The CMO has fully emerged as one of the most important players in corporate IT. Ford's Chantel Lenard explains why the marketing department now has a central role in tech decision-making.
In 2012, when Gartner famously predicted that by 2017 the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) would spend more on technology than the Chief Information Officer (CIO) — the traditional keeper of the keys of the corporate IT budget — some in corporate America scoffed at the idea. And no one scoffed more than the people inside the traditional IT department.
However, this was one prediction where Gartner was right on track. In the two years since the prediction was made, the CMO has continued to gain power and influence over IT spending, and technology has continued to play a larger and larger part in the marketing department.
When TechRepublic was recently in Dearborn, Michigan for Ford's Trends 2013 conference, we also spent time on the company's campus catching up with executives on where Ford's journey with technology will take the company next. When asked to speak to the company's CMO, we were directed to Chantel Lenard. While Lenard doesn't technically hold the CMO moniker — her official title is Director of US Marketing — she has nearly all of the responsibilities, including the management of a growing IT budget.
"[Technology] is a huge part of this role now," said Lenard, "and it's really something that's changed in the last couple of years because it's so essential to how we go to market going forward in the age where people expect a personal relationship and one-to-one marketing. And the only way we can do that is to fully leverage all this data that we have. But because we have so much data, how do we use the technology to get to what's most important, talk to consumers at the right time with the right message?"
For more on Lenard's role at Ford, read Lyndsey Gilpin's full profile: Ford's Chantel Lenard: Marketing Chief. International Leader. Sabbatical Taker.
Before moving back to the states to run US marketing for Ford, Lenard also got a global perspective by serving for three years as Ford's Vice President of Marketing for Asia Pacific and Africa. Now that she's back in Michigan, she's responsible for Ford's go-to-market strategy for its current products and as well as using marketing data to inform the company's future product roadmap. Both of responsibilities require a lot of data — and IT tools to deal with all that data and turn it into usable insights.
"The tools to get there are still developing," said Lenard, "so media is one area where we have a lot of interest. Particularly with digital, now you can track and measure effectiveness and so forth, and we compare it to media in the past and we say, 'Well, are we sure digital is effective?' Well, we never really knew if TV was effective, but we held it to a different standard. So this is a real opportunity for us to now start developing."
Lenard added, "I am heavily involved in the measurement of the effectiveness of our media in the digital space, but also the technology to better target customers."
When it comes to using marketing data to inform the next generation of vehicles that Ford will build, the marketing department is also playing a role in the decision-making process of customer-facing technologies — traditionally the realm of the CTO. Lenard and her team are especially focused on what customers want (or will want) in terms of integrating connectivity and consumer tech into Ford cars and trucks.
"[Then there] is the connected car arena — absolutely something we are all looking at," said Lenard. "What is it that consumers want when they are in their vehicle? How is it different than what's already on their phone? How do those two work together, how do they complement each other, how can they be different, how core is that to the experience? We think it's very core going forward. Instead of talking about horsepower and driving dynamics, people are going to want to know about the connectivity. It's really exciting right now because it's all sort of still being defined."
In all these things, Lenard's marketing department at Ford isn't competing with the IT department or the CIO or CTO, but is working more closely with them than ever. The company's "One Ford" strategy continues to drive a culture of collaboration, according to Lenard.
"That's something I think Ford is good at. We work together with IT, product development partners, but we have to be in those conversations every day in terms of what's going to happen in the vehicle going forward or how are we using technology in our marketing. IT is certainly our experts in how you connect all the systems and data that we gather, but we as the business users help them understand how we want to use it in the end," said Lenard.
She added that all of this work with IT and data is stretching the traditional marketing department — and marketing professionals — in new directions.
"It's more challenging — a whole new added dimension on top of what we've been doing in traditional marketing in the past," said Lenard. "It requires a little different skillset. Certainly more analytical than we've been in the past with leveraging data. And with our team, we have more skills than we had before. Having the thoughts to test and learn, innovation and being on the edge of trying new things, that's different."
Then there's the new opportunity for interfacing with partners, especially startups that want to connect with Ford's data and APIs. And the marketing department is facilitating some of those connections.
Lenard said, "We have a lot of startups that want to come work with us because of our size and scale, but that's a different process as well. How do we engage with these startups that are still trying to figure out their way? It's a totally different skillset than we've had in the past."
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