Mind the Gaps in the Digital Marketing Transformation

By Jake Sorofman | March 13, 2014 | 0 Comments

Last week, Laura McLellan and I co-presented a webinar on digital marketing spending trends (public replay available here) where we talked about some of the new roles rising on the marketing team roster.

To me, it’s a fascinating topic as much for the reactions it elicits as for what it says about the challenges marketers face as they shift dollars to digital (a shift that we see increasing by double digits annually). “That’s a whole lot of chiefs” is the conventional refrain we often hear when we wheel out c-level titles for everything from digital to data to content to technology to operations.

But, to me, the title itself isn’t really the point here. What’s more important is the role the title implies and the need it implicates. What’s more important is the gap it illuminates in the marketing leadership structure.

I’ve talked a lot about the conspicuous gap between aptitude and authority in digital marketing leadership today. CMOs have the authority, but it’s the digital natives who have the innate aptitude for the digital disciplines. Until the natives come of age, there’s a mismatch that will constrain marketing performance.

Of course, with revenue and retention on the line, very few companies are inclined to wait out the glacial pace of this evolution. They’re looking to accelerate digital maturity by filling gaps.

Here are some of the gaps you ought to mind:

  • Technology—that digital marketing depends on technology is obvious. What’s perhaps less obvious is how paralyzed many marketing leaders feel in the face of it. That’s why we see so many (81% at last count) appointing the role equivalent of a chief marketing technologist. Sometimes it’s a growth hacker in a black t-shirt, the MacGyver-like character who may lack the title but knows how to make magic happen by dint of talent and fearlessness. Other times, it’s an executive level appointee who formally bridges the gap between marketing and IT and acts as marketing’s resident CTO/CIO hybrid.  
  • Operations—running marketing like a business with accountability to cost and revenue impact requires a level of operational rigor that most marketing organizations simply lack. That’s why we see new roles forming around the operational aspects of planning, executing and optimizing digital marketing. Like the chief operating officer of the marketing function, the particular chief leads day to day execution, acting as de facto chief of staff with a sharp eye on the dashboard and a steady hand on the helm.
  • Content—feeding the content-hungry beast of multichannel engagement is not for the faint of heart. Many marketing leaders now recognize that the content marketing discipline depends on someone who wakes up and goes to sleep thinking about content quality, timeliness, expense and impact. Like a symphony’s conductor, the chief content officer turns a cacophony of content into stories that soar.
  • Data—much is said of the power of big data—and much of it is true. But most marketers still have small data problems to contend with. Their first-party data is scattered from hither to yon. They don’t know what questions to ask or how to turn data into insight into action. They need to get their own house in order, addressing their waking realities before they can realize big data dreams. That’s why we see so many marketing organizations hiring data pros. Part data scientist, part marketing analyst, this chief plays a visible and vital role in making marketing truly data driven.  

So there are four new roles we see on the rise. As you mind your own gaps, remember not to get too hung up on the titles themselves. Instead, focus on the roles the titles imply and the needs they implicate.  

Which other gap-filling titles or roles do you see on the horizon?

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