I got a backstage pass at the Sitecore Experience event in London, the opportunity to catch-up with my old boss Paige O’Neill and chat about her keynote and her latest message to marketers…

Paige O’Neill is the CMO for Sitecore, a marketing technology vendor that is recognized by major analysts as a Rockstar in the industry, firmly positioned in Gartner’s magic quadrant and riding high on the Forrester Wave.

This month, following her keynote presentation at the Sitecore Experience event, I sat down with Paige to discuss her 5 marketing truths, the role and responsibilities of marketing in the customer experience and how research suggests that, maybe marketing is getting a bit cocky.

Hi Paige, you’ve just got off stage from your Sitecore Experience keynote here in London and I think you touched on all the hot topics for marketers right now; the role of the CMO, personalization, content, AI and customer data. You referred to them as the 5 Hard Truths for marketers – what inspired you to choose these 5?

Hi Ian, Good question! It’s clear to me that the nature of today’s multi-touch brand experiences, the blurring between sales and services and the consumers expectations, means the role of the CMO has had to evolve. We have a much broader responsibility for the brand experience, leading digital transformation that effectively uses data, content and technology to provide highly personalized customer interactions.

But, as a data driven marketer, I looked for the evidence of this. That’s why we commissioned a number of independent research studies, spoke to hundreds of marketing leaders and we found that these five topics came up time and time again when talking to senior marketers.

Yes, the data! That certainly came through in your presentation, I loved how many statistics you packed in. You started with the assertion that “The C-Suite is not that into you” and your research showed that 80% of CEOs aren’t impressed, or don’t trust, their CMO – now clearly your CEO supports you, so what’s behind this truth?

Yes, I am very lucky to work with Mark [Frost, CEO of Sitecore]!

As the importance of the brand experience has become a differentiator for consumers, the role of the CMO has changed – we now need to be driving digital transformation within our organizations to deliver these experiences. Obviously, this is not delivered from a single siloed department; the technology, processes or outcomes are not always well understood and, despite the CMO being well placed at the centre of this, the research showed that CEO’s specifically did not always see it this way.

The truth is that, to make their organizations digital first, marketing leaders need to form alliances in the C suite, justify investment and be a catalyst to create alignment across the business.

The truth is marketing leaders need to form alliances in the C suite, justify investment and be a catalyst to create alignment across the business.

Your next topic has been hanging around the marketing charts longer than Bryan Adams; Personalization – and you said it’s “not one-size-fits-all” – what did you mean by that?

Ha! Personalization came top of the list in our research as a concern for marketers, with almost all of those surveyed (96%) claiming it was a priority and yet 40% of those had nobody working on it. While it is true personalization has been one of marketing’s biggest buzzwords for what seems like forever and is getting a bad rap, it remains essential for delivering excellent customer experiences.

We have such an incredible access to data, and it can be overwhelming, but I encourage marketers to do what works for them. Start small – simple personalization can lead to strong conversions and, with the right technology, it’s easier to scale up over time.

As a content marketing fan boy, your third truth got a “hell yeah” from me (and a strange look from the guy next to me). You said, “Your content crisis won’t solve itself” and shared that 70% of marketers feel they can’t keep up with the demand for content, so what’s the solution?

Well, for start doing nothing is not an option. Nor is just producing lots of mediocre content to keep feeding this seemingly insatiable beast. My advice is to prioritize, to focus on what content will contribute towards the strategic outcomes for the business. For example, if you’re focusing on a specific sector, create enough vertical content to get the results you want before moving on to another.

The tools that a team choose also impacts their ability to scale and meet the demand, you can significantly improve the efficiency and productivity of your content production team through automated collaboration and publishing. 

My advice is to prioritize, to focus on what content will contribute towards the strategic outcomes for the business.

Your next truth, like K-Pop, has come from obscurity a few years ago to be a global pop phenomenon. Artificial Intelligence (AI) seems to be the tune all the cool marketing kids are grooving to. You made an excellent point that “AI alone won’t save you” – what advice have you got for marketers?

Artificial intelligence is very exciting, but it’s being pitched as a marketing silver bullet. The truth is, most of us are not there yet, we have to build the right foundation to be ready to take advantage of everything AI has to offer; it’s going to take a lot of work.

Yes, AI can automate repetitive tasks, augment our understanding of data, empower our human intelligence and enable us to scale. But like any marketing automation, it can also get us into a lot of trouble. You still need good data, relevant content, the right processes and a clear plan that expresses the business value of using AI.

You mentioned the importance of good data there, and in your presentation, you stated that almost 70% of marketers said that they are not capturing the right data or don’t have access to it to drive AI initiatives. Data is a big topic here on Rockstar CMO, it seems to be the Mamma Mia of marketing, we all know the tune, but get a bit lost after “My, my, how can I resist you?”.

Which leads us to your final truth, which rather inconveniently for our obsession with music analogies, you describe as “kryptonite” – why is Customer Data a marketer’s kryptonite?

When it comes to data, what should be your greatest strength can often be your biggest weakness – over 50% of marketers in our research said that data gaps, fragmentation and access was a significant problem for them. Data is sitting in inefficient silos, which makes it really difficult to access, gain insight or trust the data you have.

The problem really is not the data – most of us have plenty of the raw stuff. It’s the insights and what to do with them, especially if you are not sure if you can trust it. You don’t want the embarrassment of it polluting your personalization strategy or the risk of impacting data privacy.

Aside from silos of people and processes within organizations, the right technology is key to bringing this all together. 

Splendid! Thank you Paige.

You can learn more about Sitecore here, catch up with the Sitecore Experience event through the #SitecoreEXP hashtag or follow Paige on Twitter

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