Bring your A-game to marketing technology (interview)

Earlier this week, I shared a presentation by marketing technologist Cleve Gibbon on building a marketing technology platform for engaging global brands. Today, I’m pleased to share with you our own interview with him.

Cleve is the Chief Technology Officer of Cognifide, a European digital technology agency that has built sites — or, as Cleve would insist, marketing technology platforms — for clients such as Skype and Virgin Media. He’s a brilliant technologist with a Ph.D. in computer science. (His thesis was on bringing “techniques for building maintainable object-oriented software closer to the developer in the form of design heuristics.”) And for the past 10 years he’s applied his knowledge of technology towards building better marketing.

Cleve Gibbon, Chief Technology Officer, Cognifide

Marketing Technologist: Cleve Gibbon

You’ve led marketing technology solutions for a number of major brands. Without revealing anything confidential, can you give us one or two examples that really highlight the impact marketing technology can have?

Our clients initially start off wanting a website, but we quickly re-establish what they actually need is a marketing technology platform. And by platform, I mean a reliable technical foundation and the supporting services required to execute marketing strategies that effective manage the end-to-end customer experience.

For one high traffic client, go-live saw a 28% uplift in conversion rates and by baking analytics in the core of the marketing solution, they are able to test customer experiences and continually optimise their marketing efforts.

For another client, we built and continue to manage their brand marketing platform across 14 different country sites. Their challenge was largely acquisitions and providing a clear communication channel for their customers to start and maintain a conversation with the right people within their organization. The results were astounding. Subsequent phases have been kicked off to widen the conversion part of the sales funnel. This requires marketing technology platform to integrate with CRM systems and social media channels to enable the client to have deeper and more relevant customer conversations.

“Our clients start off wanting a website, but we quickly re-establish that what they actually need is a marketing technology platform.”

How did your career journey lead you here?

To fund my undergraduate education, I used to give training courses to technology companies. One day I was asked by the CTO of a security firm, “how can you tell if one piece of technology is designed better than another one.” Back in 1994, there weren’t too many answers to that question, so that became my doctorate.

I left academia and started a training company where for the next 10 years I built and supported numerous technology platforms, specialising in real-time trading systems for Morgan Stanley, Barclays Capital, ABN AMRO and USB. It was great timing and I was lucky to be part of some innovative development to build web-based solutions that manipulated massive data sets, shaping and using open standards that collaborated on interfaces and competed in their implementations. It was a busy time for the web.

“I was lucky to be part of some innovative development to build web-based solutions that manipulated massive data sets.”

In early 2000, I was introduced to the creative agency Oyster Partners. This was my tipping point. Oyster Partners were building web sites for large global brands dipping their toe into raging digital waters with software teams that had an average age of 22 and the commensurate amount of experience. I loved the space. In 2006, I joined the executive board of Cognifide, where we are all ex Oyster Partners people.

Since you’re based in London, can you give us a sense of the attitudes towards technology in marketing departments there? How have they changed in recent years?

We’re lucky in that London is home to many of the world’s leading global brands and creative / advertising agencies. We have a very mature digital industry that is lockstep with the evolution of effective marketing technology. Our edgy / quirky culture encourages marketers to be creative and innovative.

I’ve seen massive re-allocations of marketing spend taken from offline budgets and poured into digital initiatives. As marketing departments enter the digital space, the trend is to become more and more results focused.

The demand for what I call “A” class real-time data is staggering. “A” class data must be automated, accurate, aggregated, accessible, auditable and always available. There are trade-offs between the A’s that ultimately impact the delivered results, but that’s your job as a marketing technologist to understand and clearly communicate them back to the marketing department in a way that they can make informed and authoritative decisions.

“The demand for ‘A’ class data is staggering — automated, accurate, aggregated, accessible, auditable and always available.”

As a consultant, you have the vantage point of working with many different marketing departments. What makes some companies more successful adopting marketing technology than others?

This answer talks somewhat to the previous point, but with a different A — that being Agile. Marketing technology enables marketing departments to be agile. Marketing agility gives businesses real-time customer insight and the ability to course correct their marketing strategies. The success stories come from those companies that go all out to embrace change. When executing marketing plans, it’s not fire and forget, but more inspect and adapt. Expect small failures. Be prepared to continually inspect where you are and adapt your thinking, based upon a steady stream of marketing feedback.

Unfortunately, this is not for everyone. You may have an agile development team supporting a state-of-the-art marketing technology platform, but if the marketing department cannot be agile, those benefits will never be realized. Challenges range from changing traditional marketing attitudes to aligning external agencies (creative, advertising, pr) that are also non-agile nature. This has stunted many moves to adopt shorter marketing planning cycles and fed fear, uncertainty and doubt for agility in some companies.

“You may have a state-of-the-art marketing technology platform, but if the marketing department cannot be agile, those benefits will never be realized.”

Agile marketing companies and/or those that want to become more agile, understand these challenges. We are entering into more and more discussions with these early adopters whose IT departments do not have agile mindset and/or the deep marketing technology expertise they need to execute profitable online.

If you could give 30 seconds of wisdom on marketing technology to the CMO of a Fortune 500 company, what would you say?

Marketing technology serves as the catalyst to companies that value planning over the plan. Confidence comes from small successes and well-understood failures. Try something. Fail fast. Inspect and adapt. Rinse and repeat. This is the very essence of an organization that places optimization at the centre of an agile business culture and leverages marketing technology to the hilt.

Are there any marketing technology innovations that you’re particularly excited about these days?

Honestly, no. When you take a look at the technology building blocks, nothing much has changed in terms of the APIs, standards, security and data formats recently. These are all well known to the technology industry. However, what does blow my mind are the unlimited number of ways that you can assemble these building blocks within the marketing space to solve some previously intractable business problems.

“What blows my mind are the unlimited number of ways that you can assemble these building blocks within the marketing space.”

For example, the ability to track lifecycle of a prospect through the sales funnel, across multiple channels and digital media, taking every opportunity to localize and personalise the customer experience by targeting content based up their behavioral profile, is nothing short of breath taking.

Customer experience management (CEM) plays a big part in driving key marketing technology innovations for our clients. However, the flip side of CEM is Author Experience Management. Marketing departments needs authors to continually create, curate and deliver messages, typically through a content management system. Author Experience (AX) is a critical part of a marketing communications plan that is often overlooked. A marketing technology platform that invests in enhancing the AX enables marketers to focus upon executing and monitoring their campaigns instead of managing tools not equipped deal with their authoring needs.

Author Experience (AX) is a critical part of a marketing communications plan that is often overlooked.”

It always brings a smile to my face when I have an insightful web experience where a company correctly infers my online intentions. At that point, I tip my hat to the marketing technologist that is clearly one step ahead of their target audience.

Any advice you would give to up-and-coming marketing technologists?

You’re expected to know that your customers don’t know what they don’t know. The best marketing technologists can deftly navigate through the noisy world of customer wants to surface their actual needs. Although the aim is to drive online revenue, focus upon providing solutions to real people problems, however big or small they may be.

People your products/services in the most compelling ways in markets that you’re perceived in as a supportive influence and not the salesmen. Only then provide a marketing platform that does everything possible to facilitate that 3-way conversation between you, your customers, and the community.

Learn your trade. Understand your weaknesses. Form internal alliances and external partnerships with people that can fill those gaps. Marketing technology is a big place. The fastest moving target I’ve ever tried to hit. Get help. Support others. And be the best!

“The best marketing technologists can deftly navigate through the noisy world of customer wants to surface their actual needs.”

Thanks, Cleve — awesome, applicable, and alliterated. And very inspiring.

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