A delicate balance

With the rise in the influence of social media on the business, it’s time for CMOs to get better acquainted and rethink the way how companies market their products and services, finds a recent IBM global study. Sergio Restrepo, VP of Marketing & Communications, General Business Enterprise, IBM, discusses the key findings.


What brings you to the region?

The growth in the region and the opportunities we see here are tremendous. I lead marketing for what we call the general business enterprise, which is a very good portion of our business. Within this, we have established global business units to address major markets and the HQ for the Middle East and Africa region is in Dubai. In order to pursue the growth initiatives we need to make sure that our sellers are properly enabled to get to those opportunities. The purpose of my visit is to understand what the local teams needs so that we can support them.

Why would an IT company like IBM survey CMOs? Very often, CIOs and CMOs don’t speak the same language or play well together…

We have been doing CIO studies for years now, and we have done CEO and CFO studies and this is the first time we have done a CMO study. The reason we did this was because the overall IT investment does not relate only to CIOs. C-level executives have a lot to say about how IT investments are made depending on their needs. We are talking about a smart planet now – first we instrumented the world, and then we interconnected and now we are talking about how do we make it intelligent. No one has really looked at the CMO and said, your function evolves because of the digital world and what are the changes you need to make. Our intention was to do 1000 interviews and we ended up doing 1700 CMOs in 64 counties and 19 industries, and 60 plus were from this region. It was a truly global interview and CMOs were eager to respond because no one has really tried to find out what does he really need or how does he deal with change.

What has been the key finding?

What we are seeing is an explosion of today and approximately 90 percent of all the real-time information being created today is unstructured data. CMOs are looking for the skills and ability to tap into this information to gain the knowledge to make the right decisions. CMOs who successfully harness this new source of insight will be in a strong position to increase revenues, reinvent their customer relationships and build new brand value.

What are the challenges CMOs face in today’s changing environment?

Companies are dealing with the challenge of who is controlling the brand. The question is, the positioning that you project in the market place, is that really what the marketplace perceives? There are so many people communicating about your brand across multiple channels. Everyone has a voice now, in many dimensions and the challenge is how you make sure your message is relevant and get to the right audience in a way you intend to.

Then there is the element of ROI. CEOs and CFOs are asking a very fundamental question – when I am investing in marketing what does it bring back to me in terms of growth and revenue. CMOs are being called to the table to demonstrate that marketing investment is paying off. Marketing is also being forced to answer questions about the overall company culture – are the employees representing the band correctly? So it is not just external marketing, it is internal as well.

Is social media is one of the biggest challenges? Are CMOs ready to handle social media and the corresponding increase in collaboration with customers?

It sure is a big challenge because now organisations will have to make fundamental changes to traditional brand and product marketing methods. Customers are now in the driver’s seat in their relationship with the makers of their favourite products. We are at an inflection point created by social media, which represents a permanent change in the nature of customer relationships.

This also represents both challenges and opportunities for CMOs. If they ignore social media tools, they run the risk of communication one way and not incorporating the feedback from potential customers and it is also an opportunity to communicate openly to the marketplace.

Are CMOs aware of this changing landscape?

Yes but are struggling to respond. Only 26 percent of CMOs surveyed said they are currently tracking blogs, while less than half are tracking third-party reviews and tracking consumer reviews.

How does IBM deal with social media?

We were one of the first users of Unica, which we bought later. It allows you to have marketing touches in a more intelligent way. If I invite you to an IBM event, and if you say not now, maybe next time, I shouldn’t send you a reminder. I should react depending on your reaction and give you what you ask for.

We are building our capabilities in social media, and we are very proactive across social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. We have key messages from business leaders and subject matters being posted on YouTube. The things that have considered internally confidential are now being out on social media. As a company, we are trying to a drive a culture of communicating with and through these new channels.

There is a shift in balance and the traditional ways of marketing are over. Customers are taking to social media sites to share their experiences with and opinions of specific products and companies. We just have to accept this reality and get into this new brave world and manage it the best way we can.


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