Where are the Chief Marketing Technology Officers?

Scott Brinker posted last week about the rise and diversity of ‘marketing technologists’ over the past decade. I remember when he coined the term because nine years ago this week, I was the first marketing technologist he interviewed on his blog.

This got me thinking about current org roles, titles, responsibilities and as Scott puts it, “orientation.” I was left with one question:

Where are the Chief Marketing Technology Officers?

After the undeniable growth of martech, SaaS, analytics, APIs, and most of all biddable media from Google, Facebook and Amazon the past decade, the role of Chief Marketing Technology Officer or CMTO is a rare bird. I know of one person with that title.

Even “Chief Martec” himself, author of the “Chief Marketing Technologist” blog sees martech teams rolling into a CMO not a CMTO. Aargh!!! In smaller and more digital brands this role might be “Head of Growth” but in my opinion that still leaves essential tech ownership out of it. No way!

Probably because I’ve been augmenting it in one form or another as a consultant the past two years, the roles and responsibility of a CMTO are fairly clear to me. It’s a C-Level role that sits at the table between the CMO and CTO. It is adjacent or can replace the CIO. Over time it probably replaces the CMO too since all marketing will emanate from data and technology.

Still, as I speak with CEOs and boards now, most are not aware of the CMTO role. CMOs and CIOs feel threatened by it. CTOs however, get it and embrace. This because they are the ones dealing with marketing infra and data engineering and understand how little strategy is on top of these requests, builds and integrations.

Here’s the current org problem I see –

Most CMOs at major brands still do not come from a pure digital or data background. This means many CMOs have never led site analytics teams, have never optimized CPC bidding, never segmented triggered email, never created A/B tests on landing pages, never optimized check-out flows, and on and on as they worked their way up the ranks. CMOs today have had little hands-on experience with the digital tools and technologies that are taking an ever-increasing importance in their marketing.

Also, too many grew up in their verticals while their verticals were being eaten by performance marketing. This is not where transformation will come from. Some of this relates to organizational challenges but most of it relates in my opinion to e-commerce not being seen by CEOs and Boards as important as other channels for brands. Corporate focus has been on omni-channel. That of course has changed now – spurred by consumer preference, the rise of DTC brands and of course data ownership/rights. Still, show me the former SVP’s of eCommerce that are now CMOs at brands and retailers? It’s like spotting a California Condor.

On the flip side is the CTO.

The CTO of course comes deep with data and technology background. Many CTO’s were hands on builders of a lot of brand technology. One I worked with last year even led the installation of their site analytics a decade ago. He knew all the issues. However, since most  marketing products the past decade are point solution SaaS products, the CTO has had very little involvement. How difficult is it to drop a tag?

Even the marketing tech debt that develops like slow page load times and data leakage rarely if at all draw the attention of a CTO. And why should they, they’ve spent the past decade transitioning to micro-services, migrating master data management to the cloud and putting in new UI frameworks. So, while I love CTOs, they are not the ones to be expected to understand and craft the use cases for customer data infrastructure decisions that can to drive customer and revenue growth.

Because of legal restrictions and data related privacy changes, first-party customer data has all of a sudden become all important. Still, neither CMOs or CTOs seem to know much about CCPA, ITP or SameSite. Ask a CTO or CMO what their customer data strategy is for compliant collection, processing and activation for marketing and they will give you a blank look. I’ve seen it. Again, not their fault, these are new times. But who is owning this if not them?

The current answer is consultants. Make no mistake McKinsey, Accenture and many, MANY others are here to help brands with these issues. Recently, I saw a marketing tech audit authored by 5 consultants from PWC and 7 from Deloitte. They are joining forces! It was about as long as this blog post and had a wonderful color coded excel spreadsheet to accompany the report.  It provided the needed action item to unify customer data into a single ID. Guess who wants to run the process? Speaking as a consultant, customer data and martech are too expensive and important for your brand’s future to outsource.

So, not only is a CMTO a more important role than ever before, it will continue to increase in importance. Marketing is now a business of APIs not RFPs. Marketing and technology are no longer overlapping, they have become one. The CMTO should own the people, the (data) process and the technology for customer acquisition and retention.

Below is hot-take on how I would structure a CMTO role and to some extent the organization. I wish I could make some cool slides  and diagrams like my old friend Scott Brinker but in the interest of time I give you an outline. This is first draft / ideas so comments are welcome as I’m sure I’m missing or mis-aligned something.

