How marketing approaches resulting from digital dominance and data are leading to blurred lines across organisational departments

Gartner predicted that by 2017, a company’s Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) would be spending more on technology than its Chief Information Officer (CIO).  While I haven’t been able to find data to confirm whether or not this prediction was realised, I think it’s fair to say that technology is at the heart of marketing in 2022. The nature of marketing as a discipline, what we learned it was in school, is no longer what marketing actually is in practice. This is not to say that marketing is no longer part art or part magic but that there is a great deal of data and technology that can fuel ideation and concept design. This, in turn, has made marketing even more impactful by taking the guesswork out. The digital age, witnessed over the last 20 years, has meant that marketing has evolved dramatically to become much more tech and data powered. 

Nourah AlFayez

To a large extent, the shift from brand building to customer experience has driven this change. Online experiences are critical to building lasting relationships with customers from the usability of the site or app to smooth, seamless transactions – a website is no longer simply an information portal. The responsibilities of the CIO/CTO, and their decisions with regards to martech, CRM systems, cloud technologies and data infrastructure specifically, can no longer be made independently given the biggest tech and data user in a firm may now potentially be the CMO. Making the wrong decisions on technology can have a significant negative impact on the organisation as a whole.  However, CIOs are not experts on marketing. To complicate matters further, CFOs are also expected to be involved in technology investment decisions; however, based on my observations and in MENA specifically, they are even further removed from the world of digital marketing.  

Beyond these territorial concerns, there are elements of technology that must proliferate across an organisation.  As I have previously noted, in order to become a data driven organisation, this data must be used across the organisation; it needs to inform a product’s development not just its marketing strategy.  This requires a data infrastructure that is robust enough to handle different types of data that must be integrated in an intelligent way.  The democratisation of access to this data is also essential so that it can be leveraged by Marketing, Sales, Business Development, Product Development, R&D and Finance.  As such, decision making on the technology to be used to achieve this cannot sit solely with one department or discipline.  In order to ensure different departmental interests are accounted for in decision making, the CEO must also be involved.  Furthermore, if the technology leveraged is considered the engine of your organisation’s innovation, operational excellence and resilience, the CEO should also remain informed and have a basic understanding of that technology.  

In order to embrace the important role technology plays across an organisation, you would first need to ensure that there are structures and engagement models in place to allow for meaningful collaboration and the development of shared goals within the organisation. Some organisations have opted to create additional roles such as Chief Digital Officer, Chief Marketing Technologist or Chief Customer Experience Officer.  While this can be helpful, delegating responsibility does not solve the need to develop shared awareness around the importance of technology and the establishment of a data driven, customer centric mindset. In order to rally an organisation around the importance of digital transformation and customer centricity, a culture change, coupled with effective change management, must take place.  Creating a vision of what a data driven organisation can achieve, and what this would mean for its employees as well, can be a powerful story that achieves buy-in across the organisation.  

Aligning priorities is also important given a key blocker to effective collaboration is a mismatch of agendas. This is why time and effort should be dedicated to surfacing the key priorities of each department, and perhaps even revising these, to create better alignment and synergy.  CIOs, CFOs and CMOs must also be upskilled on one another’s disciplines to help build this common understanding. This does not necessarily mean in-depth knowledge of one another’s functions, but just enough understanding to allow them to speak a common language.  As always, shared goals remain essential to bringing teams together to deliver meaningful and impactful results for the organisation as a whole.  

Talent is what will make or break any type of digital transformation. As such, there may be a need to audit the skill sets of both leadership and their respective teams to ensure the presence of the competencies needed to understand the importance of technology in driving innovation and success for the business.  Even CEOs need to have an understanding of technology and customer centricity.  They need to be curious about how technology is being leveraged across an organisation and whether or not it is delivering the intended value.  In a recent study, McKinsey found that “top economic performers are more likely than their peers to have a tech-savvy C-suite.” (Source)  They go on to report that “top performers are almost twice as likely to have technology leaders who actively shape overall strategy. They’re also more likely to give tech leaders a major role in innovation and product development.” (Source)  

Gone are the days when digital was a separate concern with a few experts managing it.  Digital has penetrated every aspect of our business.  Cloud technologies, SaaS offerings, martech, automation tools and collaboration tools touch every aspect of a business; the knowledge and expertise in this field can no longer reside in one or two departments alone.  Redefining roles, especially of the C-suite, will be critical to ensuring that the need for technology and innovation is embraced and technological considerations are prioritised.  Building a culture of innovation and collaboration will reduce technological silos within an organisation and democratise access to this knowledge and to data.  Hard coding the need for collaboration by aligning priorities and goals across departments will ensure accountability.  Finally, success hinges on having the right talent, whether through upskilling or hiring, in order to ensure the presence of tech savvy employees at all levels of an organisation. 

Disclaimer: Views expressed are my own and not Google’s