Laura McLellan

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Laura McLellan
Research Vice President
16 years at Gartner
37 years IT industry

Laura McLellan serves CMOs and other marketing executives, sharing how digital strategies are being integrated with traditional marketing. With an extensive background in marketing and information technology services, she can help CMOs understand how companies are using digital marketing technology ...Read Full Bio

The Digital CMO Is in the Eye of the Beholder

by Laura McLellan  |  February 21, 2014  |  Submit a Comment

Everyone knows the story of the blind men and the elephant – each one touches a different part of the elephant and based on what they touch, each decides it’s a different animal. That’s not unlike what’s happening with CMOs today. They have always had multiple responsibilities, adding digital marketing in the last decade and digital business more recently. Now there are so many capabilities the CMO is expected to have that becoming or hiring the “perfect” one is near to impossible.

Blame it on the mythology or science fiction I read as a teenager. After reading almost a hundred job descriptions of digital CMOs, I was bored silly with the sameness of the terminology. They gave me no clear picture of what such a paragon would look like. So I thought “why not just design one from scratch with all the desired attributes?” Being a visual person, I thought about tying intangible abilities to a physical manifestation, and came up with the idea of assembling a hybrid animal. Wouldn’t it be a lot more fun to ask a candidate how they match up to an aggregated picture?

Five Senses

I started with the five senses to build the digital CMO picture. According to experts, the animals named have the keenest abilities to smell, see, hear, touch and taste. You can relate the senses to the skills or capabilities required to successfully lead a progressive marketing function.

  • The nose comes from a bear – finely tuned for scenting the smallest molecules and tracking them unerringly. Required for noting shifts in customer behavior and expectations.
  • The eyes come from an eagle – able to detect minute motions from high above the ground and rapidly swoop down to seize its prey. Required to lead the organization towards real-time marketing and the ability to act decisively.
  • The ears come from an owl – constantly flickering for the tiniest whisper of noise and assessing danger or opportunity. Required to create an agile environment that allows for rapid new offering development, pricing changes or investment shifts.
  • The fingers come from a manatee – with thousands of sensory receptors, they have the finest sense of touch in the animal kingdom. Required to represent marketing as an equal member of the executive leadership team and be an agent of change.
  • The tongue comes from a shark – their organs can detect one drop of blood a mile away. Required for creating and supporting innovation using emerging techniques and technologies to create competitive advantage.

Six Abilities

I added six inherent abilities to fill in other pieces of the picture. These animals are top-rated for memory, strength, speed, agility, intelligence and caring.

  • The memory comes from a dolphin. Required to execute data-driven marketing and learn from past patterns.
  • The strength comes from an African elephant. Required to develop and adhere to continuous measurement and optimization of marketing performance.
  • The speed comes from a falcon. Required to assess, test and reject or deploy leading-edge marketing technology.
  • The agility comes from a cheetah. Required internally to break down organizational silos between traditional and digital marketing; externally between marketing and other functions – all to create seamless, ever-improving customer experiences.
  • The intelligence comes from homo-sapiens (and the great apes). Required to set vision and develop strategies and initiatives to achieve desired results.
  • The ability to care for others comes from a dog. Required to inspire and lead a high-performance marketing team.

You’ve Gotta Have Heart

Finally, for the 12th attribute, add the heart of a lion – refusal to give up and to show exceptional courage. This attribute above all is required today – you’re doing things that haven’t been done before. Show your team, your peers and your boss it’s OK to fail and learn from it, but never stop changing and improving.

Put the Picture Together

I wish my graphics skills could do justice to a picture of what this “perfect” digital CMO looks like. If any of you want to try, be my guest. Or if you have attributes – along with animals that best represent them – you think I missed, please respond.

In the meantime, look at the series of interviews my colleagues have created which is featured this week on the Gartner for Marketing Leaders website (subscription required). They include marketing leaders from Delta Airlines, eBay, Hubspot, IBM, and La Prairie. Each one embodies one or more attributes the successful digital CMO requires.

