The increasingly crucial nature of building engaging relationships with customers is also changing the relationship between CIOs and chief marketing officers. The role of the latter has become so core to the business that it might well make sense for the CIO to report to him.
That was one of the takeaways from a recent interview with Larry Weber, CEO of online marketing services agency Racepoint Global, who is also the founder of Weber Shandwick, the granddaddy of tech PR firms. I wrote about Weber earlier this month in the context of the Alibaba IPO filing; here, I want to share what he had to say about the evolution of the CIO’s role in a business world that’s being transformed by social media.
I asked Weber for his thoughts on the changing relationship between today’s CIO and CMO. He said CIOs may not like his answer:
I’ve been around software since before there were CIOs—I was part of launching of Lotus [from a PR perspective] back in the early 80s; I launched SAP around the world; HTML for Tim Berners-Lee. So I’ve been around software, which I refer to as “the American advantage”—it’s why we’re the dominant economy, and will continue to be, for decades to come. We know how to design and use software to make businesses better. Now, what I think is happening to the CIO, and the technology groups in companies, is it’s bifurcating. There’s the internal infrastructure technology—security, power, enterprise systems. The CMO doesn’t really need a role there. But what’s happening is there’s another set of software applications that are all about getting you closer to your customer. From data analytics, to content creation, aggregation, and delivery—these are technologies that are going to help the business get closer to customers, and build engaging relationships on an ongoing basis. To that end, CIOs are going to have to work with or report to some overseer of that, whether it be the chief marketing officer, or the chief customer experience officer. I think information systems—software—will become the toolbox. Marketing people don’t have to be developers, but they have to understand what’s in the new toolbox. And software is a big item in that toolbox—you’re going to have to have people who can help make sure you’re buying the right software that’s automating the marketing processes, and that gives you competitive advantage on connecting with your customers.
And how is social media likely to evolve? What will be different, say, five years from now? Weber said there will be many more private social networks:
By that, I mean passworded networks, everything from wine clubs to corporate business-to-business. You’re going to see companies like IBM and General Electric with closed networks for their customers, with content that could vary from CIOs of health care companies to solving water issues in emerging countries. You’re going to see more digital loyalty programs, with couponing and sampling, integrated with the next generation of social media. Reviews are going to become more refined, and have more impact, not less impact. The next generation of blogging will occur, and it will be very micro-segmented, and will complement the new social media communities that are on the rise digitally. In five years, I don’t think we’re even going to be calling them social networks—they’re just your digital destinations.
I noted that with the emergence of Big Data, privacy advocates are becoming increasingly concerned about the intrusiveness of digital marketers. I asked Weber for his response to those concerns, and he said he thinks it’s going to become less and less of an issue:
With new software technologies and innovative approaches to securing information, I think the customers are going to be in charge of protecting their own information. I think they will have that technology at their fingertips—just like I bank and pay all my bills with my smartphone without a worry in the world, I think that same type of technology is going to encompass the next editions of Apple, Samsung, and multiple other devices, so that we are in control of who we share our data with, especially as we get into mobile health, where you want your health-related issues only directed to your physician. So I’m bullish on the actual deletion of the privacy story and hype. I think people should start worrying about other things than that, especially in Washington.
I mentioned to Weber that I had recently interviewed Fred Cook, CEO of the PR firm GolinHarris, and that I had asked him whether he had found any particular challenges that tend to arise when he’s doing PR for an IT company. I noted that Cook said IT is one of the most PR-driven industries in the world, so I asked Weber whether he agreed with that, and whether he had encountered any special challenges in doing PR for IT companies over the years. His response:
The Weber Group, when I sold it, was the largest technology PR firm in the world. It has always been difficult to capture what complex technology can do in an advertisement. It takes far more thoughtful content to get to the constituency bases that would be interested in buying certain technologies—you need to be much more explanative and educative about it, which lends itself to PR. One of the hurdles, especially early on, was that traditional engineers back in the day, in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, felt that wasting money on marketing was sort of silly, and PR was part of marketing. They just believed that their technology was so great, that people should be beating down the doors to buy their products. What they came to find out was even if it was a very elegant engineering accomplishment, that marketing was increasingly important from a competitive point of view. Now, we’re to the point where we’re actually swinging back to helping technology companies simplify their messages, and convey how they’re going to impact humanity with their innovations, rather than creating engineering feats for engineering’s sake. The four largest categories for the future of PR, I believe, do not include consumer—I think people are making their own decisions about that. I think it’s technology, health, e-business, and digital public affairs—how advocacy works in a digital world.