The Case for a Chief Marketing Technologist

If Technology Is Now a Strategic Dimension of Marketing, Who Should Lead It?

By Published on .

Scott Brinker
Scott Brinker
We have entered a Golden Age of marketing technology. There are now thousands of software applications built for nearly every aspect of marketing. We have more choices, with more capabilities, at more attractive economics, than ever before.

Yet most marketing organizations today lack the technical leadership to fully harness this power. Previously, technology management didn't need to be a core competency of marketing. It was sufficient to rely on a hodgepodge of the IT department, outsourced providers and vendor consultants. The translation of a high-level marketing vision into its technical implementation was considered largely "in the weeds."

Here are three reasons why marketing executives should reconsider such a laissez-faire approach to technology.

First, the software you adopt now plays a significant role in defining your organization's capabilities. Analytics software shapes your perception of your audience. Automation and optimization software influences the design of your marketing operations. A plethora of new advertising, social media and web technologies directly affect the experiences your customers have with you. These aren't mere implementation details -- increasingly, they're important strategic and brand-positioning choices. Who makes them, and how?

Second, those software choices you make are not independent of each other. With more moving parts in your technology ecosystem, interaction effects abound. If you connect the dots properly, this can be a source of tremendous advantage, bridging silos across marketing. But finding the right balance between integrating some elements while keeping others open to innovation -- what a technologist would call a loosely coupled architecture -- doesn't happen by accident. Somebody needs to choreograph it. Who?

And third, the growing opportunity of agile marketing -- which accelerates the operational tempo of marketing from yearly plans to "sprints" of two to six weeks -- requires tools to support such rapid execution and enough technical savvy to manage IT and third-party dependencies. It's hard to be agile in a technology-powered environment without native technical talent on your team. Who recruits and leads such talent?

Simply put, marketing has become deeply entwined with technology. This didn't happen overnight; it's been sneaking up on us for a while. But because technology had been so tangential to marketing management for most of our history, the organizational structure of marketing has been slow to adjust to this new technology-centric reality.

But we've clearly reached a tipping point. To fully reap the benefits of this Golden Age, marketing must officially take ownership of its technology platforms and strategies. And the first step of such ownership is to appoint someone to lead it.

Enter the chief marketing technologist. This is a senior management position, reporting to the CMO, with three key responsibilities. First: Choreograph all the disparate technologies under marketing's umbrella. Second: Nurture a growing technology subculture within marketing, raising the department's overall technical proficiency. And third: Collaborate with the CMO on strategy, translating the CMO's vision into technology with high fidelity -- while also inspiring the shape of that vision by advocating for what new technology can enable.

Although a chief marketing technologist should have a solid mastery of their technical domain, such as a background in engineering or I, the most important skill they need is the ability to effortlessly map marketing ideas to technical requirements and, vice versa, map new technologies to marketing opportunities. They must be able to articulate that passionately within the department and credibly to IT and third-party providers. This is a marketer whose expertise is leveraging, scaling and governing technology.

It's this passion and talent for marketing -- and the fact that this role reports directly to the CMO -- that distinguishes the position of chief marketing technologist from the traditional approach of having technologists based in the IT department, working on marketing's behalf. Aside from the myriad incentive and alignment problems that inherently crop up when crossing organizational boundaries, the real limitation of that approach was that putting marketers and IT people in the same meeting room, even with best intentions, did not naturally synthesize the best of the two disciplines. To unlock the energy in that combination, you need a catalyst. And that's what the chief marketing technologist, a hybrid of the two worlds, provides.

But the chief marketing technologist is more than a liaison to IT. Because increasingly, IT isn't necessarily a participant. With many marketing technologies now delivered over the web via software-as-a-service -- and with sufficient technical savvy under marketing's own roof -- new solutions can be implemented with minimal or zero IT involvement. This can significantly speed up adoption and give marketing finer control over the trade-offs of different options.

In this Golden Age, not everyone in marketing needs to be a technologist, just as not everyone in marketing needs to be a "creative." But relevant technology expertise must become a native part of marketing's identity and, with a chief marketing technologist, a native part of its leadership.

Scott Brinker is president-CTO of Ion Interactive.
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