After decades of fighting the image of being a ‘fluffy’ cost centre, the marketing function is finally escaping the long-held mis-perception of being all about ‘creative’ with an inability to prove measurable impact on the bottom line.

The growing importance of the Chief Marketing Officer, especially in business-to-consumer organisations, is the strongest indication yet of this continued professionalisation within the function. 

A recent article in Marketing Week quoted a CMO in the airline industry as saying:

The success of my role is far more about analytics and technology than it is about hanging out with my ad agency, coming up with great creative campaigns. We must increase campaign ROI.

As a consequence, CMOs find themselves straddling an ever-broadening range of responsibilities, including coping with traditional and digital marketing campaigns, business strategy, technology and measurement, to name but a few. 

Stemming the data deluge

Central to all of these tasks is collecting, managing, analysing and acting on data, whether it concerns the business operation or the organisation’s customers.

Putting in place effective Marketing Information Systems has long been something of a holy grail for the marketing profession. With the current explosion in data, the quest for ways to stay on top of the data deluge – or ‘Big Data’ – has only intensified.  

In addition to traditional forms of business data, organisations have to deal with a rapidly growing list of non-traditional data sources that all add to an already hard to manage data pool. Just think of the streams of customer information coming from social media, such as blogs, communities, Facebook, Foursquare, YouTube, Twitter and many others.

Furthermore, there is a steady stream of information emanating from radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, devices with global positioning systems (GPS), and bar code readers (i.e. QR Codes). 

Making the most of this, often unstructured, data and turning it into information and customer insight is critical for CMOs to better understand, anticipate and meet the needs of their customers. At the opposite end of the spectrum awaits “analysis paralysis” as data floods in without the appropriate means of dealing with it.

Customer data management is not a job for IT

An organisation that is not in control of its data is not in control of its business, but the task can be overwhelming. 

It involves, amongst others: 

  • Identifying what data should be captured and operationalised.
  • Ensuring the data collected is of a high quality.
  • Data-mining across existing corporate or product silos which all hold their own share of customer information to develop a single, centralised view of the customer.
  • Abstracting useful insight from the available data to identify the customers who are most likely to respond to a particular offering – rather than waste money on those who will never buy.
  • Establishing the best ways of communicating with these ‘warm’ sales targets to clinch the deal.

Traditionally, the sheer mention of the word ‘data’ used to lead almost automatically to the IT department. But this is a great fallacy. Let’s be clear: IT certainly has its role among a number of significant contributors to mastering the ‘Big Data’ challenge, not least when it comes to finding a technology solution to the problem.

However, the IT department on its own will not usually have the comprehensive perspective of an organisation’s business and the specific requirements of the marketing function.

Best practice would dictate the bringing together of a multidisciplinary team to establish the firm’s overall data strategy, which ideally needs to bridge functional silos — whether it’s marketing or production – to enable an overarching as well as a drill-down view of the organisation. 

It is not surprising, however, that dealing with data often lands in the lap of the CMO, who usually already has a highly comprehensive view of the business, and is also probably most in need of access to disparate data streams to create effect marketing campaigns. 

Many in the industry see CMOs adding the role of ‘Chief Data Officer’ to their remit as a result of this trend, eventually resulting in the creation of an independent CDO function, which sits between marketing and IT.

Priorities for CMOs

Once CMOs have a handle on data management, the question is how all the inbound data should be put to use.

In an age when brand loyalty is ever more elusive, this data has to serve in building strong, lasting customer relationships, and maximising the lifetime value of each customer by:  

  • Optimising segmentation and targeting in order to tailor offers to the individual customer rather than mass marketing indiscriminately, and reducing costs at the same time.
  • Enabling customer service staff and salespeople to engage with consumers in a meaningful way, based on their buying history, preferences and, more and more frequently, location.
  • Coordinating all communications channels to deliver consistent messaging. Ensuring that all channels have the same up-to-date, real-time and contextual information so that a customer can start a dialogue in one channel and finish it in another.

If CMOs and CDOs can master the ‘Big Data’ challenge in this way, then the big prize looming in the offing is better campaign ROI, reduced marketing costs, improved customer acquisition and retention and, ultimately, a boost to the bottom line.