Why CMOs are the new CTOs

In the past ten years—or even the past five—marketers have gained access to a wealth of new tools. You used to need to be a tech giant like Google or Facebook to do technology-centered, data-driven marketing. Now, all you need is a small team (and the right partners, of course).

So here’s the big question: Has your marketing department kept up with the changes?

I’m not talking about whether you have the latest or most shiny version of any particular tech. I’m talking about structure, management and strategy. Is your marketing team configured to get the most out of your technology?

As the CMO for Tableau, I helped lead our team to amazing results by embracing technology and making it part of our core processes. It’s no longer an add-on; marketing and tech are together for the long haul.

Here’s why Chief Marketing Officers need to start thinking and acting like Chief Technology Officers. And, of course, how you can start making that transition within your organization.

Technology Is the Foundation of Modern Marketing

Which would you rather do without, your martech stack or your morning cup of coffee? The thought of losing either one is panic-inducing, I know. But marketing is (technically) possible without caffeine. I would argue that there is no way to succeed at marketing without a robust tech stack.

Modern marketing is technology. It’s collecting data, tracking behavior, segmenting audiences, buying programmatic ads and distributing content. It’s hundreds of touches and nudges across dozens of channels. 

Marketers simply can’t afford to take tech for granted. We can’t leave it to the IT department; they have plenty on their plates anyway. We need to take ownership of these technical systems and develop a strategic perspective on how best to use them. 

Your Website Is Your Most Valuable Resource

The most crucial component of your martech stack is your website. Whether it’s to fill out a form, purchase a product or consume content, the end goal of every campaign is getting visitors to that site. 

So, it’s amazing how many marketing departments have little or no direct control over their websites. Imagine a mechanic who is directly accountable for how well the company car runs. But he isn’t allowed to make any adjustments to the engine, or even open the hood. Who would take that job? 

I certainly wouldn’t. But research shows that half of CMOs still struggle with simply publishing content in real-time. Less than 10% are able to make design or functional adjustments quicker than once every three months. Nearly half are stuck with what they’ve got until they can afford a major relaunch; they can’t iterate at all.

Most marketers would agree that content management should be a marketing function. But many of us are reluctant to take on the more technical aspects of maintaining and administering a site. We have to realize that web development is a marketing function now, too.

Web Performance Affects Your Brand’s Reputation

Marketers are responsible for managing a brand’s reputation. Your marketing website is the face that your brand presents to the world. If your website doesn’t perform well, it hurts your brand’s credibility.

It’s not just reputation, either. Your website performance directly affects how well your marketing works. A slow-loading website will lose search engine rankings. Visitors will bounce within seconds. A site with frequent downtime is losing potential revenue every second it’s unavailable.

If your website isn’t fast and reliable, it’s holding back every effort you make. What’s the use in a brilliantly-targeted, attention-grabbing set of display ads that drives traffic to a slow site, or one that crashes with every traffic spike?

Marketers need to have ownership over their websites. That much is clear. But it can be a struggle to prove to management that the marketing department can be trusted with such a precious asset.

Marketers Need to Build IT Credibility

In my previous position at Tableau, my marketing team struggled to gain ownership of our website. We had to prove that we could make a reliable and trusted website and that we had the skills within our team to keep the site performant and up to date. 

Essentially, we had to convince the IT team that we wouldn’t break anything. Without that trust, every request for a change had to go through the IT queue. That stifled our ability to be innovative and burdened our already-overtaxed IT folks.

There are two ways for your team to build that IT credibility: Your whole team can take night classes on web development, or you can bring in a partner who can handle the infrastructure. We went with the second option. We tapped Pantheon to handle performance, uptime and development workflows.

With Pantheon in place and a little training, we were able to convince our internal stakeholders that we were ready to take ownership. 

Work with Developers to Drive Innovation

Once you have the knowledge, support and trust needed to own your website, you can start adapting and innovating. Your development team will be spending less time worrying about keeping the site up, so they can devote more time to new projects. What’s more, your marketing team will be equipped to implement their own changes, iterating fast, experimenting and refining. 

I’ve found that the most impressive results come from an empowered marketing team collaborating with a development team in a WebOps workflow. When these teams come together on the right platform, you can work smarter, faster and with a higher-quality end product.

Elissa Fink is on the board of directors at Pantheon. As a long time data-driven marketing executive, she recently retired from Tableau Software as Chief Marketing Officer. She now advises fast-growing companies and serves on multiple boards. Having spent over 11 years at Tableau, she is credited with driving marketing through all stages – from ~$5 million to over $1 billion in revenue. Elissa was also the key driver who developed the Tableau brand and cultivated the loyal and enthusiastic Tableau fan base from 2,000 to 65,000 customers and millions of users. In addition, she teaches classes at the University of Washington.

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