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Category: Digital Marketing     Tags:

10 Marketing Executive Resolutions for 2014

by Laura McLellan  |  January 6, 2014  |  Comments Off

The problem with most new year’s resolutions is that they’re either too vague or too narrow.  Try looking at them with an OKR lens (objective and key results – a methodology invented by Intel and popularized by John Doerr, the famous VC who invested in Netscape, Amazon and Google).  See a video made by Google Ventures for more information on OKRs.  When you have to write down a concise objective, what key results you’ll use to measure it and in what timeframe; you’ll see which ones make sense for you, your organization and your enterprise.

Here’s a list of 10 resolutions and objectives based on conversations Gartner’s marketing analysts have held with CMOs and digital marketing executives from large enterprises in 2013.  They are broken down into 3 things to stop, continue and start, plus a personal goal. Several key results are shown as a straw man to get your creative juices flowing.

#1 – Stop communicating with our customers via siloed marketing channels.

Objective:  Create more compelling and holistic customer experiences

Key results:

#2 – Stop actions and attitudes that cause internal functions to view us as championing “marketing world domination”

Objective:  Create a culture inside marketing that values collaboration

Key results:

#3 – Stop “inside-out” thinking

Objective:  Involve our customers in everything from new offering development onwards; accept that they are in charge of our future success

Key results:

#4 – Continue growing customer data analytics skills & transparency of reporting

Objective:  Improve data-driven decision-making across the enterprise

Key results:  Build our “as is” and “should be by end of 2015” gap analysis by February, socialize with other functions by March, prioritize and agree upon two short-term and two longer-term projects by April, gain resource and executive commitments by May, source internally and externally by June, deliver two short-term projects by September, and share

#5 – Continue to work with peers on restructuring my enterprise’s entire customer-facing organization

Objective:  Redesign cross-functional customer-facing processes and interfaces to meet and exceed business objectives

Key results:  Evaluate and hire an external consulting firm by March; develop and prioritize redesign projects by June; execute two “quick win” projects by September; measure internal and customer satisfaction with the changes; plan 2015 project plans, budgets and personnel restructuring by December

#6 – Continue investments in innovation with pilots of new marketing techniques & technologies

Objective:  Build and sustain competitive differentiation through continuous innovation

Key results: Put the equivalent of a chief marketing technologist in place by March, have that person, my operations and product development manager deliver a multi-year roadmap by June along with criteria to judge new pilot projects, involve internal and external IT and marketing service providers in forward-looking planning by September; go into 2015 budgeting with a defensible, yet still flexible, investment plan that’s linked to key business objectives

#7 – Start building a stronger ecosystem of external marketing providers, influencers & alliances

Objective:  Take advantage of external provider strengths to complement our own knowledge, skills and reach

Key results:

#8 – Start extending centers of excellence and agile, real-time marketing initiatives across the enterprise

Objective:  Pool scarce skills and involve other functions more deeply (ex: sales, customer service, operations, internal IT)

Key results:

#9 – Start planning for new digital business models, including leadership, skills, offerings, sales and marketing channels

Objective:  Support future change requirements for digital business

Key results:

#10 – Personally resolve to spend time looking outside my enterprise at best practices and future innovations

Objective:  Be recognized by my staff, my internal & external peers, and my management as a positive change catalyst

Key results:

It’s a scary list, isn’t it?  Few marketing executives are able to tackle all ten in depth, although most wish they could. Find out more about how we’re planning to address these and other topics in our Gartner for Marketing Leaders 2014 Agenda Overviews, available now free on our website.

Best wishes for a happy, productive new year.

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Category: Digital Marketing     Tags:

How Often Should You Revise Digital Marketing Role Descriptions?

by Laura McLellan  |  August 6, 2013  |  Comments Off

Digital marketing as a discipline is new enough – and changing fast enough – that many companies need to work through an annual rewrite of the role descriptions for digital marketing personnel. If you’re not a digital marketing leader, that’s difficult but doable. However, if you are in the top 10% of progressive digital marketing organizations, you’re breaking new ground every time you create or update a role description.

