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5 Questions with CMO Labs CEO, Zach Van Doren

Mike McMaster

CMO Labs is a San Francisco marketing data consulting and technology firm. We are a team of strategists, data analysts, data visualization designers, data engineers, systems architects– servicing direct clients and agency partners.

Q: Your company does a lot of strategy and implementation work to help marketers realize their digital advertising goals. Where do you see gaps between vision and execution when it comes to digital marketing?

A: Most of our clients come to us with a very consistent vision and similar set of problems. Marketers typically have a deep understanding of their own business and can clearly elucidate the goals they are accountable for from a business perspective. The trick is wrangling all the data they have available to them and organizing it in a way that allows them to monitor incremental goals and pacing metrics that align with those core business objectives.

Q: When you put it like that, it sounds pretty simple. What makes this process so challenging?

A: For starters, user-centric marketing is hard. Data is usually disjointed and in silos, and marketers rarely have the operations in place to achieve the sort user-centric marketing nirvana they envision and strive for. So it’s really about changing the mindset and encouraging clients to adopt a systematic approach in executing towards this greater vision. Furthermore, the reality is that once you’ve got your data sorted and your systems and processes in place, then it’s a matter of designing and executing on the outbound marketing in way that fully leverages these combined, user-centric data-sets; and that is a whole new set of challenges. So you really need to have organizational buy-in to the digital marketing maturity model, and you need to have patience.

Q: Can you talk a little more about that process? Is there a checklist that you go through with your clients?

A: I wouldn’t say that there’s a checklist, per se. Part of what makes this job fun is that every case is unique, but there are commonalities we see time and again with respect to the challenges, and we have developed a methodology to attack these challenges in a systematic way that takes into account the multitudes of nuance.

We initiate this process by first engaging the entire marketing organization to facilitate discussion. We ascertain who has responsibilities for outbound communication, and further, who has the means to leverage data to improve such communication. At different organizations this can be the CMO, the Creative Director, the Paid Search Manager, Social Channel Coordinator, etc. We take a bottom up approach and focus on the operational realities of the organization and people’s jobs to understand existing reporting structures and responsibilities with regards to both current efforts and current uses of data; this goes across clients and their agencies. Once we’ve got that piece figured out, we look at the systems in place and the current use of data in the organization, so that we can assess the health and the interconnectedness of these systems. The ability to merge user data sets together for enhancement, measurement and activation is absolutely critical – and this is a key starting point for our projects.

Q: After you’re done with that sort of internal audit for information gathering, are there any core principles that you structure your next steps around?

A: One of the keys we focus on is consistency of a strategic and tactical process. After that information gathering stage, we try to structure our recommended architecture against an established set of pillars. For instance, we are big proponents of the creation of a foundation that embraces a unified marketing data layer of all digital events through the likes of our partnership with Tealium. LiveRamp is our preferred solution for areas of identity resolution and therein a means to stitch offline and online data sets together. And of course, Datorama is our go-to solution marketing BI solution covering data ingestion, processing and measurement. In the end, it’s not just about one solution. It’s like rowing in a boat. Each tool needs to pull it’s own weight by executing against its own specific area of expertise, but if they don’t work together, the overall effort is self-defeating. It’s about creating fluency with the tools that you use and ensuring that those efforts are synchronized in such a way that they benefit the organization as a whole.

Q: Sounds like quite the journey. What recommendations would you make to an organization that’s on the front end of this process?

A: Remember that this is necessarily a crawl-walk-run adventure. The most responsible way to transform your marketing organization is through a phased rollout. We start with quick wins (ie., little bets), based on actual marketing achievements, with an eye towards scalability in reaching that larger vision. Then we break that down into quarterly achievable milestones. Regardless of what tools you’re using, I think that general principle of patience applies. We often find previous attempts at marketing transformation with our clients involve huge, sweeping, forced paradigm shifts. That can involve tremendous expenditures in the short term, both in treasure and in resources, while taking several months or even years to show a demonstrable return (if at all). We’re big proponents of the phased, iterative approach.

Datorama: Thanks, Zach!

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