This guest blog post comes from Kayleigh Alexandra at MicroStartups, which is a resource for solopreneurs, startups, and small businesses. Read on to find out why they believe CMOs need to be trained in tech in order to lead.
The Chief Marketing Officer (or CMO) of today’s world has a very challenging position. While there are more viable possibilities, tools and opportunities for marketing than ever before, this level of choice isn’t always straightforward. With each new option comes new demands, fresh industry terms, and distinct dangers -for instance, just as social media has the power to massively promote, it also has the power to rapidly destroy a brand’s reputation.
And while it’s certainly vital for a CMO to have impressive marketing savvy in the traditional sense (knowing the target audience, understanding how people think, and being able to balance a professional image with a certain degree of transparency and accessibility), it’s also important that they have a strong grasp of technological matters. Without it, they simply cannot productively lead marketing efforts that look to the future.
In this article, we’re going to go into some more detail about why every modern CMO needs a solid level of technical comprehension to lead the way for their company. Let’s get to it.
You can’t Optimize What You Don’t Understand
Since this is the biggest reason, it makes sense to start with it: as the CMO, your job is to bring together all the skills of the marketing team for all the facets of the marketing campaign – everything high-level should meet your approval before proceeding. And if you don’t know anything about tech, then you can’t usefully comment on tech-based marketing.
Given how much of today’s marketing is digital (online or offline), this is a huge problem. When someone on your team pitches a PPC campaign on a new social media network that’s gathering some buzz, you’re going to struggle to meaningfully assess the risk/reward ratio (you need to understand the basic digital marketing metrics). That will leave you far more likely to sign off on bad ideas and reject good ones.
Realistically, the best you can hope for in such a situation is that your staff are aware of your knowledge gaps and take steps to mitigate the damage they cause. This is likely to involve numerous simplifying presentations and a lot of coaching, particularly if you’re dealing with something complex like high-level funnel analysis (once a rarity, but now a core part of everyday business).
But if that’s the case, then not only will you essentially be delegating large chunks of your role, but you will also be requiring employees to spend time and resources helping you that they should be using elsewhere. When the CMO is effectively serving as the biggest client, the business isn’t long for this world.
Managerial Figures are Increasingly Exposed
Back in the pre-internet era, or even in the early days of online growth, there remained a significant disconnect between the public face of the company and the executive staff tier. Upper management could pull strings from behind the scenes and (for the most part) be ignored by the customers – but that’s much less likely today.
Why? Largely because the rise of social media has conditioned us to expect people to have personal brands. Any company that wants to appear relatable must make an effort to be active on social media, and not just through posting business rhetoric but also through demonstrating some element of personality.
Today, a CMO shying away from Twitter and Facebook might be perceived as cold and indifferent, so they need to get involved – and when they do, they’ll inevitably have their knowledge tested by the public. It’s fair to say that it looks bad for a company when one of its top executives seems behind the times.
In fact, even if you do manage to get away with avoiding social media, your online activity (and activity in general) is still readily exposed through basic investigation. You can admit some degree of ignorance in a private conversation only to later discover that it somehow leaked out. The higher your profile becomes, the more scrutiny you’ll be subjected to.
It’s Important to Lead by Example
I talked about a CMO being assisted by their staff, but that isn’t always possible. Particularly in an older company that’s still slowly undergoing modernization, it’s possible to have a major dearth of digital skills in the marketing team. Can those skills be picked up on the job? Absolutely, but they need to be properly valued and incentivized, and neither one of those things will happen if there isn’t a high-level executive ready to fight that battle.
This isn’t to say that you’re unlikely to see low-level employees aspiring to expand their skills and embrace new technologies, of course, because that’s not the case. Instead, the issue is that employees at that level are conditioned to take their cues from management, and if they’re not told that they should be developing their tech skills, they’re going to assume that the company as a whole has decided that they’re not sufficiently valuable to acquire.
Think about the extent to which a good CMO must challenge their team by assigning them new projects to work on and encouraging both personal and group improvement. To further collaboration, you’ll need to set team projects: working together, you could write a digital magazine, or program a chatbot script or you might build a joint venture as a way of learning about ecommerce, picking up coding skills and perhaps making some money along the way.
Accordingly, the fastest way to spread tech skills throughout a business is to have someone in a position of influence acting as a digital evangelist of sorts. Whenever someone new joins the company, perhaps as an apprentice with no tech skills whatever, it will be their influence that steers their learning. Have a tech-savvy CMO in place and you’ll find that their knowledge will slowly filter throughout the tiers below them.
The possibilities of MarTech are astounding, and it’s a field rife with industry terms that are absolutely worth learning — but if the CMO gives the impression that such things aren’t worth their time, it will set a very bad example for everyone else.
Classic offline marketing is never going to disappear entirely, but it’s ever becoming further enhanced with technology. Anyone with behind-the-times tech skills is only going to last so long in a position of influence before they take the company down with them.