsen 

As the gas station clerk scanned each of the snacks I purchased during a recent road trip with my family, the screen recommended various other items based on my demonstrated preferences. This seems simple and normal to most of us. However, when you take a step back and think of all that is going on behind the scenes—and screens— it’s amazing. The screen is connected to the point of purchase, which is tied to an algorithm that generates recommendations based on inventory and pricing systems that take into account what is in stock and within my reaching distance. I didn’t have to get out of line to grab the items I might have otherwise forgot, and the store’s sales go up, all in seconds.

What has traditionally been among life’s more mundane routines, paying for gas and snacks is now a moment that matters. Behind the curtain is a CMO who has connected seemingly disparate systems and data to create a customized experience for me, rather than a mundane transaction.

I’ve been to enough industry conferences in the past 24 months to know that most CMOs and their agency partners are scrambling to implement data systems and customer intelligence solutions to fulfill this new job description. Whether it’s a new mobile app, a multichannel content strategy or a cloud-based analytics suite to measure campaign performance, CMOs are trying to figure out how it all fits into the marketing mix and how to raise top-line sales.

It’s not enough to focus on the big picture and rely on other teams to cover off on what used to be called “below the line” activities. Today’s CMO has to have a handle on everything that touches the marketing cycle. CMOs need to know if and what traditional advertising, digital advertising, social media and mobile marketing their customer is exposed to. They need to understand analytics, psychology and media planning and buying. They also need to have a basic understanding of IT and how to fit all these dissimilar nodes of information together to paint a complete picture of their customers.

One common mistake organizations make in generating these moments is to appoint separate roles to govern the digital aspects of marketing, from the operational level on up to senior executives with titles like Chief Digital Officer and Digital CMO. The fact is that today nothing in marketing should lie outside the digital domain. Traditional marketing efforts around creative strategy, broadcast, print and direct mail are infinitely more effective when informed by the same insights that drive your digital strategy.

The insights CMOs gather from one discipline should inform the other. Where do those insights come from? Data.

Every marketing initiative a CMO executes has to be bound by and grounded in data, and the modern CMO should be at the table with the CIO and other key stakeholders including legal and risk management to ensure their company uses consumer data effectively and responsibly. This is a task of increasing importance and difficulty. Marketers often grab for the first tool they can find to solve a problem without due consideration for long-term issues like security, compatibility and consumer trust. Compounding the issue is the fact that many marketing and sales tools are immediately available through my cloud, allowing them to be adopted without a capital expenditure or lengthy deployment process.

That convenience is seductive, but if CMOs are not careful and don’t optimize for the consumer experience, the cost vs. benefit balance can be thrown out of whack and lead to long-term consumer pain. Also, data from these discrete systems can also turn out to be incompatible or inaccessible. Lastly, cost will be the least of your problems if data security becomes an issue. The old adage, “hurry but don’t rush,” must become a key CMO mantra.

Wherever you look, the walls between IT and marketing are coming down. CMOs who separate marketing from consumer activity, online media from offline, or a cash register from the consumer do so at their own peril. Successful CMOs are the ones who transform those once overlooked moments—like a gas station checkout—into something customized and personal, a moment that matters.

Frank Holland is corporate vice president of advertising and online business for Microsoft.