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CMOs must become 'customer-activated'

28/05/2014

Chief marketing officers (CMOs) are facing a whole new set of challenges as they attempt to connect with digitally-empowered consumers, according to a wide-ranging new report from global consultancy giant IBM.

This is likely to have a knock-on effect on the recruitment policies of marketing departments, as businesses attempt to embrace technological change and find new ways of working that allow them to stand out from the crowd.

Pleasingly, IBM found that marketing experts are wielding more power than ever in the boardroom, considered trusted operational partners and charged with helping companies plan their overall strategies.

Potentially this could lead to an increase in marketing budgets, making it easier to bring in new staff and invest in the kind of technological offerings that can help the sector find new ways to connect with consumers.

However, it is also placing a great deal of pressure on CMOs to perform as well as possible and produce actionable insights that will go down well in the boardroom.

One important shift is the need for cross-department collaboration, particularly between CMOs and chief information officers. Companies where this process was already well-established tended to perform better than their rivals and were 76 per cent more likely to be above the norm when it comes to revenues and profitability.

Not enough progress has been made globally in building a digital marketing capacity, with only 20 per cent of respondents having set up a social network for responding to the concerns of customers.

This could see the demand for digital professionals increase even further across the UK in the coming years, particularly for staff who are experts in areas such as search engine optimisation, social media or pay-per-click advertising.

Because the market is still relatively young, there is a dearth of workers to fill these roles, particularly as older staff are unlikely to have the same grasp of digital as their younger and less experienced counterparts.

Changing the way marketers approach their job is one of the biggest challenges for CMOs in the 21st century.

"To succeed in the digital era, you have to be totally in sync with the behaviour and preferences of your customers in a fast-changing landscape. You have to be quick and adaptable," a marketing leader told IBM.

Dealing with big data and information analysis is another potential stumbling block in the path of marketing success over the course of 2014 and onwards. The situation with regards to this appears to have worsened since IBM's last survey, although it seems likely this is simply because more CMOs are aware of the importance of this area than they were in the past.

According to the research, 82 per cent of marketing chiefs feel unprepared to cope with the upcoming 'data explosion', while two-thirds feel unprepared for the use of social media as a data gathering tool.

On the bright side, CMOs are planning to invest in technology over the coming years, with predictive analytics and mobile applications high on their wish list. Customer relationship management and collaboration tools are also likely to enter vogue in the next three to five years.

As IBM points out, though, there remains a major gap between "aspiration and action" when it comes to the utilisation of digital and high-tech solutions within the marketing world.

Obviously, one way to close that gap is to bring in the right staff to operate the software and technology, but will CMOs be able to identify talented workers and convince them to leave their current positions?

IBM claim the three priorities for businesses are "using data analytics to get a much deeper understanding of customers, individually as well as collectively; designing rewarding customer experiences; and capitalizing on new technologies to provide those experiences smartly and efficiently".

Being able to fulfil these demands relies on a number of factors, including the ability to spend on suitable technologies and the knowledge at boardroom level to pick the right areas in which to invest.

However, hiring policies will also be central when it comes to succeeding in the digital era.