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What CMOs Should Learn from Technologists

CMOs Need to Adapt Constantly to New Methods and Evolving Consumer Viewpoints

By Published on .

Chief marketing officers will always need to craft strategy, communicate effectively and manage a team. But now, and in years to come, they will benefit from paying close attention to technologists. Here's what CMOs should learn from them:

Rapid prototyping. 3D printing is the best known form of rapid prototyping, creating physical parts from digital data. The name is much more fitting than terms like "optimization" or "experimentation" that try to capture the challenge of constantly adapting and innovating. Rapid prototyping means coming up with an idea, bringing it to life and then conceiving the next idea while the first program is hatching. While it has been around in some form since the 1980s, rapid prototyping is just starting to enter the broader professional lexicon, and it may move into popular parlance from here. Current tools and technologies allow anyone to engage in rapid prototyping. But relatively few will do it well.

Collaborate in a non-zero sum game. Technologists appreciate how they play a non-zero sum game, where one's success doesn't inherently lead to another's failure; there can be multiple winners or losers. Consider the rise of Instagram. Many other photo and then video apps failed as Instagram succeeded, but others have thrived. New business opportunities have arisen for others, such as those developing apps for picture frames, captions and photo printing. Photo editing platform Aviary recently passed the 50-million-user mark as it partners with many other fast-growing photo apps.

It's reminiscent of an example in the book "Playing to Win" co-authored by Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley. He describes how P&G partnered with competitor Clorox to develop new Glad products. P&G took a minority stake and led research and development, while Clorox ran the business. Lafley writes, "Finding the answer meant taking a new and creative approach to what winning could mean and how P&G could win in a different way." That's a far cry from the zero-sum thinking of many direct competitors. For most technologists, collaboration is not just what they do, it embodies who they are. As CMOs embrace technologists' values, they're going to find more people in marketing leadership roles not just willing to but eager to collaborate.

Stay up on the skills that matter. In 2009, Objective-C ranked 42nd on the TIOBE index of the most popular programming languages. As of this June, it ranked third. Four of the current top-10 languages weren't ranked at all 15 years ago. Technologists appreciate how the only way to stay employable is to continually learn new skills.

It's not just technical skills that need to evolve. Marketers and technologists need to grapple with the same issues consumers face. How can advertisers capture the attention of consumers watching commercial-free TV on a Roku? Do Snapchat messages count as social media if they disappear as soon as they're received? How can one participate in this digitally driven world while still maintaining privacy preferences? When someone is playing a mobile game on a Galaxy S4 while watching a movie on an iPad, which is the first screen? Tackling these questions requires new skill sets, building on more established skills of seeing the world from the consumers' perspective.

Live in constant beta. Google kept Gmail in beta for more than 1,900 days. Many would still consider it a work in progress, for better or worse. On a much bigger scale, every half-decent app in the major mobile-app stores have iterated, usually significantly, since the first version was released. Similarly, be wary of any product ordered through a crowdfunding site such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo. The first generation is almost always disappointing in some or many ways. Technologists know that they must evolve, adapt and iterate everything that they do.

As nostalgic as one can be for products like Coke and Oreos that don't change over the course of more than a century, and for slogans that brands can recycle over decades, CMOs will need to accept the new reality of campaigns and products that never come out of beta. The shelf life won't be infinite, but the thinking should be that when something launches, it will be good enough that it won't have a set end date, and it will need to be updated as long as it exists.

CMOs don't need to love new technology, and they don't even need to love technologists. Many skills technologists have, however, translate well to those that marketing leaders increasingly need to thrive in this non-zero-sum world.

David Berkowitz is CMO, MRY.
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