Is Your CMO Keeping Up With MarTech?

CMOs have increasingly been playing an ever-greater role in the technology conversation in organizations. But if that’s the case, why does Gartner suggest that marketing technology (or martech) spending is taking a nosedive? The answer points to a cloudy ROI.

The job of a chief marketing officer (CMO) has become one of the most tech-oriented in the entire C-suite, up there with the CIO. That’s good—right?

Certainly, the value proposition is clear. New elements of the customer experience, like e-commerce and personalization, have become more prominent even in organizations that aren’t particularly tech-oriented, while tactics like email marketing and ad tracking have redefined marketing’s role in the digital age. And earlier this year, a CompTIA report found that the IT department no longer dictates tech decisions, as other departments have more of a say—particularly the marketing team.

But is the shift to high tech leaving the CMO behind? A new report from Gartner suggests that as marketing budgets overall stall, it’s “martech,” or marketing technology, that is driving CMOs to hit the brakes. Gartner’s 2017-2018 CMO Spend Survey found that marketing budgets were falling overall for the first time in four years, with tech taking some of the deepest cuts. This year, martech spending, which represents the largest chunk of the pie, fell by 15 percent, and tech spending declined from 27 percent of overall spending to 22 percent.

On the other hand, spending on digital platforms like mobile and social media is up, but investment in the underlying technology is down. So what gives?

According to comments reported by CNBC, authors Anna Maria Virzi and Ewan McIntyre put the blame on two things: CMOs who are struggling to keep up with the fast-shifting paradigm, and the need to justify the big investments.

“The challenge is that CMOs’ ascent to their lofty technology role has been swift, and the learning curve has been intense,” Virzi and McIntyre write, adding that investments that don’t offer enough automation or aren’t utilized properly can have limited effectiveness.

“Significant investments need to prove business value, or else they end up being considered costly vanity projects,” they add.

Strangely enough, the real takeaway here might not come from Gartner’s research, but from its competitor Forrester, which also tackled this point in its 2018 CMO predictions earlier this month. Long story short: CMOs may be getting in over their head on the technology front, and that might be coming back to bite organizations that bet on marketing technology in recent years.

“Previously many CMOs treated these budgets as carte blanche, buying technology indiscriminately and passing the buck to their CIO peers to handle the inevitable problems such bad habits yield,” Forrester Vice President and Research Director Keith Johnston wrote earlier this month. “This will no longer suffice, as rising budgets will come with rising responsibility, and a cogent strategy is the only option.”

This makes sense, though, right? CMOs may have developed greater technology aptitude, but they likely didn’t go to school for it and it may not be where their expertise ultimately lies. But suddenly, the rise in martech means that, in some cases, the marketing department’s technical operations can outpace even those housed in the IT department.

Among other things, this whole issue (for which your mileage may vary, of course—your CMO might be a master at handling tech) points to the danger of silos inside organizations.

Building out, say, significant data-analysis operations under the purview of the marketing department isn’t a bad thing, but the CIO should be involved in figuring out staffing needs, helping consider specific technical options, and—most important—helping determine whether a project is costly pie in the sky or one that has realistic goals and potential to succeed.

If the IT team has limited involvement or gets involved in a process too late, it limits their effectiveness in figuring out these issues. And that puts the CMO back on the spot.

Associations have different roles in the C-suite for a reason, and they should work together. An innovative method of data personalization sounds great, but considering the investment that it’s destined to entail, it’s better to figure out issues of cost-effectiveness, strategic positioning, and ROI early.

That doesn’t mean the CMO shouldn’t mess around in the tech bucket. By all means, keep doing so; it’s likely to be critical to the organization’s future. But ask for help! There’s probably someone in IT who has already tackled the problem head-on.

(Varijanta/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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