How many marketing managers are up to the data-driven task?

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Ryan Skinner

30. 08. 2012 | 5 min read

How many marketing managers are up to the data-driven task?

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It’s a painful time of transition as the marketing profession adapts to the new data- and technology-driven demands made of it.

A few weeks ago Bill Lee wrote a provocatively titled post (“Marketing is Dead”) on the Harvard Business Review blogs that skewered the marketing profession.

An early point in that post struck home for many:

In a devastating 2011 study of 600 CEOs and decision makers by the London-based Fournaise Marketing Group, 73% of them said that CMOs lack business credibility and the ability to generate sufficient business growth, 72% are tired of being asked for money without explaining how it will generate increased business, and 77% have had it with all the talk about brand equity that can’t be linked to actual firm equity or any other recognized financial metric.


The subtext screams louder than any headline: Today’s marketing managers have an outmoded mindset. It’s not Mad Men anymore. It’s CSI: Madison Avenue. A new breed of marketing manager’s on the rise, but he or she’s not there yet.

The B2B Parallel
We feel this in our day-to-day. Some B2B marketing managers – either the overtly adventuresome or the inadvertently young – are hip to the new online, data-driven world of marketing. Most, however, are not.

Which camp do you belong to? A control question:

Would you know how to create a conversion in Google Analytics, run an A/B split test on a landing page, build a campaign in a marketing automation tool so that it reacts to the end user’s behavior, build metrics that report on any of these or know what action to take based on results?

If you answered “no”, you’re not there yet. If you answered “yes”, you might not be there either. Another recent post in the Harvard Business Review cited a survey showing that the few marketers who do use data aggressively, largely do it wrong.

Double ouch.

We’re in a tremendous period of change and transformation. As a result, many senior managers are managing processes and activities with which they have zero experience and just as little foundation for understanding. Or, let me rephrase more bluntly:

Managers are managing people who are doing things that the managers don’t understand. (And sometimes their subordinates don’t understand either, though the manager’s unable to identify it.)

If you are one of those managers, there are a few avenues open to you:

  1. Take precautions to make sure you’ve got the right people working under you, and let them do their thing (Drawback: You’ll probably be asked to justify or explain what’s being done to higher-ups in a context in which it’ll be uncomfortable to say “I don’t know. I will have to ask one of the guys on my team.”)
  2. Get the people you manage to explain every thing they are doing and micromanage them while you ramp up your own skill set (Drawback: Those people working under you are going to be hampered, and frustrated, by the need to train those on a higher rung.)
  3. Go to ground and bury yourself in the new way of doing things, and don’t re-emerge until you can do it yourself (Drawback: Many senior managers don’t have the discipline or motivation for this.)
  4. Avoid, dodge, dissemble and disintermediate change. Many managers take solace in every article questioning the new reality, and then parrot it to other senior managers who may be feeling the same way and thus empathize (Drawback: The end of your career will be like a double tap to the back of the head. You don’t hear or see anything. Then it’s over.)
  5. Suggestions? I’m sure there are other viable paths out there. Any marketing manager want to commit?

From an agency perspective, we’d most like our clients to go for route 3, because there’s just no replacement for knowledge. Part of Velocity’s success has been to grow together with the kinds of marketing managers who do just that, reinvent themselves and we learn along the way. Routes 1 and 2 are viable, but painful.

The Rise of the Chief Marketing Technology Officer
While the flurry around Lee’s post was peaking, another story smashed into the CMO’s news dashboard like a 1000-pound mosquito. BlueKai (motto: Carpe Datum) pushed out an infographic appraisal of the Chief Marketing Technology Officer.

This seems to be the role that’s going to fill the skills gap. The CMTO will understand how to build a functional marketing tech stack, how to resource it appropriately, how to track the performance of marketing campaigns and how to report on metrics in a way that won’t set the CEO’s teeth on edge.

Where this critter sits in the overall marketing and technology leadership structure isn’t entirely clear. Many of our B2B clients don’t even have a CMO, much less a mandate for CMTOs, or other outlandish species – CSMMTOs (Chief Social Media Marketing Technology Officers)?

