The Soda Academy
"Educational systems are still focused on raising siloed professionals, either technologists or marketers or sales professionals or finance specialists, when the needs of modern marketing are highly convergent."
"Marketing and IT are both evolving to a point where technology is now the interface of marketing."
"The future CMO is definitely someone who understands and recognizes the role of data and technology in driving seamless consumer experiences."

Simon Hudson, CloudRaker

Talking Unicorns

Experience Prototyping

Many companies see the addition of a Chief Marketing Technologist as a crucial step in fighting digital disruption. According to the Harvard Business Review, Mayur Gupta is the epitome of what a Chief Marketing Technologist should be. He’s been busy keeping the personal care giant Kimberly-Clark at the forefront of the digital marketing revolution. Among other forward-thinking initiatives, he has brought in a number of emerging enterprise technologies and has also been instrumental in creating a global digital innovation lab, tasking his team with managing the company’s “innovation portfolio all the way to commercialization, using an agile innovation framework.”

We sat down with Mayur to get his take on the future of tech in marketing and the road to digital coherence.

SIMON HUDSON: What brought you to Kimberly-Clark?

MAYUR GUPTA: I think it was a combination of good timing in terms of where Kimberly-Clark was headed, where I was in my career and the technology-driven disruption happening all around us. Marketing is currently in an era of convergence, and it needs marketers who are no longer T-shaped (specializing in one specific area). We need what a lot of people are calling “unicorns”, a new breed of marketer living at the intersection of marketing, technology and storytelling.

However, there is a clear dearth of this talent. Educational systems are still focused on raising siloed professionals, either technologists or marketers or sales professionals or finance specialists, when the needs of modern marketing are highly convergent. We need a fundamental shift at a foundational level. It’s a rare talent that is bred almost organically on the job.

SIMON HUDSON: Where is this organic breeding happening?

MAYUR GUPTA: Some businesses, Kimberly-Clark and a few others, are taking it on themselves. It’s not happening in a recruiting shop or within the context of an educational system. Companies intent on driving growth make it a priority, funding internal programs for top talent, teaching them the art and science of breaking down silos and becoming “consumer-obsessed.”

SIMON HUDSON: What’s the starting point for a company looking for digital coherence?

MAYUR GUPTA: At Kimberly-Clark, we often joke that it’s a journey from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence and then, someday, you become consciously competent. A company in the second stage is already winning. The question is: how do you create a partnership? How do you collaborate and build the capability that’s at the intersection of marketing and technology, marketing and sales or marketing and finance? It’s not that IT is going away or that marketing is going away; marketing and IT are both evolving to a point where technology is now the interface of marketing.

The perfect example is the iPhone. Is it a technology solution, a consumer experience, or a marketing solution? That’s the state we live in: you can’t isolate marketing or consumer experiences from technology anymore.

SIMON HUDSON: What’s your biggest accomplishment so far at Kimberly-Clark?

MAYUR GUPTA: It’s the establishment of a global marketing technology organization at the intersection of marketing and IT that has gotten tremendous support and leadership from both our CMO and CIO. In a massive company like ours, at first, it was like The Shawshank Redemption, where you take a small hammer and dig a tunnel bit by bit every day. We have been fortunate enough to have tremendous leadership with vision and foresight, people who believed that staying where you are is more risky than moving forward. We are still in the early stages of our journey, and we continue to pivot as we encounter new challenges.

Overall, it took tremendous leadership in the C-suite. They never gave up. They strongly believed in the vision we had, and we just ploughed through. To me, that is the biggest accomplishment, along with the bridges we’ve created to connect with our IT leadership. That’s what makes me feel good.

SIMON HUDSON: Is your role there permanent or do you see yourself as facilitating a transition?

MAYUR GUPTA: Tough question! But I see what you mean. Look, it’s almost impossible to predict what the future has in store, but two things are certain: first, the world we live in will continue to change and it will change fast. Second, the need to converge across silos will only get stronger and stronger. The future CMO is definitely someone who understands and recognizes the role of data and technology in driving seamless consumer experiences.

Needless to say, there are many fancier names for this role, including CDO (or Chief Digital Officer) which I have reservations about.

SIMON HUDSON: Why don’t you believe in the CDO role?

MAYUR GUPTA: When working with a highly fragmented operating model, the way to drive a connected, seamless omni-channel experience is by driving convergence. When you establish C-level roles like the CDO and put them on par with the CMO, you’re creating the exact problem you are trying to solve, which further fragments the system.

Clive Sirkin, our CMO at Kimberly-Clark, says: “We don’t do digital marketing, we do marketing (or brand building) in a digital world.” That means everything is marketing, or in other words, it’s only “marketing”— not digital or analog or content marketing. You can’t separate digital, ecommerce, content or other fragments from marketing. That’s being channel-centric when what we need is to be consumer-centric.

That said, the CDO role can definitely be a good first step towards an ultimate vision of converging offline and online marketing, but giving somebody a C-title to run digital outside of marketing is short-term thinking. If you’re far behind and have no digital footprint, you may need someone to come on board initially to drive your digital objectives and agenda. Your ultimate goal, however, should be to converge this person into broader marketing.

We create these oxymorons in the industry: omni-channel retail, omni-channel commerce… They’re oxymorons because we want to drive omni-channel, yet we try to bucket it in an e-commerce silo. The CDO role is similar. It makes sense as a first step to gain maturity, but it cannot be your end-state.

SIMON HUDSON: Can CIOs and CMOs implement those changes?

MAYUR GUPTA: Why not? A good CMO will establish marketing technology leadership to unify marketing, technology, data and analytics. They’re adopting these crucial capabilities because at the end of the day, they are the ones who are accountable to drive the ROI and category growth as well as to build legendary brands.

CIOs who commit to transforming their organizations and making them more digitally savvy by rethinking their understanding of traditional IT to reflect new marketing needs are already taking a huge step. The ones who don’t, believing the CMO should only focus on marketing and exclude digital, are working with a broken model.

SIMON HUDSON: Can an external agency help bring digital coherence to a company?

MAYUR GUPTA: I strongly believe that brands and Fortune 500s will continue to expand their capabilities by building thought leadership and top digital talents internally to provide vision while leveraging agency partners to both collaborate on the strategy and execute it at scale. But the “set it and forget it” times are over. Brands need to exercise a much higher level of control and direction now.

About the author:

From teaching to quality assurance, technical development to international marketing, business development to business start-ups, Simon has flitted, butterfly like, learning from each experience and bringing that breadth to his client facing and business development activities. Simon is articulate, opinionated, understanding and suffers from an insatiable curiosity.