Variability Galore in Role Descriptions

Benchmarks of “standard” digital marketing role descriptions DO change at least annually. It will be years before they become relatively stable – if they ever do. The research Gartner has gathered on the role descriptions currently existing in digital marketing organizations always makes us want to add 3-4 caveats:
     – “on a continuum from highly tactical to highly strategic…”
     – “depending on vertical industry and sub-industry differences…”
     – “based on the current level of maturity of the organization, its unique culture and views held by management…”
     – “due to change when xxx or yyy occurs”

Your HR organization may hate you, but in progressive digital marketing organizations you may need to change the role and responsibilities of certain positions during the measurement year. Let’s look at an example.

How Many Hats You Wear

I worked recently with a large company who is revamping their digital marketing roles. The digital marketing operations manager was bemoaning the fact that he has so many personalities he can’t keep track of them all. The more memorable were:
     - Team coach, trainer and change agent
     – Army First Sergeant
     – Negotiator & facilitator
     – Jack of all [technical, financial] trades

We talked about how he defined his job, who he worked for, what experience was required, how he was measured, among other things. At one point he observed that the role was so fluid that there was little precedent and he essentially wrote his own job description – and his 6-month and annual reviews. One of the dangers he shared – “I vastly underestimated the number of internal and external functions I needed to deal with and how much time it would take – both to educate them and me.”

Only Masochists Need Apply for Digital Marketing Operations Manager Jobs

We mapped the major functions/teams this digital marketing operations manager works with. Not all of them – just the major ones. We stopped at 8, but it could have gone over twenty. Here’s what it looked like. I winced when I saw it.



“Change Before You Have to”

Humor aside, digital marketing operations manager role descriptions are not unique.   The problem of constantly changing roles and responsibilities exists across all digital marketing organizations.  Plan for change; encourage your colleagues to do the same.  Hire people who can roll with change or even embrace it.  And count on the fact that digital marketing role descriptions will need to be updated once a year or more.

 Jack Welch once said “Change before you have to.”  In the new digital world we’re all working in, that’s sage advice.  


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Category: Digital Marketing Uncategorized     Tags:

My First Job As A Paid Storyteller

by Laura McLellan  |  July 2, 2013  |  3 Comments

Hot summer afternoons in a nineteenth century library on Cape Cod with a circle of small children sitting with eyes wide, as I start with “Once upon a time…” I can still remember the dusty smell of old, well-thumbed children’s books, and the fear I felt as a young teenager striving to capture their attention during Story Hour.  How is that time many years ago really different than what marketers do today?

In those days you couldn’t get a job until you were fourteen, other than babysitting.  I went one spring vacation to see the librarian in the small Cape Cod town where we summered every year and asked about working the three summer afternoons a week the small library was open.  I explained that I’d always loved books and reading, and worked in my junior high school as a library aide after school, so I knew the Dewey Decimal System and would be careful about checking out books and reshelving returned ones.  I remember I had to provide three references, including one from my school librarian.

For the princely sum of 95 cents an hour, I had my first real job.  Twelve hours a week during July and August with responsibility for the children’s room sounded easy until told I also had to conduct Story Hour.  You could read stories for part of that time, but the rest you had to tell stories that would keep your young audience engaged.  For a shy teenager that was truly daunting. I’m smiling as I remember telling my family I couldn’t go to the beach the mornings before my library job because I had to plot out what stories I’d prepare that would appeal to both little boys and little girls.

Here are four things I learned those long ago summers that are still relevant to marketers:

  • Know your audience – children have short attention spans and no hesitation about interrupting.  They can suspend belief, but they’re not gullible and can be harsh critics.
  • Tailor your material – content has to be relevant to the experience of your audience.  My attempts at science fiction stories (my favorite at that time) were a stretch for many children.
  • Involve your audience – plan the points when you ask for their participation, for example  “what do you suppose the dragon did next?”
  • Keep it short – you want your audience to say “tell me more”.

