Why Traditional CMOs Need To Emerge As Digital Natives

Tuesday 22nd, December 2015

digital marketing photoIt is a fact that traditional marketing as we know it is dying, if not already dead. More than two years ago, Harvard Business Review published an article here, in which it predicted the rise of the Digital CMO. The fact of the matter is, most traditional CMOs are still struggling to make the transition and to understand just what it means to spearhead a digital transformation in your organisation.

If you’re a CMO in Asia Pacific or Latin America, you need to be particularly worried. McKinsey’s Global Media Trends Report for 2014 predicts that digital advertising will finally catch up with its nemesis (strong word!) TV advertising by 2018. Look at the pace of growth though: Between 2013-18, the CAGR for digital advertising year-on-year is 15.1% while that for TV advertising is a rather more sedate 6.7%.

I believe that traditional CMOs should step up to the plate. There is a fear psychosis amongst many of them; after all, the winds of digital change have blown in so fast that it’s easy to get caught out. Suddenly, the traditional and the familiar have changed and with it, the language too. There is talk of content marketing, ad retargeting, marketing attribution and so much more that sounds terribly unfamiliar.

In fact, the HBR article referred to earlier makes the same point. It points that often “… resistance is born of unfamiliarity, fear or misperceptions about what digital marketing means for the brand”.

So, what does a CMO need to do to make the leap? Here are some pointers:

Accept that you don’t have all the answers; build a team

Fear and self-doubt can chip away at any CMOs self-esteem. The fact that you grew up in a different time and space does not mean that your skills have lost value. What you may need to do is to quickly build a team of digital natives, who have their ear to the ground (and their phones!). Your experience can come handy in guiding them, pushing them along by providing the right strategic direction.

Listen to what your customers are saying

In the midst of all the techno-jazz, it would be tempting to lose sight of the customer’s voice. Listen to what your customer has to say – today’s customer is no different from yesterday, except that he has multiple ways to reach out. And it’s your job to make sense of these endless conversations which keep happening with increasing frequency. To be sure, customers will be ahead of the curve and organisations will lag behind. How well you can manage this delta will determine whether your organisation is on top of the situation.

Trust your instincts, but love your data more

It used to be that one of the complaints which marketing people had was that there was no measurability. Today, every data point can be measured and there’s a ton of marketing technology that allows you to squeeze every bit of actionable insight. That ought to allow you to focus on delivering results better. Be the change, so that the rest of the organisation embraces it.


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