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How the role of a CMO has evolved to include analytics and data

When navigating the ever-changing marketing technology landscape, Emarsys CMO Allen Nance first asks how emerging technology can help customers.

The role of a CMO has evolved over the decades -- from a creative genius in the vein of Don Draper from Mad Men, to a numbers-crunching data wizard like baseball's Billy Beane -- and the importance of combining creativity with data analytics is a vital part of the job.

Emarsys CMO Allen Nance has spent nearly 20 years in the marketing technology space, from creating email marketing firm the Mansell Group, before selling it in 2011, to acting as an angel investor for more than a dozen marketing software companies. Now, Nance has worked as CMO at Emarsys, a B2C cloud marketing company, for seven months. spoke with Nance about the evolving CMO role, how to navigate a convoluted marketing tech landscape and the challenges a CMO faces.

How has the role of a CMO evolved over time?

Allen Nance, CMO, EmarsysAllen Nance

Allen Nance: What I tell people about marketing in general [is], I've seen a systemic shift over the past 20 years. When you dial it back 20 years, the first thing that popped into someone's head when you said marketing was this right-brain, creative, Madison Avenue, commercials and logos -- all this creativity. Twenty years ago, it was probably 90% right-brained.

But over the past decade, there has been this shift to left-brained, analytical, math-oriented marketing – [with] the emergence of technology and so many of the channels [being] measureable and data driven. That's the biggest shift I've seen.

There are days when I think it's more than 50% left-brain and data-based. There has been this emergence of the role of a CMO not only being creative, but highly analytical, and having that point of view around the return of a marketing investment and the value of data.

When choosing to invest in marketing technology, what is your strategy?

Nance: In the role of a CMO, my general view on adopting technology is, I'm leery of every brand-new tool. What I do, personally, is I start with a simple statement [to] everyone on my team that data is our most valuable asset. I don't start with the tool and work my way backward.

I almost don't care what tools we're using; I'm tool-agnostic. What I care about is where our customer data is.
Allen NanceCMO, Emarsys

I almost don't care what tools we're using; I'm tool-agnostic. What I care about is where our customer data is. I'm interested in who our customers are, what do they look like and what are they using within our application? I start with the customer data and figure out how can I unify it into a single marketing CRM or database.

Once that is done, then I do have a conversation about what tools we need to manage those processes.

When dealing with something like artificial intelligence (AI) or another new technology trend, are there things in-house that need to be dealt with before implementing that technology?

Nance: I have a three-part rule that I preach any time we're exploring emerging technology. The first rule is what impact this emerging technology will have on our customers. I feel, so often, that people get wrapped up into a tool or emerging concept, and [that's due to] a fear of being left behind.

My problem with that [is] what gets lost in white papers and blog posts is the answer to the question of what impact the tool or technology will have on the customer. If someone can't answer that for me first, I don't want to hear the name of the company or product.

Now, let's assume that customer impact answer is really good -- and in the case of AI and marketing, I do think the answer is good. I think AI is part of the answer of scaling to true personalization in marketing.

But the second requirement I have when evaluating emerging technology is what is our readiness to implement it. How ready are we to adopt it? Do we understand it? Do we have the competency and skill set? So many companies are saying we should be doing this because so many others already are, but that doesn't mean you're ready. So I always have my team tell me how ready we are to implement a tool or technology.

The third rule is to start small in scale. So many organizations scale the tool out and then try to nail down how to use it. I want my team to give me something small so I can see it working so that we can nail it first, then scale it out. It sounds simple, but so few organizations ask those three questions.

What are the biggest challenges a CMO faces?

Nance: I think the biggest challenge for the CMO is, at some level, you're the voice and face of the organization, and I don't mean as an individual.

Whenever I think of the role of a CMO, I think of the position as a group. Somebody serves in the role, but the role of a CMO is the hundred people in marketing, and beyond that, it's everything from the business cards people carry to the way the website looks to the consumer experience. To me, the biggest challenge of being a CMO is the broad set of constituents you have.

Some disciplines might have a single customer, but the CMO has to navigate waters where everyone is a constituent, and I think that's the biggest challenge -- navigating multiple constituencies while at the same time building consensus. 

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