How cloud has redefined the world of the CMO

How many CMOs could deliver an effective strategy without the use of marketing-specific technology? More precisely, how many could plan, implement and measure their work without using services hosted in the cloud?

The rise of cloud computing has resulted in an immense, affordable, sprawling variety of innovative products that cover just about every conceivable marketing discipline

Cloud is now close to ubiquitous, with research showing cloud adoption rates (in one form or another) in the UK are close to 90% for medium and large organisations.

For marketers, however, the conversation has never explicitly been about adopting cloud as a strategy – except, perhaps, as a delivery mechanism for the marketer’s own core service portfolio. The question is rather: how quickly can we get these services up and running?

It’s a time-to-market and time-to-value based economy, and cloud – or, more specifically, SaaS – is the ultimate enabler for the new wave of marketing solutions.

Marketing innovation

Marketing is layered like never before – at its leading edge, it is multi-channel, integrated, highly targeted and personalised.

Cloud-native software has made it far more straightforward for marketers to put together customised campaigns, test ideas, run experiments and evaluate their efforts.

It allows them to solve common problems quickly, reducing risk and decreasing the material cost of failure, which in turn encourages smaller marketing departments and businesses to push the boundaries in a way that would not have been possible even five years ago.

>See also: Lack of CMO-CIO alignment threatens to stagnate digital transformation

Back in the days when we knew cloud as ‘grid’ or ‘utility’, the technology- marketing crossover was an expensive business, with systems frequently over-specified and under-utilised due to their complexity. Think Siebel in the late 90s.

Today, a standard marketing toolkit typically includes Marketo or Pardot, or Dynamics, Google Analytics, SurveyMonkey, We Transfer or Dropbox, DotMailer, Pure 360 or MailChimp, access to external vertical specific contact databases, and cleansing tools like

There’s an enormous range of options, most of which offer free access to basic services that allow you to really understand exactly what advantages the next tier of functionality will deliver before you pay for it.

Also of note is the use of consumer tools in business contexts – collaborating on Trello, Evernote and Pinterest, for example, to share marketing team tasks or visions.

Cloud has also made it easier and quicker to integrate custom services into core marketing systems. The ‘appification’ of niche or complementary functionality has created a market for bolt-on products that either work out of the box or require a small amount of API development to enable. These products have, in turn, created system marketplaces, like the Salesforce AppExchange and the SAP Store.

Marketing R&D and innovation used to be an expensive challenge for marketing leaders, often requiring long and costly commitments to technology suppliers.

Now, cloud technology allows marketers to launch new apps and sites, measure their success, tear them down if necessary, and launch again at their pace. It allows for iterative development, closer campaign management and on-going measurement and analysis tools.

It also addresses the issue of seasonality in campaigning: a true, elastic ‘pay as you use’ model removes the need to over-provision services to accommodate the highest usage or visitor peaks throughout the rest of the year.

‘As a service’ also eases the legendary friction between marketing and finance – large lumpy capex spend on chunky internally hosted solutions has morphed into sleek, license-based, predictable fees with no maintenance overhead that keep a smile on the CFO’s face.

The CMO job description

Today’s marketers cannot plead ignorance. They need to understand the responsibilities and repercussions of the decisions they are making. 

A common scenario: customer data has to be downloaded from a cloud-based CRM tool and uploaded to a separately managed SaaS email tool for a campaign.

Think about the implications for data protection as these exported CSVs are shared across teams, stored locally on laptops pre-upload, and then even potentially accessed on the train later for analysis.

For b2b marketers with financial services customers, uploading their data to an American-owned software tool could compromise strict sovereignty mandates by industry legislators, undermining its integrity and opening it up to non-domestic scrutiny.

Whilst the IT department is worrying about firewalls and unauthorised access to customer data, the marketing department is most likely moving it around right now between suppliers and tools without much consideration for anything outside the practical task of ‘making it work’.

Marketers also have an emerging but fast-growing role in the identification and procurement of technology, so need to work with their own IT teams to achieve the best outcomes for their business.

Marketers, among other groups, are a not-so-stealthy driver in the growth of shadow IT (technology procurement outside the IT department), destabilising central strategy with ad hoc, organic acquisitions that are typically poorly managed, rarely fully offboarded and often incurring cost that is not controlled.

Smart marketers need to build their technical understanding and be able to work closely with their IT counterparts whose experience and knowledge is invaluable.

Technology leaders in retail, for example, are focusing heavily on broadening their knowledge to incorporate business skills. They see this as a critical bridge between commercial priorities and technology’s ability to deliver – marketers need to meet them halfway.

Where are CMOs heading?

It’s an over-simplification but traditionally the role of the IT department has been to ‘keep the green light on’ – working methodically to make sure that BAU tools are working accurately for their internal customers (the ‘turn it off, turn it on again’ meme).

Marketing has always typically led new product development, insight and idea generation – almost owning the ‘right’ to think creatively. But as businesses continue at pace into the era of ‘digital by default’, the role of IT becomes more strategic to the business, often demanding non-linear exploration with a focus on agility and speed.

Culturally this creates its own issues – it’s left vs right brain – so logically, the only conclusion is that the most rapid and exciting development will be achieved by businesses that can get technical and marketing teams collaborating effectively.

>See also: CIOs who work closely with CMOs will boost ROI by 25% – Gartner

‘Digital’ as an adjective will become defunct. Think colour TV, wireless radio.  The ‘digital agenda’ is just the agenda; digital marketers will be the de facto standard for marketers.

Marketing technology providers are more than aware of the growing popularity of cloud-based services, so extended choice and more competitive pricing is inevitable in the future.

M&A in this space is likely to increase, but expect to see more informal mashups and partnerships as domain specialists ‘buddy up’ to take market share and create rapid scale and functionality gains.

Specifically, we are likely to see more applications and services geared towards managing and interrogating big data for marketing, which will bring with it storage, access and archiving considerations.

Marketers are also becoming more speculative with their approach to cloud technology. Some of the largest online retailers in the UK, for example, have adopted a ‘collect it all’ approach to customer data, where they capture as much as possible today without the current capability to make full use of it – with the expectation that at a point in the future that they will be able to derive value from it as big data capabilities mature. Cloud will play a huge role in this strategic planning.

Gartner recently predicted that the CMO’s IT budget will exceed that of the CIO by 2017. So future marketing leaders will by definition need to be technologists who understand the art of the possible (if not the technical detail) – and have the skills and supplier ecosystem necessary to bring it to life.


Sourced from Layla Marshall, Adapt

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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