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Death of the CMO? Or perhaps, not! As Shakespeare might have said, “Wherefore marketing?”

NonStop Insider


oped oct 2020

Shakespeare wrote, “Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” and nothing has been quite the same since. As an industry, we have been asking a similar question and while it may be a little unexpected to quote Shakespeare in the opening paragraph of an IT Opinion / Editorial (OpEd) column, nevertheless it resonates with many, if only in a slightly different context. The question everyone in the NonStop community might be accused of asking albeit obliquely is “wherefore marketing?” As we enter the age of insight, is marketing per se attracting a second look?

I have to admit that my thoughts on marketing were triggered in part by a “like” on LinkedIn by IR’s newcomer, Louise Woodcroft-Letham. As IR’s People and Culture Business Partner, it was Louise who drew my attention to the post, EMPLOYEE ADVOCACY THROUGH THE EYES OF HR, SALES & MARKETING. Now I have to say, this title kind of threw me, but then again, anything to do with marketing and sales will always attract my attention and this case, it was the observation:

“Although the effects of good content are not always easily measurable, the results of bad content are abundantly clear, and it can drive away prospects (and anyone) for good. 

“Becoming an influencer is equally as much about creating engagement and bringing the right people together as it is about the things being said. It’s about increasing reach, raising the right questions and having informative answers. 

Before I continue with the Shakespeare theme and suggest, in this case, that the author “doth protest too much, methinks” this observation might ring true with many in the NonStop community. When it comes to social media, advocacy and even influence it’s hard to dispute that marketing is undergoing fundamental change. In today’s market, who would want to be promoted to the position of Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)? On the other hand, for those in the NonStop community perhaps it’s worth, methinks, to return to the basics – the Power of Parallelism!

Wherefore marketing? Without dwelling too long on where we have come from or on reminding readers of how Proctor and Gamble championed product marketing as they launched “Soap Operas” or to revisit the all-powerful posturing that came with IBM positioning product manager as actually “owning” products from soup-to-nuts, there is no escaping the reality that the pursuit of marketing by technology companies is as ripe for over-valuation as it is fraught with misconceptions. After all, what does marketing really know about technology? It’s not soap powder and for sure, it’s not the latest generation of a popular car marque!

Looking at the power or parallelism, it jumps off the page that today we have a mix of marketers, advocates and influencers. In many ways, our traditional dependency upon industry analysts has fallen by the wayside. Talk to Gartner, IDC and the like, and they focus on selling us something with little regard to the questions we may be asking. Trust us; we know where the industry is heading. But do they? Not so fast, as after all they too have marketing departments massaging the messages they convey. My own experience of late is that there is today far less listening and much more promoting.

Returning to that post that IR highlighted and before you begin to think that this column is self-serving in any way, it is important to note that first and foremost, traditional approaches to marketing are dead. It is less about understanding markets and of promoting brands and about understanding of what customers really want (do they ever?) and more about having conversations with meaningful content. As one analyst recently remarked, “Simply put, if marketers and creatives don’t adapt to speak to customers the way they want to be spoken to – at a particular time, about a particular product, in a particular medium – they will not succeed.”

The power of parallelism, yet again! Marketers and creatives and add to this, in today’s ever-changing world of technology, technologists. For as much time as I have spent promoting NonStop I have never been totally comfortable with any role I have been given and I am beginning to understand why. When I was part of Tandem Computers, I started as a Program Manager in development where I was told by my peers that I was a bit “too marketing.” When I moved to Product Marketing (under Chris Rooke) I was thought of as being too technical. Finally, moving to Product Management (under Roy Graham and Bill Heil) I was further informed that I was too entertaining. Then again, for anyone who spent any time in the Customer Conference Center (Cupertino, Building 2), being entertaining meant you were given a repeat performance.

Forbes magazine recently published a post, How To Align Your Technology Team With Your Marketing Team. In that post the blogger noted how:

“I think a lot of technical people (CTOs, senior developers, etc.) try to pretend like marketing doesn’t exist — or that it’s just not relevant. Coders speak code. Marketers make messaging — and they never need to meet in the middle.

“That’s a huge mistake. But it happens — and even worse, they seem to have very different assumptions about what will move the business needle.