My colleague Richard Fouts, who is an outstanding storyteller, has a wonderful research note How to Tell Memorable Marketing Stories [available to Gartner for Marketing Leaders clients].  He advocates using the S.I.R. model – situation, impact, resolution – and using rich media.  You can read Richard’s free research note How to Integrate Social Media into Your Marketing Communications .

Did my experience as a children’s storyteller have something to do with my later career in marketing?  Could be.


Category: Digital Marketing     Tags: ,

Four Layers of Marketing Measurements

by Laura McLellan  |  June 7, 2013  |  Comments Off

There are days when all the advice about the metrics marketing should use feels overwhelming.  I’m reminded of a quote from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland – “If you set to work to believe everything, you will tire out the believing muscles of your mind, and then you’ll be so weak you won’t be able to believe the simplest true things.”

Much has been written about how to measure the effectiveness of marketing, but most of the current literature and research focus on measuring the success of tactical marketing activities or of individual marketing groups. Literally hundreds of measurements are available, but categorizing them in a way that’s meaningful to different stakeholders – that’s the hard part.  The metrics that are most often leveraged by marketing managers to track the health of their programs or campaigns will appear irrelevant to the CEO and executive management. That may not be fair, but it is realistic.

You won’t get as much help as you’d like from your agency or technology partners.  Marketing automation software has become big business, with many providers offering tools that often measure only tactical activities, with few ties to strategic objectives. Also, each provider offers differing recommendations for effective metrics based on their particular area of expertise, which leaves you responsible for choosing the set of metrics that best meets your unique needs. 

Companies are measuring themselves on strategic objectives, such as revenue growth, market share and profitability. Thus, marketing must develop ways to evaluate and communicate its effectiveness and contributions to corporate goals in terms that are compatible with corporate objectives and relevant to executive management. The goal is for CMOs to be able to communicate clearly what value marketing adds to the corporation and how it contributes to overall business success. In coming years, few marketers will rise to senior levels without deep fluency in marketing metrics and the ability to tell marketing’s story through numbers.

Gartner has noted that best-in-class marketing organizations measure around four layers of marketing investment:

  • The first layer is your contribution to strategic planning and impact on offering development.
  • The second layer is your brand promise, image and reputation.
  • The third layer is your sales campaigns.
  • The fourth layer is activities included in the marketing mix, either at a program or an individual activity level. For example, many providers have adopted a series of metrics targeted specifically to each marketing communications media or method in layer four.

Gartner conducted research with 383 marketing professionals in 2012 that asked how marketing is measured vs. should be measured. Although the results are specific to high-tech providers in the U.S., Europe and Asia Pacific, the findings are generally applicable to marketers in all industries.  Here’s a sample of what we heard:

  • The top three metrics that are used to measure the marketing function are increased profitability, improved market share, and positive movement in top-line revenue growth.
  • When asked how the marketing function should be measured, respondents generally agreed with the three above.  They added customer retention and competitive strength.
  • We also asked how marketing measures itself.  Revenue and market share were the top two; followed by customer retention and brand strength.

So the next time you review what you’re measuring, think about four layers of marketing metrics so you’ll be able to get others to “believe the simplest true things”.  Sure, you need metrics that let you measure performance, fine-tune your activities, and drive desired behavior within marketing. But your credibility – not to mention longevity in your position – is likely to improve when the top-level measurements you communicate match how your company measures success.

[Note:  This blog is based on work from my Gartner colleagues Bryan Britz, Dean Freeman and Bob Johnson.]

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Category: Digital Marketing     Tags: , , , ,

Digital Marketing Is Underfunded

by Laura McLellan  |  March 20, 2013  |  5 Comments

Digital marketing budgets averaged  2.5% of company revenue in 2012, growing 9% in 2013 — and that’s still too low.  At a time when 2012 marketing operating budgets were over 10% of revenue, spending only 25% on digital marketing implies some companies aren’t taking the shift seriously enough.

Let’s look at just 3 areas of digital marketing spending.  Understand that marketing’s purpose is the same as it has always been – attract, acquire and retain customers in order to grow revenue and profitability.  And do that in a way that will bring the highest returns, regardless of marketing (or sales) channels used.

