math_nerdIn the old days marketing was one thing, technology was another. Today that’s changed. Marketing is now so driven by software and analytics that “the distinction between what is marketing and what is technology is blurring,” Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen says.

Narayen was addressing Adobe’s annual Summit conference for digital marketers. This year’s show has drawn 5,500 people, and the big theme is that marketing is being reinvented as a data-driven and tech-driven field.

Another theme is that this new approach to marketing is creating a much wider transformation across entire companies. “People are starting to realize that marketing is driving the business,” Adobe CMO Ann Lewnes said.

Lewnes says that soon a company’s CMO will have a better handle on the numbers concerning a company’s performance than even the CFO. She also cited the prediction, made by Gartner, that soon CMOs will spend more on technology than CIOs.

Lewnes moderated a panel called “Reinventing the Marketing Organization,” which featured a business professor from Brigham Young University, a marketing executive from Audi, a corporate recruiter and the CEO of Razorfish, a digital agency.

The biggest takeaway from everyone, across the board, was that these days you can’t be a marketer without being a hardcore techie who’s obsessed with data.

“The companies that are thriving now are the ones where marketers are embracing technology,” said Pete Stein, CEO of Razorfish. “They’re either learning technology themselves, or bringing in new talent, or becoming best friends with the CIO. They’re bringing in data leadership and data scientists. Digital is becoming core to everyone’s business. The leading marketers are the ones who are rallying the organization around that.”

Jeff Dotson, a professor of marketing at BYU, said he sees marketing becoming far more quantitative than it was a decade ago. “It used to be that if you were a business student who enjoyed numbers then you went into finance, and if you liked people you went to HR, and those who were left over did marketing,” Dotson said. “But marketing now is really quantitative and econometric. We see quantitative students now coming into marketing.”

What this means is that old rivalries, like the one between CMOs and CIOs, are being set aside. “CIOs used to look at us as kind of fluffy,” Lewnes said. “We were the bottom of the food chain. There was no tech support for marketing technology. But now we realize that we need to get together. You can’t deploy marketing automation without hooking into the back end, and the CIO is the steward of back end.”

Along tose lines, Adobe also announced plans to make its programs work more smoothly with ERP, financials, CRM, and other business software.

A decade ago a marketing conference might have featured panels about how to manage an advertising budget. Today marketers talk about things like predictive analytics, data science, and econometric modeling. You practically need a degree in math or engineering just to follow along. 

Is this a good thing, or just another step toward a soulless robot world where all of human behavior is reduced to numbers, and people are programmed to consume without regard for joy or creativity? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Originally published Mar 26, 2014 9:00:00 AM, updated March 26 2014