Do You Need A Chief Marketing Technologist?

23 October 2014 / jgelfand

James Forbes, head of digital and marketing at information management consultancy InfoReady says yes. But there’s always the option to get a little creative with the job title.

As marketers grapple with their ever-increasing responsibilities in technology, organisations are looking for ways in which they can better integrate the company’s marketing and IT functions. The Chief Marketing Technologist, or CMT, is an emergent executive role designed to facilitate that, but questions remain about whether it’s the right path for every organisation to take in Australian businesses.

From big data to social media, SEO to eCommerce, marketers are coming under increasing pressure to enhance their technology capabilities, and this has a twofold impact on how marketers do business. In most organisations currently this means the CMO needs to not only become a close collaborator with the CIO and technology team, but they also need to develop the appropriate technology skills within their own teams. The alternative is to rely entirely on the CIO to fulfil the organisation’s marketing technology, but it’s rare for a CIO to have the depth of knowledge on marketing required to help achieve a CMO’s goals for the organisation.

Some organisations, attempting to address this disconnect between CMO and CIO, have created a new kind of executive: the chief marketing technologist (CMT). It’s a concept that has been around for some time now, but it is one that is really starting to pique mainstream interest as evidenced by this report from the Harvard Business Review from earlier in the year.

It’s a new enough role that individual businesses might not even use the same title for it – the Harvard Business Review cites titles such as ‘head of marketing technology’, or ‘business information officer for marketing’ as being a ‘CMT’, for instance. Regardless of title, however, the Harvard Business Review report outlines specific responsibilities for this role, and with blogs such as this gaining steam after being created to provide news and information to people with the CMT role, it seems that it’s a position that’s only going to gain steam into the future.

According to the current definition of the term, the CMT occupies a strategically orientated role. CMTs bridge the gap between marketing and technology and make sure that the two sides within a business are ‘talking’ in a meaningful and effective manner.

The CMT is essentially an executive with a background in IT management who also has a deep understanding about marketing. Reporting to the CMO, the CMT advocates for technology requests from marketing, and cuts through project complexities to ensure that technology-based projects that are designed to enhance a marketing strategy also adhere to the organisation’s IT policies.

The role makes sense in many ways. Many CMOs are still ill equipped to handle the increased demand of technology in their role whilst other CMOs have little interest in technology and appear more interested in building the marketing vision for their organisation. Having a CMT to assist the CMO and resolve the disconnect between marketing and technology seems like a simple solution. The rapid increase in people being hired as CMTs in big business in America (81% of large organisations have one, up from 71% the last year) shows that there’s clearly room for the role in business.

That said a CMT is only one person, and organisations with CMTs will still need to address an IT team that might be short on time or resources to execute on the additional demands that marketing will place on it. Often internal IT staff will not be skilled in specific marketing technologies, and while a CMT can help to articulate the marketing technology vision, in a lot of cases it will be internal IT who is required to execute on a vision they might not understand, which can lead to complications.

As with a lot trends related to marketing and technology the US is leading the way, so how relevant is the role for local Australian business? Locally, large local corporations would no doubt find value in recruiting a CMT, and indeed some already have made such appointments. For small and medium enterprises, however, while the dependency on marketing technology increases and there is an increasing need to drive alignment between marketing and IT in a lot of cases a dedicated hire would be a luxury.

So while it is clear that the CMT can add value to an organisation, for any but the largest of businesses it is still in reality the need for an individual within marketing to get a handle on marketing technology. With this in mind, Australian business may need to take a more pragmatic approach and look to bring in a 3rd party provider with the relevant skills to fulfil the “CMT” role. The reason that many organisations seek out outsourcing support is for their ability to resolve the business challenges of technology, and this philosophy can also apply to business technology.

James Forbes is head of digital and marketing at InfoReady.

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