As brands increase their focus on creating great customer experiences and teasing insights out of analytics to do so, a new role is rising in the marketing world: the chief marketing technologist.
The development was inevitable. As technology takes an increasingly critical role in the delivery of effective campaigns, organizations have begun to recognize the need for a person who can work in both worlds.
“Traditional chief marketing officers aren’t grounded in technology. They either don’t control it or don’t understand it,” observed Ben Yurchak, president of KnowClick, a marketing analytics consultancy in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. “Technology should be an enabler. Too often, it’s a barrier because current systems can’t do what needs to be done.”
Scott Brinker, editor of the Boston-based website chiefmartec.com, agrees. “Marketing is so dependent on technology to execute its mission,” he said. “We’re operating in a digital world where there are so many touch points, customers have so many ways to engage. Marketing today needs someone to manage the technology portion of marketing.”
Neither Yurchak nor Brinker advocate that marketers part ways with the IT department.
“The best marketing technologists act as liaisons to figure out the best roles for each function,” Brinker said. “They make sure marketing is following IT governance, for example, and help others learn how to leverage technology to achieve marketing goals.”
Although many people envision the chief marketing technologist as a C-suite position, the role is usually incorporated into a related job, such as the vice president of marketing operations or VP of digital operations, Brinker said.
And although many marketers hear “analytics” when someone says “technology,” the role goes beyond data, Yurchak said. “There’s personalization tools, testing tools — how do you get your arms around those? How do we better personalize experiences across different channels? This is complicated stuff.”
That said, analytics is often where marketing technologists spend most of their time, Brinker pointed out. “Understanding what’s working and how different segments respond are not trivial challenges,” he said. “We have too many channels and touch points nowadays and have to distill their data into insights. For most, that’s the top priority.”
That makes sense, given the fact that to make the most of analytics, “you need the right technology, without silos,” Yurchak said. “The right stack can help uncover issues, inspire solutions and measure their effectiveness. People are pretty good at using analytics to measure past performance, but they struggle to understand why something happened and what they need to do to fix it.”
Advancing marketing’s capabilities along that path is one of the chief marketing technologist’s key responsibilities. It’s up to this individual to lead the effort to leverage data in ways that can help effectively reach customers through experience-driven marketing technology like apps, or systems such as Amazon’s Alexa, Brinker said. “It gets more exciting when marketing stops thinking about cool campaigns and starts thinking about customer experience through digital channels,” he believes.
What kind of person can fill this role? Someone who’s spent much, but not all, of his or her career in technology, in Yurchak’s words, a “hybrid person” who has both branding and digital experience.
“This isn’t about combining the CIO and CMO roles,” he said. “I’d want to see some success in both areas, but they should be stronger in marketing — marketing experts who have a strong understanding of technology and how it works.”
Brinker says the “classic” marketing technologist was someone with a software or engineering background who at some point “got fascinated by the business. They have a technology background and a present passion for marketing.”
However, as the need for technology increases, he expects more marketing professionals to teach themselves about things like technology architecture and higher-level methodologies. “They can have conversations with the CIO and tech vendors and avoid misinterpretation,” he said. Already, he added, many companies have these kinds of people in place below the executive level, such as marketing team members who create code for the company’s website. “A lot of people with tech skills are employed by marketing departments,” he said.
Still, Brinker believes the chief marketing technologist should be someone with influence. “The role is incredibly important. Without it, you run the risk of fragmentation,” he said. “Marketing needs best-in-class solutions, and it needs someone at the executive level who’s thinking about building the organization’s capabilities.”
Mark Feffer is a writer and editor who focuses on topics related to technology, analytics, technology, and workforce development. His most recent work on technology has been copywriting for the website of services provider INSYS Group (www.insys.com) and stories on the use of IT in recruiting and workforce management for SHRM Online and Dice Insights. Mark is a paid contributor to THINK Marketing.