Brian Kardon: tech-phobic CMOs are guilty of malpractice

Just a decade ago, if someone asked you to imagine the stereotypical marketer and the IT pro, your mental images probably couldn’t have been more different. The arty ideas man (or woman) of the marketing department was nothing like the nerds working their magic in the server room.

Times have most definitely changed, as we’ve discussed recently on this blog. These two disciplines may once have been miles apart, but these days the CIO and CMO roles are actually converging. What has this dramatic shift been like for the old guard in marketing–the CMOs who started out when social was a personality trait rather than a marketing essential? Central Desktop talked to Brian Kardon to find out.

The CMO of Big Data analytics company Lattice Engines, Kardon has a long career and a distinguished resume, including an MBA from Wharton, to his credit. Trouble is, when the marketing IT revolution started, he had no particular tech skills. He told us how he modernized his arsenal of skills and gave us his frank opinion of other execs who fail to keep up with the times.

What’s your take on the potentially converging roles of CMOs and CIOs — how big is the shift really?

It really IS happening — and faster than most of us ever thought possible. The cloud has dramatically accelerated the convergence. The CMO no longer needs to rely on corporate IT infrastructure to get his job done. Marketing automation is in the cloud.  So is CRM, web analytics, social media monitoring, but the practical result is more often technologists embedded within the marketing team. However, even the “marketing technologist” role will see the “technologist” part dropping off as we are all technologists now. It’s getting very hard for strictly “arts and crafts” marketers to be effective. Technology is becoming part of every marketer’s job.

Can veteran CMOs like yourself adapt to meet the shifting demands or should more tech-savvy folks be leading the way? 

Adapting my skills didn’t come naturally. You can’t modernize your skills without doing, practicing. Reading about new tools, technologies and apps isn’t enough. I pushed myself to become active on Twitter when that was new, to familiarize myself with content marketing’s best practice when it wasn’t even on my radar, and to try out new apps and websites to make them part of who I am as a marketer. I also learned from the best and sought out teachers. The analysts and marketers leading the way and shaping the thinking on modern marketing are the ones to watch.

I believe in supplementing skills by hiring people with diverse backgrounds – digital natives, content creators, tech-savvy marketers. Through trial and tribulation, and embracing opportunities to try new things – mistakes and all – CMOs that have been around the block can reinvent themselves by adding new practices to an old and tested bag of tricks.

What can more “old school” CMOs bring to the table in our tech-saturated times? 

It’s like a surgeon who is still operating they way they did it 20 years ago. The techniques and tools have changed dramatically. Frankly, marketers who are still old school are guilty of malpractice, in my book.

Old school marketers need to sharpen the saw, learn new things, and combine it with the experiences they already have. The strategic aspects of marketing have not changed that much — positioning, competitive dynamics, pricing strategy, bundling  — but all the tools for implementation have.

Tech has created a lot of new skills to master. Have you encountered agencies that are spreading themselves too thin?

I like to collaborate on creative ideas and truly use our agencies as partners in marketing, but I do believe in specialties. Agencies like to go wide on their services — the “one stop shop.” I think that is a lazy answer for most marketing organizations.  You need “best in class” for each area: data visualization/infographics, animation, cartoons, PR, analyst relations, SEO, video production and editing, design, e-books, etc. My advice is to find great specialists.

Post by Jessica Stillman

Jessica Stillman is a semi-nomadic freelance writer (current location: sunny Nicosia, Cyprus) with interests in entrepreneurship, remote collaboration, unconventional career paths and generational differences.