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The CMO Crisis

I’ve lectured regularly on the topics of digital measurement and digital strategy at Columbia University. My lectures have been filled with not only graduate students but a striking uptick in seasoned CMOs from Fortune 100 brands — both eager to learn insights on the art of digital measurement. Why?

The Crisis Facing Marketers

There’s a crisis facing marketers — longevity.

The average tenure of a CMO is 23 months. Less than two years!  CocaCola has had 4 CMOs in 6 years, Starbucks 5 CMOs in 7 years and Kinko’s 3 CMOs in 5 years. There are some internet memes that have longer lives than CMOs (planking has been around since at least 2009 and some reports to 2000).

So why such high turnover? Four emerging issues that marketers face (according to a study by the CMO Council) include:

  • The recovering economy
  • New technologies or engagement channels
  • Internet influence and voice
  • New talent & skill set requirements

Three of the four have direct implications from the rise of digital marketing (and the economy has definitely turned budgets to smarter, more digital ad spends). It’s no surprise then that CMOs are seeking continuing education in specific areas of:

  • Social media & web 2.0 strategy
  • Web metrics and measurement

CMOs are readily coming to understand that the marketing field has rapidly evolved, and one must remain fresh, current and knowledgeable. But knowledge isn’t enough. The spend in digital and earned media channels is growing while traditional ad spend is decreasing. What’s more, industries across the board from retail to financial to nonprofits are showing strength in their use of digital technology, and the spend is following the adoption.

Measurement as Action

The real key to longevity lies in a marketer’s ability to measure success effectively. As Gordon Bethune, former CEO of Continental Airlines, rightly said, “Best efforts will not substitute for knowledge.” There isn’t a more succinct way to say it.

In today’s world of data, analytics and insights, a marketer must be intimate and knowledgable about each touchpoint, segment, channel and propensity to purchase or convert based on said combinations.

Measurement isn’t about reporting. For the digital marketer, it’s about action.

A marketer must specifically measure channels for four reasons:

  • to attribute success
  • to allocate and defend budgets
  • to forecast demand
  • to optimize performance

Measurement of channels drives your actions and determines the success and better spend of each next endeavor. Where budgets are concerned, success and proof of results is mandatory. Whether deciding where to allocate your budget or even defending it, a marketer must be armed with knowledge in how each dollar performed and what it accounted for in terms of the bottom line.  Understanding actual cost-value measurement for specific onsite actions or goals allows a marketer to not only spend well, but optimize performances against benchmarked data and actual revenue-affecting costs in order to actually spend better. And ultimately, understanding your data allows a marketer to forecast demand; whether listening through feedback or social channels, identifying thresholds of user activity or trending patterns, a marketer gleans valuable insights that allow for nimble forecasting for products, services and more.

The last — attribution — is, in my opinion, one of the most misunderstood and under-utilized pieces of knowledge for a digital marketer.

Attribution is, for all intents in purposes, the intricate path of understanding what part each digital touchpoint plays in terms of acquisition. It’s a messy science yet refined art. It’s measured data that gives detailed insights on exactly what paths a conversion came from — with the uncomfortable ambiguity, that like offline branding, not every touch point is “the sale” but it is somewhat responsible for that sale. It’s uncomfortable for us digital marketers that have tried to pinpoint everything back to absolutes in measurement.

We’ve pushed that measurement to the point we’ve realized that attribution, while entirely measurable, involves a lot of decisiveness in how you determine the role the first-click, last-click and all the clicks and views in-between play in your success attribution.

And at the end of the day, it’s how you attribute that success, how you listen to the data and how you visualize the possibilities that emerge that make a successful digital marketer or CMO in today’s changed landscape. It’s a line somewhere between finite science and creative art. It’s certainly an uncomfortable territory for many who are both playing catch up and keep up in an ever-evolving industry.

The ultimate key to success is immersing yourself in the technologies, data and tools that provide insights and accountability. For an inside look at some digital measurement strategiesread more here.

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