I attended the IBM THINKMARKETING event last week in Paris. 280 CMOs and CIOs representing $3 trillion in global commerce were concentrated in one room. Wow. The good and the great congregated to see a show hosted by Ginni Rometty, the CEO of IBM, and featuring presentations by the CEOs of Vodafone (Vittorio Colao), WPP (Sir Martin Sorrell), and Starbucks Europe (Michelle Gass). Pretty impressive, to say the least. It was a privilege to be invited.
The event was billed as a CMO+CIO Leadership Exchange. The gist was that Marketing and IT, two historic internal foes, need to work together to address the needs of increasingly discerning and digitally savvy customers in the new digital age. I was pleased IBM supported the position I took in my June 2012 article Digital Marketers and IT folk must become more interdependent. The conclusion echoed IBM's message "the rapid change in the data-driven way that Marketing now does its business, and the rising importance of digital commerce and digital device use for customers makes a combined (CMO + CIO) approach to digital marketing an increasing business necessity."
IBM chose to avoid talking about their products, and instead focused on the market environment and business context. The growth and availability of 'big data' and IBM's ability to process it. The death of the 'average' customer, and the need for personalisation of customer communications and offers. The need for an interactive 'system of engagement' (with the customer) rather than a traditional inert 'system of record'. The need for corporate brand authenticity and delivering the corporate brand in a consistent way, across all channels of communication and customer touchpoints.
There were some great soundbites:
"We should be talking 'infostructure' rather than 'infrastructure'" (IBM's CEO)
"Millennials (are not so frightened of privacy issues and) want us to know all about their personal situation data when they contact us" (Vodafone's CEO)
"We need (customers' data) to be liquid and linked". When approaching digital marketing projects "think big, start small, scale fast"; and "move from a global to a networked company"; "whatever you do, stay relevant (to your customers)" (Coca-Cola's CMO)
"Finance and Procurement have become too powerful - Marketing needs to be taken more seriously" (WPP's CEO)
A global retailer talked about the importance of embedding social (media) into the fabric of the way you do business, rather than as a separate functional department. The retailer believes in enabling its community of customers and staff to become self-moderating and self-curating, as Wikipedia does, by empowering them with the right social tools.
Of course this is all great stuff from some of the acknowledged thought leaders in the digital marketing space. The online polls (we were all loaned an iPad for the duration of the show) revealed that most large enterprises agree that a significant corporate investment in digital marketing is required going forward. The CMOs and CIOs were broadly in line with IBM's thinking. This is good news for the digital marketing industry where investments to date have been largely piecemeal rather than strategic.
The tide is turning and IBM is well placed to exploit the digital marketing systems requirement given its investments in products (having acquired Unica, Coremetrics, DemandTec, and Tealeaf). IBM also has an unmatched depth and breadth of professional services resources at its disposal and the continuity of deep customer relationships within large enterprises. These assets reduce the perceived risks to the tenure of CMOs and CIOs who are making a big and highly visible bet on enterprise digital marketing.
IBM is clearly considered 'a strategic partner' rather than 'a seller' by its enterprise customers. This approach should enable IBM to further grow its footprint in the digital marketing space and take a stronger leadership role in shaping the industry.