Twitter's got it right?
June 1, 2015
I think marketing should be far more data-driven than it currently is.
But I’m still really surprised that Twitter appointed its CFO, Anthony Noto, to run marketing. (And, by the way, that “CMO” hasn’t been officially added to his title). I think that a lot of the business world, especially in tech, suffers from the idea that just anyone can do marketing, that it isn’t a separate discipline and craft of its own, requiring expertise to do well.
This AdAge article by Moshe Vaknin is a great example of this attitude. Here’s the headline:
Twitter's Got It Right: Why CFOs Can Oversee Marketing
It took me some time to understand Vaknin’s exact point here. Twitter’s got what right? Some possibilities:
- A CFO can oversee marketing. Sure. Was anyone debating this? CMOs can also oversee finance. CTOs can oversee HR. It’s totally fine and these sorts of things happen all the time. But it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good idea.
- Some CFOs make good CMOs. This seems like a much more sensible conclusion. In fact, I can think of industries like consumer packaged goods where marketing is so integral to the business that this might often be the case. But reading the second line of the headline suggests to me that it’s not what Vaknin means.
But the subhead says Four Reasons Why CFOs Make Good Marketing Chiefs. I think you can only read that to mean:
- All CFOs make good CMOs.
This statement rests on misunderstanding what it means for marketing to have become more data-driven over the past ten years. Just because it’s become more data-driven, doesn’t mean it’s been de-skilled. It doesn’t mean that all it takes is quantitative ability.
If anything, the prerequisites for great marketing are even greater, and it now requires a combination of creativity, communication abilities, and empathy, with the ability to understand a spreadsheet.
Why does Vaknin say this?
1. It's all about the data.
The "Mad Men" of yesteryear have been replaced by "math men" and "math women," data scientists, quantitative analysts and other number crunchers who analyze the data for measuring, analyzing and optimizing every marketing campaign.
Well, no, they haven’t been. Modern marketing isn’t solely about data, though data is playing an increasingly large role. And that’s good!
But what’s so interesting about modern marketing is that that quantitatively-focused stuff still needs great creative work to be successful. Marketing is still about telling stories, and connecting with your prospects on both an emotional level (how will this product make me feel?) and on a numbers level (what specific benefits does this bring me? what value can I expect to realize?). See AirBNB and Facebook for starters.
Data is important for targeting, obviously, too. And it’s important for refining your pitch: you can do A/B testing on the channels you use, the words you use, and some of your creative assets. But putting together the vision for a brand requires that ability plus the other stuff.
And that vision is key to getting people to use the product. Partly because it guides the product’s development, and partly because it helps your customers understand how your product fits into their lives. See MakerBot’s entire history for a great example of this.
Vaknin goes on to point out that:
Few have more experience in overseeing data than a former Wall Street analyst, particularly one who was voted top analyst for research on the internet industry.
I didn’t understand this. Analysts don’t really “oversee data”. They build models and try to understand the fundamentals of an industry, and the prospects of individual companies. They use a combination of strong financial and quantitative skills, and strategic and social understanding.
Wouldn’t a data scientist be the logical choice for a CMO, if “overseeing data” is the main qualification for success?
2. Twitter is focused on performance marketing in 2015.
I'd venture a guess that Twitter's marketing is less focused on brand building, for which it has done a great job, than on performance-based marketing tactics to grow its user base and active Twitter usage.
I wish Vaknin had focused here. This is a fair point.
Performance-based marketing is new. Starting with banner ads on the early web (and maybe even before that, I don’t know), marketers became able, at least in theory, to track their advertising efforts all the way from the first time a prospect saw the message, through to sale. In turn, they could avoid Wanamaker’s predicament: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”
But then again, Vaknin says he thinks Twitter has done a great job brand-building. What does he base this on? Isn’t user growth, for example, a huge problem for Twitter right now? Isn’t that a failure of marketing, that people don’t understand how Twitter fits into their lives?
I don’t think Twitter’s growth is going to come from better pay-per-click advertising. It’s probably going to come from a better product roadmap, better onboarding and retention, and better brand positioning.
3. It is the age of mar-tech.
Marketing executives want to understand the ROI of every dollar spent. They want to cultivate a unique relationship with each individual customer. That includes buying media programmatically; optimizing creative, placement and audience; retargeting likely customers; and measuring results in near real-time.
Marketers should view these not as campaign tactics but as elements of a constantly evolving strategy.
This is a great summary of what martech is fundamentally about. (And really, what good relationship marketing is about, which is why martech is so exciting.)
But what does this have to do with a CFO running marketing? If anything, this suggests even more strongly that you want somebody with experience. Marketing technology is complicated and hiring someone who knows how to implement it and run it well is key. And, of course, the ability to be technical is not the same as quantitative ability.
4. Breaking down the silos (and taboos) is good for organizations. Diversity is important for organizations and brings a different set of experiences and skills to the table, providing an important opportunity to solve problems with an alternative perspective.
This is a truism, so I won’t get too deeply into it.
But if breaking down the silos is good, why not hire a great CMO from outside Twitter, and have them run finance while Noto focuses on fixing marketing?