The sticking point in the agency-client relationship
In the case of most B2B companies, we’re in a slightly awkward limbo, whereby agencies have to deliver services to managers who may not know what’s being done or why entirely.  (Let’s admit that this is probably the unofficial motto of the web since its dawning).

Some clients ask us to train and explain, which can – in extreme cases – accumulate into a massive challenge (for which we’re not really compensated). Other clients just hand over the keys – “You seem to know what you’re doing. Here’s our Google Analytics and marketing automation logins.” That’s not ideal either. Many clients will know one thing really well, and that’s about it (“we’ve done tons of PPC, but we know nothing about email campaigns”).

Most clients are in a grey zone between knowing what they’re doing on the backend/organizational side, asking us to train and explain and handing over the keys. The challenge for an agency is this variety. We’d be most efficient delivering the same thing in the same way all the time, but we can’t. You can say it’s a typical challenge in service industries, but it’s more pronounced right now for agencies delivering digital marketing services.

If you’re a marketing manager in this transition, what’s the reco? Sadly, the reco is no reco. Learn to live with not knowing entirely, while you learn as fast as you can. That’s what we do.

We’ll herald the arrival of a CMTO. We’ll herald the death of marketing. And we’ll stumble along as best we can in the meantime (even when we moan, we love it).

A couple more interesting articles on the “Marketing Is Dead” and “CMTO” topics:

Robert Rose of the Digital Clarity Group warns CMOs – “Big Data & Marketing: It’s a Trap

Gini Dietrich questions the demise of marketing on Spin Sucks (though she ends up agreeing with the thesis) – “Marketing Is Dead?

Scott Brinker’s defined the CMTO role as well or better than anyone around and this presentation’s golden – “Rise of the Marketing Technologist and What it Means for Agencies

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  1. David Petherick

    August 30th, 2012

    Good blog Ryan. It’s only honest to admit that building a functional marketing tech stack is akin to nailing jelly to the ceiling where you don’t know what flavour of jelly is best, nor where the ceiling is going to be next time you need it. At the risk of sounding like Donald Rumsfeld, there are also unknown unknowns — the things we don’t know we don’t know.

    I’m lucky to have both technical, social and marketing experience rattling around in the same skull, but in saying that, I recognise the need for constant learning, curiosity, and, quite simply, help. I think the CMTO or CSMMTO is the elusive beast that CMOs need to either become, or hire, in order to hold their own in the boardroom, let alone successfully gain more budget. So as you neatly put it, we have to learn to live with not knowing entirely, while we learn as fast as we can.

  2. Ryan Skinner

    August 30th, 2012

    Thanks, David. Point taken, absolutely.

    In preparing this post, I discussed it with colleagues a bit to ensure it didn’t sound like Mr. Agency Smartypants scolding hard-working marketing managers. We’re definitely on the curve too (and often learning from clients). I think there’s a spectrum of understanding/capability and the greater the distance between any two people the greater the challenge for all involved.

    I suppose the worst problems come up when someone, for one reason or another, cannot admit to a limited understanding of something, and starts faking it – whenever that happens (whether it’s agency or client that’s the transgressor) bad things happen.

    Great comment. Appreciate it.

  3. Blaire (@VenEnthusiast)

    August 30th, 2012

    I’m one of the “inadvertently young” marketers you mentioned, and even younger in terms of my career. I have to figure things out as I go all the time, and I benefit from an asset most marketeers don’t share — an endless well of support from the rest of the team, all of whom are web developers. There are new technologies for really narrow areas of digital marketing launching all the time now, so even (comparative) whippersnappers struggle to jump the learning curve–every marketer does. Still, with CEO demands of being data-driven, evidence-based, and demonstrating continuous return on investment, there’s one tool that all marketers have to become comfortable with–Google Analytics. It’s a huge pain to set up, but it gives near immediate metrics, which is helpful for those of us with conversion quotas. I was really frustrated with the GA dashboard for content marketing, so I made my own and thought to share the template here There’s no signup, so feel free to filch it if you think it might help.

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