The Era of Personalization Drives the CMO

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Glen Manchester, Thunderhead
Glen Manchester, Thunderhead

In September Marissa Mayer labeled Yahoo! as a personalization company. She didn't call it a digital company, a social company, or even simply an interactive news engine. Personalization, to the dynamic CEO, has gained so much importance in reaching customers that the Internet company has its eyes keenly focused on this category as its differentiator in the online marketplace.

Mayer has built its foray into personalization with numerous technology acquisitions that are currently being integrated into Yahoo's offerings both online and mobile.  If there's one thing we can take away from Mayer's turnaround plans for Yahoo, it's that personalization technology is here to stay, but the pressure is on for executive leadership to embrace it, commit to it, and use it successfully.

The demand on CMOs

This is especially true for the CMO. The role of the CMO is not only more demanding, with pressure to build long-term engagement with customers, but it will continue to gain closer alignment with budget and technology responsibilities inside the enterprise.

First and foremost, customer expectations for more personalized engagement have created new demands for the CMO.  And positively, the technology to support personalization, and access customer data to do so, is readily available now. This means margins of error have drastically decreased. Today we live in a global society where consumers are always connected and have their voices heard in an instant via social media channels.  This only adds more pressure to not only reach the customer, but also to react. 

Imperatives for the new CMO

In an increasingly digital world where customer opinion matters more than ever, CMOs must not only understand how to speak to the customer, but also interact in a timely, contextual, and personalized manner. This is important because CMOs are largely responsible for determining avenues for organic growth due to key insights into customer preferences.

Technology decisions need to be made based on access to the insights and analytics to help interact with the customer in a personalized way. Additionally, they need to have the ability to manage these interactions across multiple channels to build long-term engagement with customers. This means the CMO needs to be concerned with the message and how timely they can react across all channels.

Further, as consumers continue to disrupt company business models and play a central role in brand health, the CMO must act as a brand steward, working with customer service, key influencers, and advocates alike to humanize their organizations and provide an authentic voice behind these digital channels. And everyone around the CMO, from IT to the CEO, needs to help support this.

The importance of executive leadership and commitment

The latest McKinsey and Company global survey of 850 C-level executives asked respondents about the adoption of five digital enterprise trends. The majority of respondents to McKinsey's survey believe the success or failure of digital programs rests on the shoulders of leadership and organization, rather than pure technology or data considerations.  In other words, it's an executive issue that has been recognized, but now it must be acted upon.  While making the right technology decisions is important, it's also critical to have the right CMO in place to drive digital programs as part of an overall marketing approach as these individuals hold an “outside-in” perspective due to their finger resting squarely on the pulse of customer engagement at all times.  

Future savvy CMOs on finance and IT

According to Gartner, by 2017 the CMO will spend more on IT than the CIO. Due to their increased responsibility, CMOs are making technology decisions independent from IT more often in an effort to meet a number of diverse goals, many of which require adopting analytics and CRM/CXM technology. The McKinsey survey also notes that the CIO and CMO are both equally involved in sponsoring digital initiatives. Simply stated, it's critical that CMOs gain a firm understanding of technology to be where their customers are to stay competitive, be agile, and regularly uncover new customer insights.  

CMOs may also find themselves having to lead transformational change with internal operations, as well. As most large organizations typically operate in silos of various designs, modern and empowered CMOs have the ability to break down these walls by putting the customer at the core of the business, sharing vital insight, reshaping outdated models, and acting as futurists.

Much like at Yahoo, today's CMO must adopt personalization as a key differentiator to stand out and increase market share. This, along with a thorough understanding of modern technology, customer behavior, and the ability to be versatile, are vital components in the quest to gain and maintain a formidable edge over the competition.

Glen Manchester is founder and CEO of Thunderhead.com.

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