Digital/on-line advertising makes up the largest part of the digital marketing budget, but is a small percent of total advertising, especially for consumer-focused companies.  This is not a battle between digital and traditional advertising or inbound vs. outbound marketing (no matter what your agency says) – this is a struggle to get the right content in front of the right buyers at the right time to influence their decision to purchase.   Take the time to understand how buyers are changing their behaviors and where they are spending more time on-line – that should inspire more integrated marketing channels, including digital/online advertising.

Corporate website also makes up a large part of the digital marketing budget.  As your face to the outside world, helping prospective buyers understand who you are, what you stand for, as well as what you offer becomes increasingly critical.  It is also linked to the social and mobile customer experience and digital commerce.  It used to be enough to update websites a few times a year, but now has become a continuous process and one you simply can’t underfund.  The days of static “website as on-line corporate collateral” are gone forever. 

Digital commerce experience is the top priority for increased digital marketing spending in 2013.  Multidimensional stories told with the intent of leading a prospect down the buying path and driving a transaction, commerce experiences provide consumers with a sequence of information, experiences (think entertainment and gamification) and channels  that draw them into the buying process.  Not fully mature yet, but all organizations should be exploring and piloting.  

See this free research  “Key Findings from U.S. Digital Marketing Spending Survey, 2013”  to learn more about these 3 digital marketing activities, as well as others such as analytics, social, mobile, content and search marketing.   Based on a survey of 203 marketers from U.S. companies with more than $500 million in annual revenue (average revenue 5B$), it examines how marketers have allocated their budgets, what activities contribute to marketing success and where the largest 2013 investments will be made.

Or attend our free webinar on March 26th  Why Digital Marketing Budgets Are Underfunded


Category: Digital Marketing     Tags: , , ,

Follow the Money Trail in Digital Marketing

by Laura McLellan  |  December 27, 2012  |  6 Comments

Digital marketers will increase investments in social, mobile and analytics  in 2013 (see the graphic below). No surprise there. But there are other factors in the digital marketing money trail that matter more —where the money comes from, how it’s used, and how you measure success. We believe 2013 will have to be the year to follow —  and to improve —  the money trail if digital marketers want higher investments in following years.  

Two Parts of the Money Trail That Are Difficult

Digital marketing should be a slam dunk.  Who can say no to increased investments that promise to improve the customer experience, shorten the buying cycle, increase retention, and open the door to new customers?  Not to mention improve product development, reduce selling expense, and speed up customer service?  Well, it turns out that plenty of CMOs, as well as their financial and internal IT counterparts, are moving ahead more cautiously than the hype would suggest. 

What holds them back? Let’s look at just two of most commonly expressed reasons – both connected to the money trail:

1.  Unclear measurements of success

Oh, there are plenty of digital marketing measurements around. Some are too tactical, some are of questionable merit, some are downright unverifiable. Metrics come from big name external branded sources, from marketing service providers you use to help with digital marketing, and from internal analytics. Some are done via Excel spreadsheets; others from sophisticated marketing analytics software. Providers of marketing software and services have developed their own Return on Marketing Investment (ROMI) calculations. 

Our research has shown that marketing is typically measured on revenue and profitability.  Problem is, few of the digital marketing measurements companies are using can be rolled up –  simply or reliably – to those two metrics (the exception is specific campaigns). So if you want to justify increased investments in digital marketing, you need to find, trust and use better measurements. The riskier alternatives are to formulate and document your own assumptions, or convince management to take a leap of faith.

Conclusion: A clearer, cleaner set of measurements is required. Metrics need to aggregate easily from the tactical to the strategic. They have to show how digital marketing investments support the ways marketing is measured and the company’s business objectives.

2.  Sources (and uses) of funding

The marketers we’ve been speaking with tell us they have four major sources of funding for digital marketing investments: cut traditional media spending, especially advertising; pare back other areas of traditional marketing spending (some because of the savings digital marketing can create); obtain increased budget from the business units they support; or convince the CEO and CFO to increase marketing’s budget. Some companies are fortunate enough to have all four sources.

