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CMOs are embracing big data, which is good (mostly)

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By Daniel Newman, Co-CEO V3 Broadsuite and president of Broadsuite Media Group, Broadsuite

For a long time, CMOs and their teams have driven their strategies around gut feelings, creating campaigns with objectives that were often unmeasurable beyond studies and field research largely done after the fact, along with sales data. Then big data entered the picture and turned everything on its head.

Now, we’re seeing more and more CMOs adopting the use of big data and beginning to understand that the business insights available can change everything about the way they do business. But while that’s a good thing, big data can also present CMOs with such a volume of data that it’s often difficult to figure out what to pay attention to first. And that’s the terrible part.

Whether it’s tracking customers across channels, using data and marketing automation to nurture customers through various stages of the sales cycle, or letting customer-behavior data drive what those customers see on websites or in online ads, the data that’s available to CMOs today is nothing short of amazing. That data and the ability to track customers across channels are allowing CMOs and their teams to consistently deliver better results—and better return on investment (ROI) on their marketing spend—than ever before.

The evolution of the CMO

The CMO role is evolving to become an important part of the senior leadership team, and a key driver of business strategy—and big data is paving the way. In fact, Forrester predicts that in 2015 CMOs will assume a more significant role on the executive table, and we’re seeing that on a regular basis. CMOs will partner with CIOs to solve data challenges and help steer not only the tech agenda for their organizations, but in many cases, business strategy as well.

Marketing has evolved: It’s more results-oriented than ever before, and knowing how to use data to deliver results that impact the growth and profitability of the business is the ultimate responsibility of today’s CMO. As such, for CMOs not yet there, it’s not about whether they are ready for the change and the challenges (and opportunities) big data presents, instead it’s about how to prepare themselves to adapt and grow.

Customer-centric marketing demands big data insights

It’s not exactly news that the customer is in the driver’s seat when it comes to making purchase decisions today. As such, marketing that is customer-centric is critical. Big data insights are what allow organizations to know what their customers are thinking, understand their needs, and deliver what they want, when they want it.

According to Forrester, marketers will “take responsibility for turning the enterprise toward the customer, evolving their role into the engine that fuels customer-centric company growth.” This means CMOs have to focus on all customer touch points across diverse channels throughout the buying cycle, and this is where big data plays a major role. Harnessing it will help CMOs (at the enterprise level as well as at the small to midsize level) reap actionable insights, allowing them to take an improved and more focused approach toward building better customer experiences.

“CMOs need to be well-versed on big data because it will help them to be more perceptive about the changes coming their way.”

Without actionable data, marketers will be at risk of making costly mistakes in the form of failed campaigns, ineffective messages and, more importantly, losing customers. Sure, there’s a huge volume of data that’s available, and the challenge CMOs face is having the right tools and the right expertise — either in-house or through a consultant or a managed service provider — to help them separate the wheat from the chaff. That’s a relatively easy problem to solve, so it’s not so terrible after all.

Marketing is becoming ROI-focused

When everything about marketing today is focused on ROI, the only way to know what kind of a return you’re getting is to use data as part of your toolkit.

With CEOs and senior leaders focused on a “Show me the money,” mentality, the marketing team’s effectiveness is no longer judged by its ability to develop a flashy ad campaign or develop creative that wins awards. That’s probably not a bad thing. In an era of “do-more-for-less”‘ thinking, it’s logical for businesses and their senior leaders to seek a measurable return on their marketing dollars.

Not too long ago, putting money into marketing was considered a business expense — an expense that came with what was often an indefinite wait-to-see results. That’s not the case anymore. With the help of data, marketers can slice and dice every program and campaign in real time, analyze results, adapt as needed and position themselves for much greater returns than ever before.

It’s an exciting time to be a marketer, for sure. Especially a marketer who understands exactly what big data brings to the party.

Breaking down the silos

By now, we all know that the walls between different departments within organizations need to be pulled down for the sake of better collaboration. In an article by Yuyu Chen on ClickZ, WeCareCard’s CMO Katherine Voyles Mobley said:

“We as leaders have to work in a more collaborative manner than in the former silo approach of ‘this is marketing’s problem’ or ‘I don’t know, call the CTO’ …[i]t has taken countless hours to understand technology and get them to understand marketing, but in the end it is where we as leaders are headed.”

As the need for a silo-free organization grows stronger, CMOs will need to combine their skills with other C-level business leaders, including the CIO, the CFO, and a new position that we’re seeing called the CDO (chief data officer). The days of a corporate culture that breeds silos where department heads hoard information is no longer possible when big data steps into the picture. And that’s a good thing!

The bottom line is this: CMOs need to be well-versed on big data because it will help them to be more perceptive about the changes coming their way. Like it or not, things are changing at a rapid pace and if marketers don’t embrace big data now, they could be setting themselves up for failure in the future. Where is your organization at when it comes to embracing big data? What challenges do you think are the biggest that you’re facing? What gets in the way of your success? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Additional resources on this topic:

Big Data: It’s Not What CMOs Know, It’s What They Do

From CRM to Big Data: Top Three mistakes CIOs and CMOs Should Avoid

For Marketers Every Tech Trend Hinges on Big Data and Analytics

This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.

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