Today, marketing technology is critical to the process of acquiring, engaging and retaining customers. For chief marketing officers (CMO) and senior marketing executives who aren’t from the marketing technology world, it can be tempting to delegate responsibility for the marketing technology stack to a team member with extensive technical experience, and to limit engagement with the stack to approving purchases of new technology.

As a CMO, you don’t have to be able to build or manage every detail of the marketing technology stack, but in light of the fact that technology is playing an increasingly important role in achieving business and marketing objectives, you should be actively involved with marketing technology initiatives in the following ways:

  • Contributing to the development of the data strategy.
  • Developing the stack strategy.
  • Prioritizing technology programs.
  • Reviewing stack performance.
  • Structuring the organization to ensure that team members have the skills to select, implement, utilize and manage the technology that is being purchased.

Poor decisions in any of those areas can lead to problems such as these:

  • Failure to hit revenue goals because of poor technology performance.
  • Increases in the cost of customer acquisition as a result of overspending or lack of control of the technology stack.
  • Lowered customer lifetime value (CLTV) as a result of overspending or a lack of technology to support engagement and retention activities.
  • Organizational inefficiency and productivity issues due to a lack of alignment between the staff’s technology skills and the technology that has been implemented.

Here’s a more detailed look at the various ways CMOs and other marketing executives should be involved in various technology-related initiatives.

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Data Strategy

None of the elements in your marketing stack will function properly without clean and accurate data. While you don’t need to be the one to define the data strategy, you need to make sure that a plan is in place to ensure that accurate and complete data is being delivered to the components of your stack. Companies approach this in different ways — many give responsibility to the marketing operations team, others give it to the IT department, and some have a dedicated data department.

Stack Strategy

The only way to achieve the performance and results desired from the overall marketing technology stack is to ensure that the technology and tools that are implemented are put in place to support specific marketing objectives, which in turn should be derived from business objectives. Your job in this process is to ensure that all stakeholders are engaged in the process of translating marketing objectives to marketing functions, and to ensure that the technical requirements to support functions that are technology-enabled are clearly defined.

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Technology Prioritization

There are only so many products that your company can evaluate, purchase and deploy at any given time. As the CMO, it is up to you to work with your technical team to define the cadence of technology introductions. What will your budget support? If you need assistance from IT or engineering, do those departments have the capacity to help you? Additionally, if there are competing priorities among various stakeholders, it is your responsibility to help your team negotiate an overall priority list.

Stack Performance

As a CMO, you should be working in lockstep with your team to assess stack performance by asking two questions: Is each individual product performing? And, is the overall stack solid?

In most cases, the performance of marketing technology can now be measured in quantitative or qualitative ways. As technology is purchased or built, it is important to specify the success metric for each piece of technology and then regularly assess the technology against that metric. Your role in a quarterly review meeting is to ask these questions:

  • Which products are performing as expected?
  • Which products are performing better than expected?
  • Which products are not performing?
  • For those products that are not performing, is there a plan to improve performance, or should they be eliminated?

With regard to the overall stack, it’s easy for the stack to become bloated and too costly if it isn’t continually reviewed. In your role as CMO, you should be ensuring that you mandate the review of the stack on at least a quarterly basis and ask the following questions:

  • How well are we utilizing each platform?
  • Are there any new features that we are planning to leverage in our platforms?
  • Do we have any functional overlap across platforms and, if so, is there an opportunity to eliminate a redundant platform?
  • Do we have any new opportunities to integrate pieces of the stack to improve performance or deliver new capabilities?

Structuring the Organization

Companies take differing approaches to the organizational challenge of defining who is responsible for the technology stack. As you consider how responsibility for the stack will be structured, it is important to decide whether to centralize or decentralize responsibility. Either option is viable, but if your choice is to decentralize, I recommend having centralized oversight somewhere in the organization to minimize the risk of acquiring or developing redundant technology.

Learning Opportunities

The next decision is to determine whether to assign responsibility to a single individual or a team of individuals. In my experience, if the choice is a single individual, that is usually because there are other people in the marketing organization, or within engineering or IT, who can provide implementation and ongoing technical support.

Many companies choose to assign responsibility for the technology stack to the marketing operations team (frequently in partnership with sales operations). Others assign responsibility to teams in IT or engineering. In general, those with overall responsibility for the marketing technology stack come from digital marketing, IT or engineering backgrounds.

Regardless of the organizational approach you take, it is important to make sure that the person you will be engaging with regarding the technology stack knows how to link marketing functions to technology requirements and is capable of communicating what you need to know about the stack in a way that makes sense to you. It will not be a successful partnership if you can’t speak each other’s languages.

One final note on your organizational structure, if your budget does not allow you to build a complete in-house team or if you’re having difficulty hiring the talent you need, there are now marketing tech stack consultants and agencies that you can tap to supplement your internal talent.

Looking Ahead

The evolution of marketing technology is happening at a rapid pace, which means that the marketing stack has to continually evolve to embrace new technologies and to support new ways to interact and engage with customers.

As a CMO, you need to be aware of new technology and the possibilities it brings to your environment. I recommend asking your team to schedule a quarterly technology update session and to invite one or more leading-edge innovators or experts to share their thoughts of what is coming next. Another approach is to dream up new ideas for connecting with customers without considering technology constraints and then go in search of technology that will help you make those ideas a reality.

Two key areas to be watching at the moment are artificial intelligence technology, because of the massive amount of data it can synthesize, and Blockchain, which is very much in its infancy but is likely to spawn a host of new marketing technologies.

If you are a nontechnical CMO, it is possible to dive into the technology stack and provide valuable direction and oversight. With the right team in place, and a focus on the stack issues that impact marketing performance, you’ll be amazed at how you can help shape a technology strategy that consistently achieves your marketing objectives.

Happy stacking!