“Let me fill you in on a little secret. None of that matters …”

I had a separate conversation on this topic with the cofounder of a data company that I believe will be going places. He has a solid understanding of the NonStop marketplace and we discussed recent developments at Microsoft. He reiterated how Microsoft spent a lot of time getting enterprises to commit to Azure and then two or so years ago Microsoft changed gears rewarding its sale folks instead based upon getting those same enterprises to consume Azure. Expressed as bluntly as I can, having first sold the idea it then became a case of capitalizing on the commitment (of enterprises) by having them invest in usage.

Making money out of a commitment was one thing (and rather a small amount at that) but getting them to consume as many Azure resources as possible was another and that’s where generating real revenue amounts for Microsoft were involved. “Not surprisingly, this transition from getting a commitment to encouraging greater consumption has caused ripples amongst traditional marketers as other major vendors pursue similar practices,” said Striim Co-Founder, Sami Akbay. Nothing too surprising here other than what followed! This transition by Microsoft essentially took the message away from marketing and handed it to the technologists. It was now a case of technologists coming to the fore!

Wherefore CMO? Nothing could state their future more succinctly than what was said in a post to Strategy Online, Canada, asking Are CMOs a dying breed? As they pursued this further and asked whether the role of the CMO was on its way out, they wrote:

‘In recent years, the CMO title has come under greater scrutiny. Last year, for example, the elimination of CMO roles at a handful of major organizations prompted Forrester to predict a rise in the number of chief growth officers – and other adjacent titles, such as chief customer officer – in 2020.”

Could the CMO role really be dying or minimally starving for better defined role in the C suite? “Truthfully the consumption / subscription / SaaS market is creating more of a corporate marketing hive-mind; everyone in a company is aware of the customer and what they need,” said Ray Bruni, Chief Strategy Officer at Data443 Risk Mitigation Inc. “It used to be that a CMO was responsible for creating a compelling and emotionally engaging message, with the goal of convincing prospects to buy then try; think beautiful catalogs, brochures, adverts, and the likes. Attracting a good CMO was like finding your own Merlin, you could see their impact on revenue, but you had to trust the magic and often blindly invest. Now days Merlin comes in the form of High-Speed Compute, AI and Big Data.”

Even if you conclude that today, enterprises follow a similar path to us consumers, as a McKinsey & Company report, The Consumer Decision Journey suggests, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to read;

“Marketing used to be driven by companies; “pushed” on consumers through traditional advertising, direct marketing, sponsorships, and other channels

“Actually, the decision-making process is a more circular journey …”

We commit. We consume. As technology evolves we will likely commit again. And then consume some more. We continue to see technology becoming more complex with time and with complexity comes a degree of uncertainty. Do we listen to marketing? Do we talk to sales? Do we validate with those who have experience? The path may indeed be circular, bringing us back to the beginning each time with even more functionality to comprehend but with complexity, technologists do need to become more marketing savvy. The age of insight is definitely going to teach us one thing – we are no longer walking the aisles looking for soap!

This month I wrote to one NonStop vendor on this topic and it’s worth quoting in light of the above:

“A lot has changed with regards to marketing, social media and influencing. Microsoft set the ball rolling when they practically dismantled enterprise product marketing and changed the goals and indeed incentive plans from primarily a focus on ‘commit’ to ‘consume’ …

“What is important to remember (and frames this transformation) is that the world is turning quickly to a consumption-based usage / payment model and it will shortly apply to NonStop as well. It means that both the try before you buy and pay as you go models will touch much of NonStop.”

Wherefore marketing? What we once thought of as marketing is no longer. We have advocates and influencers. We no longer have analysts and consultants. We have trusted parties we turn to on a regular basis and most of all, we turn to the technologists. As we commit to products it’s more a case of capitalizing on that commitment. Better consuming what we have embraced as instrumental to our own strategy. As for the CMO? Well check the business card handed to you next time. Perhaps it’s more aligned with your needs. Perhaps it’s all about Product-Led Growth (PLG).

Perhaps there is recognition that as with the power of parallelism, everything works well together – marketing, advocacy and influencing. Have you checked you trusted blog or twitter feed of late? It’s probably too soon to call the end of days for the CMO and even thinking that marketing is becoming a legacy practice might be a bit premature but in today’s business environment the days of sending out thousands of emails is behind us. On the other hand, Merlin came with baggage and, ultimately, was untrustworthy. Forbes magazine said it best, “Technology leaders need to work with marketers. Likewise, the most effective marketers can talk tech.” Cooperation and the power that comes with parallelism; it’s going to be very hard to ignore as we enter the age of insight!