business-pathIt’s an understatement to call a CMO’s role exciting. We live in a time when the heart of marketing has transformed from static broadcasts to engines driven by two-way customer communications and real-time data. What was once as simple as a billboard or park bench ad is now a blend of attribution models, behavioral retargeting, continuous testing, and direct connections to revenue.

As Jake Sorofman, research director with Gartner for Marketing Leaders, writes for the Harvard Business Review, the multibillion-dollar online advertising economy is giving rise to a new type of marketing leader. Sorofman describes these individuals as "digital CMOs," the guys and gals who are leading corporate entities from their analog pasts to data-driven, cross-platform futures.

Digital CMOs are left-brain-meets-right-brain growth engines for their organizations. They wholeheartedly believe that everything is measurable and experimentation is key to driving pipeline and revenue. They sit at the intersection of social, mobile, and analytics, and they’re not afraid to venture into new territory.

Sorofman aptly characterizes these leaders as relentless learners: "They have the humility to admit what they don’t know, the courage to toss out the old playbook, and the confidence to allow digital metrics to illuminate the results."

Digital is only the first step -- CMOs need to dig deeper.

Sorofman makes a powerful argument: that the digital era is defining the role (and persona) of the enterprise CMO. I’m going to go out on a limb, however, to say that his argument doesn’t go far enough.

The shift in marketing is more than a straightforward transition from analog to digital. Commerce -- as we’ve known it -- is dead. Gone are the days when a brand’s best moves are to hire expensive PR agencies, ramp up ad budgets, and recruit commission-hungry enterprise sales reps. The bigger your company’s advertising arsenal, the more your consumers will feel the need to fight back.

According to Google Trends, searches for the term "ad block" have doubled in the last year. Marketing emails are responsible for 70% of ‘this is spam’ complaints. Numerous studies, including this one, show that online banner ads go unnoticed and ignored.

These findings beg the question: Why in the world would brands want to fight for their buyers’ attention? Instead, businesses need to earn those connections, not push-comes-to shove sales quotas.

As easy as it is to fast-forward through a TV commercial via TiVo, it’s even easier to delete an email or 'x' out of an aggressive interstitial ad.

What businesses need is a pull mechanism to keep audiences interested, engaged, and delighted -- and that’s inbound marketing.

The digital CMO needs to evolve into an inbound CMO.

Rishi Dave, Dell’s executive director of global marketing, recently pointed out that consumers are 60% through their buying journeys before reaching out to a sales rep.

They’re researching products in-depth. They’re sourcing peer-to-peer product reviews on YouTube. They’re educating themselves about their professions and core passions.

In an online world chock-full of noise, CMOs have a rare opportunity to position their brands as hubs for the resources and education that customers want.

That’s where inbound marketing -- in-depth content and resources crafted for the purpose of adding value and educating audiences -- comes in. It’s a strategy (really a methodology) that makes rational sense, emotional sense, and business sense.

A recent HubSpot study found that twice as many marketers say inbound marketing delivers below average cost per lead in contrast to outbound strategies like paid channel advertising and that inbound marketing is estimated to deliver 54% more leads into the marketing funnel than traditional outbound methods.

Being an inbound CMO is about changing ones mindset in how you market, not just where you market.

Inbound marketing is a philosophy, not a tactic.

Direct response is a tactic for driving immediate conversions. Display retargeting is a tactic for ramping up sales. Purchasing an email list for the intent of driving lead volume is a tactic for customer acquisition.

The thing about implementing tactics like these is that they usually generate minimal returns. It’s like throwing spaghetti at the wall and relying on sheer probability for something to stick. Sometimes it works, but more often than not, it doesn't.

Inbound marketing is grounded in psychology. It’s thoughtful, tested, and measurable. It's about building trust and embracing the philosophy that when your customers love you, they’ll become your advocates for life. It’s a timeless idea that transcends the online world and takes us back to our roots as human-to-human relationship builders.

Scott Roen, vice president of digital marketing and innovation at American Express, calls this idea "reciprocal altruism” -- the idea that when brands give something for free, they get much more in return. Give your content away for free, and you’ll see a long-term boost in health to your business.

Remember that behind every algorithm is a set of eyes -- and a heart. As fixated as digital marketers are with conversion rates, unique visitors, and clickthrough rates, we’re ultimately appealing to human beings. That’s the core mission and vision of the inbound CMO.

What inbound marketing plans do you have entering 2014? Share your thoughts on how inbound will be utilized by your organization in the comments below.

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Originally published Dec 30, 2013 4:00:00 PM, updated July 28 2017


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