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While it’s certainly dependent on the organization, its industry, and its culture, chief marketing officers — once sought after exclusively as masters of the creative — are increasingly being forced to fit into equally analytical roles as a result of the data revolution. 

Blending traditional creative aspects of marketing with analytics is unprecedented, and for some, perhaps even unwelcome.

But Mike Linton, CMO at Farmers Insurance, disagrees: “I think this argument of whether a CMO’s role is art or science is flawed.” 

He believes CMOs need to be both artists and scientists. Although naysayers may argue that it’s tough to strike such a balance in a long-established creative role, Linton is right.

The dramatic availability of data today has resulted in pressure from CEOs and shareholders to approach marketing (and the entire growth agenda) in a more evidence-driven manner. 

Thus, a new type of CMO is emerging: the Renaissance CMO, who masters both the analytical and the creative sides of marketing.

Two extraordinary examples of the Renaissance CMO are Linton and Karen Noel, GM of Marketing at Sprint.

Each has learned some important lessons by attempting - and succeeding - to merge the imaginative with the technical.

And for more on this topic, read Econsultancy’s research into Effective Leadership in the Digital Age.

Learn the language of data

CMOs have always been in control of both creative and analytical ventures, authorizing marketing spend and making decisions based on its output.

But Renaissance CMOs today understand the need to get more technical and will commit themselves to learning the language of data science to help enhance marketing initiatives.

That doesn’t mean they have to be data scientists - they just need to know the main terms, and most importantly, the current conditions of their data.

One practical point of advice: Ask data managers to perform regular analyses of the data position to evaluate strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats; to stay on top of it; and to be fully aware of the implications and causes of potential change. 

Finding a team who understand both the technical and creative skills necessary to propel a company’s marketing forward is essential.

“It’s important to ensure that your team is aware of the opportunities data can bring to the marketing game,” Noel says. “That was the approach we took: getting our heads up, getting in the game, and identifying partners who can jettison us to the next level.” 

Ultimately, when CMOs can articulate the most important causal data relationships to the marketing function - such as the top drivers of customer churn or the relationship between an aspect of a product’s terms, sales, and market share - they will be more valuable to the company as key drivers of the company’s growth agenda.

Adding this type of technical know-how to the marketer’s creative strengths will power the company, the department, and the individual.

As Noel puts it:

The most amazing CMOs are the ones who can literally put it into a story, pull the insights, and make a quick PowerPoint [or] ... a simple graph that anyone could use to understand the business.

Be a data experimentalist

As they say on the playing field, the best offense is a good defense.

CMOs often feel like they’re on defense, as other teammates often seem to believe it’s their job to second-guess their decisions about what campaign to run, which celebrity endorsement to pursue, what social media to invest in - everything, really.

To expand their responsibilities outside of the creative and into the analytical, it is essential for CMOs to know how to chase after conclusions and then ground them in serious results.

By acting as though they’re scientists aiming to test out a hypothesis, they can acquire the information needed to back up any claim. 

Linton concurs, noting that a CMO must stay “out in front of the company on the new media.”

Otherwise, he said, the company will ask, “What are you doing? How come we’re not here?” or “Our competitor is doing this; when are we going to do the same?”

Renaissance CMOs can get on the offensive by constructing a data experimentation plan that will provide the proof points needed to explain the decisions they’ve already made (or are contemplating).

Answering these questions without the right data to ground answers is risky and ultimately leads to a loss of credibility.

CMOs have to do enough experimentation in front of the company to stay ahead of everything - or, in other words, they must be open to conducting experiments on their own hypotheses, even if it causes them to fail. 

Instead of a CEO telling the company that he or she will run this experiment — and that the results will be ready for evaluation in six months — it’s better if he or she is able to say, “Here’s what we did and what we learned, and here’s the data to show where we are today as a result.” 

Take command of the growth agenda

CMOs are in a position to look objectively at the marketplace, and Renaissance CMOs who are on the lookout for trends can better identify areas of potential growth within their organizations. 

To drive change in an organization and use data efficiently, Linton says:

You have to understand how the company makes money, how the functions tie together around the customer, and how the data can be used to benefit the customer and the company.

Conversely, if CMOs don’t possess good global overviews of how these elements work when considering their customers and financials, it’s not likely that they’ll employ the data to its best advantage.

To combat this, they must decide what kind of data their organizations will need to help them make smarter decisions over the next year.

Linton thinks it’s important for CMOs to predict the decisions they’re going to have to make.

“If we don’t start getting the data now,” he says, “it’s not like I can just go to the data mart and say, ‘Now give me data on the Farmers Insurance Open.’”

If they can answer these questions today, CMOs can seek the data they’ll need in the future.

Bring it full circle

After CMOs get more comfortable in their proverbial lab coats, they have room to inject some creativity not only into their marketing agenda, but also into presenting their findings. 

By leveraging their more emotional qualities and communication skills as marketers - in conjunction with a rational, technical side - CMOs’ creativity comes full circle, and they become masters of persuasion.

As a Renaissance CMO, Linton says, “You can present this data to your stakeholders and show how it relates to them and how it relates to the company, as well as the customer.” 

Noel believes data-driven marketing has already taken her organization to another level, when many companies haven’t even started down this road.

From her perspective, she says, “It’s not a quick fix, but it is a good journey, and a journey that they need to make.

If I’d say anything, exercise your leadership skills, and upgrade your systems into automated marketing to take best advantage of analytics, because you won’t realize the full return from your creative efforts until you get into that game.

CMOs should consider their companies’ data edification to be the same as their own.

It’s a leap of faith, and it won’t be achieved in one event or one year - but it’s time to get started and enjoy the ride.

John Kelly

Published 3 March, 2016 by John Kelly

John is Managing Director at Berkeley Research Group. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

6 more posts from this author

Comments (1)


Alden Dale, Marketing Operations at TipsForMarketers

Great read. I find it interesting that a lot of CMOs today have this expectation of them, however most probably rose to where they are at through more traditional channels. It will be interesting to see in 10-15 years when the marketing-technologist role has been around, if today's marketing technologists will become CMOs or if CMOs will continue to emerge more from the "traditional" side of marketing.

Good piece, thanks for sharing!

8 months ago

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