Problems arise when marketers try to manually allocate labor, internal cross-charges and external expense and capital spending to digital marketing projects so they can match spending vs. returns. For example, if you have two people who are doing most of your social marketing, are you going to make them fill out daily time sheets?  Try to say which blog they worked on belongs to which business unit? Most company’s financial systems aren’t set up to support all the different types labor and expenses of digital marketing efforts. Should they be? Maybe the “big rocks” – planned, high cost projects or high-visibility pilots – but certainly not the day-to-day efforts.

Conclusion: Someone —   the Marketing Operations manager or the financial person supporting Marketing or the digital marketing manager —has to settle on a money trail tracking method that gives enough detail to capture the sources and uses of funding, without being too onerous for the people involved.

A Look Ahead

Gartner surveyed 512 large [500M$ to over 10B$] companies in the U.S. and Europe about their digital marketing investment plans.  The graphic below shows results from 244 marketers responsible for digital marketing. This  research is just a snapshot in time, and the respondent base may not accurately represent the market in general.  Details from the research show significant differences by vertical industry and geography.  



 What’s Next?

Look for upcoming Gartner research on 2013 digital marketing budgets, on marketing analytics, and specifically on the measurement methods for digital marketing.


Category: Digital Marketing     Tags: , , ,

2013: The Year Marketers Are Expected To Be Strategic

by Laura McLellan  |  December 8, 2012  |  5 Comments

What will be different in 2013?  Marketing will lead more disruption, create more innovation, drive more change.  In short, it will generate a lot more visibility than ever before, all across the organization.  Gartner analyst Jennifer Beck predicts that starting in 2013, digital marketing will be one of the top three imperatives on 100% of CEO agendas.   See “Predicts 2013: Digital Marketing Pushes Marketing Executives to a More Strategic Role”   [subscription required]  Leading marketing publications are calling 2013 “the year of the marketer.”

If you’re a marketer, you could argue that marketing has always played a major role in setting business strategy, but most functions outside of marketing wouldn’t agree with you.  The most egregious perception is that marketing equals advertising, or marketing is all about promotion.  Baloney! It hasn’t been that way in most companies for a decade or longer.  It’s so ironic that marketers – acknowledged communications experts – have such a difficult time  “marketing Marketing!”

One function that is listening and learning, however, is the internal IT organization. Gartner research with 512 U.S. and European companies this year (1/2 marketing, 1/2  IT managers) validates the trend we started to see some years ago.  Marketing is assuming a more significant role in guiding the organization’s strategic direction.                         

This graphic shows that both marketing and internal IT managers recognize a huge increase in just four years, with the largest increase due to come in 2013-2014.

 But what is the opportunity this strategic expectation of marketers presents?  Consider:

  • Marketing-directed outcomes.   You increasingly have  significant responsibility for four big outcomes beyond the expected ones of  revenue and profitability.  They are go-to-market plans, product roadmaps,  a customer experience plan , and company-wide strategic plan.   31% of marketing managers in a recent survey said they had total responsibility for strategic planning.  Five years ago that would have been unthinkable.  
  • The spiraling marketing money trail.  Marketing spending as a percentage of company revenue currently averages in the neighborhood of 8 to 12%.  Marketing is mainly measured on revenue and profitability.  In a significant number of companies you are already responsible for a P&L.   For executive teams to approve that amount of marketing investment, you know there’s high importance put on achieving strategic business objectives such as “grow the business”!  
  • An unlikely culprit – digital everything.  Digital marketing, digital business, digital commerce, digital analytics – we see digital used as a modifier for almost every aspect of business.  Often marketing is the vanguard of digital – if not leading the company, then an active participant in cross-functional teams who are evolving everything from offerings, go-to-market channels, processes and business models. The expected outcome is to acquire and retain customers more effectively, more cheaply, and with more speed.

So let’s all do our part to meet expectations – make 2013 the year your actions raise awareness of marketing’s strategic value and business contributions.


Category: Digital Marketing     Tags: ,