How Can a CMO Transcend the Trends?

Author

H.O. Maycotte, Contributor

December 31, 2014

Ask any CMO how many offers have popped up over the last year for marketing solutions based on new must-have technologies, and you’ll get an earful. Content marketing. Native advertising. iBeacons. And dozens more where those came from. Some of these will certainly prove to be worthwhile investments. But for every one that turns out to have long-term value, there’s one that’s going to be the proverbial flash-in-the-pan. So if you’re a CMO, how do you know which technologies are just buzzwords and which will still be meaningful in five years? Which solutions will help you hone a lasting competitive edge, and which will be mere short-lived trends?

The truth is, you don’t.

Unless you happen to have a fully functioning crystal ball, you simply can’t determine with absolute certainty whether you’re making the best marketing investment ever or wasting your money. When it comes to new technologies and unproven solutions, there’s always going to be the risk that you’re making the wrong call. What you can do, though, is manage that risk.

Managing risk starts with having a solid marketing-technology infrastructure at your core. Marketing technology stacks may come and go, changing with every CMO. What you need is a central point of control over all of them — a stable foundation for the long term that frees you to take some short-term risk.

Here’s how to get there.

Think ahead: Make long-term capital bets in partnership with the CIO
The most important thing you can do to transcend trends is invest in a core infrastructure for controlling your marketing data that doesn’t rely on trends. Consult with the CIO to identify technology that puts you in control of your data, allowing you to maintain centralized customer data records regardless of the specific point solutions you use — and regardless of whether they change. For example, be sure your core systems can easily maintain business and data continuity if you do swap out a stack component such as an email service provider (ESP), marketing automation platform or marketing analytics software. Doing this is like investing in a timeless tuxedo or a classic cocktail dress; you can change your tie or your jewelry as often as you like, but the value of your long-term investment always stays intact.

Be smart: Evaluate where risks are prudent and worth taking
Having a strong core infrastructure that you never put at risk enables you to take prudent risks on other components of your marketing technology stack. Perhaps the most important criterion in evaluating a new solution is how the offering proves its return on investment. Yes, you want technology to pay off by helping target customers better, but you also want to be able to measure that ROI in terms of converting more customers, increasing customer lifetime value and other quantifiable results that will directly impact revenue. Once you’re satisfied that the potential return makes a solution worth the risk, the next step is to make sure that the data it needs and/or generates is interoperable with the core infrastructure you have in place. (The last thing you want is to have to invest even more in overcoming incompatibilities with your core systems.) Having an inviolable core in place frees you to make some smart early bets on solutions, and that ability can help you stay ahead of competitors who don’t have as much room to maneuver.

Break out: Understand that playing it safe can be riskier than being bold
Being prudent and measured in your assessment of new marketing technology doesn’t mean playing it safe and just sticking with what you know. That’s a sure way to fall behind bolder competitors who aren’t afraid to adopt technology for the future. By acquiring new tools from companies that you’ve subjected to careful evaluation, you can sharpen your company’s competitive edge. New technology may take some time to prove its worth, but if it’s solid, it’s worth waiting for the payoff. Not all companies may see it this way, and that can impede your willingness to take a chance. For example, your company may tie your variable compensation to short-term results: no two-month turnaround, no bonus. But don’t let that stop you; meet with your boss and make the case for rewarding longer-term investments as well.

Every day, new technology solutions are promising game-changing results for marketing organizations. You can never be sure which ones are going to have the staying power you want — but you can’t let that stop you from taking some chances. Your job, your relevancy in that job and your company’s ability to compete all depend on having a core data platform that’s capable of adapting and accepting risk. Invest in an infrastructure that gives you the flexibility to place the smart short-term bets your competitors won’t have the confidence to make, and you’ll come out a winner.

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