Technology: Customer Data Collection, Processing & Activation

  • Consumer Data Privacy and Compliance
    • ITP & SameSite
    • CCPA & GDPR
  • Tag and Vendor Management
  • Customer Data Stack Architecture & Infrastructure
    • Customer Data collectors and pipeline
    • Master Customer ID Database/ CDP
    • Internal System APIs for Data Enrichment
    • Data modeling DB
    • Data services DB
    • External System (Martech/Adtech) APIs for activations
  • Analytics Tools
    • Web & App
    • Competitive

Marketing: Data Driven Customer Acquisition & Retention

  • Channel Optimization
    • Media Buying/CAC
    • Attribution
    • Mix Models
    • Retention & Loyalty Programs
  • Bid-Optimization
    • Google, Facebook, Amazon
    • Intelligent Audiences
  • Data Modeling / Machine Learning
    • Customer Values & Likelihoods
    • Next Best Actions
    • Segmentation
  • Marketing Automation / Algos
    • Triggered / Real-time communication
    • Customer Journey Mapping
    • Testing & Personalization
    • Omni-channel communications

I think the tech breakpoint for a CMTO especially in e-commerce are the back-end systems. While API integrations into master customer data records and databases for modeling are owned by the CMTO, systems themselves like ERP, PIM, CRM, SCM, CMS, POS are still the domain of the CTO. The rise of Headless e-Commerce makes these breakpoints very clean.

The CMTO has a P&L and owns goals for CAC, LTV, AOV and other key business metrics. Data sits at the center of this role. Especially first-party data. This team becomes the most valuable and future-forward for understanding and communicating with the customer because they own customer data and the interests of the customer.

Will CMTOs happen? I think it’s inevitable but it will take time. I also think the biggest risk to brands is delay. A smart CMTO will build proof-of-concepts based on use cases that can rapidly scale. Late adopters to this org change will lose market share to early adopters as CMTO oriented brands will operate at substantially lower costs with better performance. If you don’t hire a CMTO, you may never catch up to those brands that do.





4 responses to “Where are the Chief Marketing Technology Officers?”

  1. Matt L Avatar
    Matt L

    Great post! Hits the nail on the head regarding roles and responsibilities. I think there are more than a few companies out there waiting for this C-suite buyer to emerge.


  2. Richard Demato Avatar

    Really appreciate the specificity of your post, Jonathan.

    Definitely agree overall with 1) the rise of / need for a Chief Marketing Technology Officer role at most companies (especially where there’s a more traditional brand focused CMO that lacks the tech experience), and 2) the reality that most CTOs/CIOs don’t understand, or have the time to prioritize and architect, the modern marketing stack.

    One call out though that I think is important given the focus on unifying and activating customer data – the CDP category is evolving quickly and my biased bet is that the pure-play orchestration/activation CDP will become dominant, merging a lot of what you have listed under “Marketing: Data Driven Customer Acquisition & Retention” into a single platform that is delivery mechanism agnostic (so, use whatever cost-efficient / reliable solution you want for email, push, direct mail, etc and shift your stack spend to a flexible intelligence/orchestration layer that usually ends up reducing overall costs + streamlining workflows).

    I think we’ll see this happen more and more as companies get frustrated with legacy marketing clouds that offer a ton of products/features but still feel like functional silos, and point-solutions that are trying to become multi-channel messaging solutions/rebranding as CDPs. Over time, we may see the CDP category truly settle on more of an infrastructure focused definition, with activation/orchestration CDPs becoming the new marketing clouds, but for now I see a combo of CDIs, CDPs and “smart pipes”.


  3. Kees Wolters (@keeswolters) Avatar

    Great piece! Thanks. This field and role could definitely get more attention in businesses today.
    To add to the list: what also can be challenging from a martech perspective in terms of architecture and infra is deploying, monitoring and managing all your code bases. Connecting or building some api’s and collecting and storing the data is (often) not that hard, but getting it in production and making sure it keeps working (CI/CD) can be quite the challenge.


  4. Yoel Avatar

    Great post!

    I’d beef up the analytics stack with attribution tools that would help measure the efficacy of each pipeline, consolidate external expenses and internal effort to assess overall CAC.


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