Digital transformation never ends, according to Wunderman’s global chief technology officer, Stephan Pretorius. That’s because technology is constantly changing, and companies must continuously optimize to keep up. Stop, and you’re in trouble.
In this exclusive interview with CMO.com, Pretorius, who has been with the company since 2016, talks about the technology trends he is paying closest attention to, some pain points in getting IT and marketing working closely together, and the CTO’s role in digital transformation.
CMO.com: What does digital transformation really mean?
Pretorius: Everyone’s talking about digital transformation, but I think it means many different things for different companies. Depending on your health as a digital brand, you come at it from a different angle.
Businesses have been digitizing for the past 30 years. So why is digital transformation a big thing now? The way our industry talks about it at times makes it seem like transformation is a specific outcome or specific goal. It’s not like today you’re a normal company, then you go through this process, then tomorrow you’re digitally transformed, and now things are different. That’s not how it is. Digital transformation is an ongoing process. It’s really about understanding how technology impacts the relationship between brands and consumers, and then developing the capabilities to respond to those opportunities.
CMO.com: What are a few of the difficulties for CTOs who now need to work closer with CMOs?
Pretorius: If you think about the evolution of the adoption of digital tools in marketing, the first wave was tools for pushing content out externally. Marketing teams did this by employing “shadow” IT teams—IT people working on marketing teams.
These folks were generally not integrated into the core IT organization. They sat in marketing or with agencies. Then, as the importance of digital as a channel started growing, the IT department realized it was now spending a third or even half of its budget on digital platforms for content management, social media marketing, ad servers, and analytical tools. So it became really important that these tools are properly architected, managed, governed, and procured, which makes core IT teams inclined to want to own it.
It’s in that transition from marketing to IT where I think most of the conflict or friction occurs. In most cases, traditional IT organizations have not really built the capability themselves to understand who the vendors are, how the products got there, or how to use them. Some of the clients we work with are investing in marketing technology expertise to support IT. They’re building out teams within the IT department that handle and specialize in what is beginning to be called “marketing engineering,” but those clients are still in the minority.
CMO.com: What are some of the biggest challenges with deploying a digital infrastructure?
Pretorius: When you look at most of the marketing technology and IT tools out there, what they all emphasize is the ability to get up to speed really quickly, with low implementation costs. Some will even say that you can get started in days. To some extent that’s great, but it also means people often implement new tools without really thinking through how they need to be configured, how they need to be designed, and, most importantly, how they need to connect into the broader marketing technology architecture and even the business process.
People add on point solutions without thinking about how they are impacting the customer experience overall, and that becomes a big issue when they’re trying to integrate technically and from a process perspective.
CMO.com: What tech trends are you paying close attention to?
Pretorius: The macro trends for me are cloud, big data, AI, IoT, and voice interfaces.
To me, cloud is a different way of providing computational capacity to problems, which is very, very different today than it was 10 or 15 years ago. The need for large customer data lakes and analytical environments is growing, and the applications are better and more powerful today than ever before. While not necessarily a new trend, it’s ongoing in the sense that more and more brands are becoming comfortable migrating not only applications, but also customer data to the cloud.
A couple of years ago, you couldn’t find a single financial services client that would ever consider migrating customer data into a cloud provider. That’s no the longer the case. Almost all our financial services clients are developing or considering cloud-based customer data solutions today.
Big data is one of those annoying buzzwords, but I think it does actually mean something: much bigger datasets at a much lower cost price point, which is actually really, really important because it allows things like AI to work and, specifically, machine learning. Machine-learning algorithms are not radically different today than they were 20 years ago. The mathematics behind it is all are pretty much the same. What’s different today is that we have access to much bigger datasets and to much cheaper computing power, which means that we can actually do things efficiently at scale.
IoT is also a key trend, even though in marketing it’s often less visible. But IoT in the sense of being able to connect devices, cars, connect factories to headquarters, put computing power into various devices, and the whole category of wearables that measures biometric data on people is very interesting to Wunderman, especially in the health and wellness category. There has been a real explosion in digital health innovation, and we are working very actively to connect digital health to digital marketing for our clients in this space.
The last one I would mention is voice interfaces. We’re doing a lot of work around thinking through the various use cases for voice technology. For instance, instead of doing a credit card application through a form, fill it out through a voice interface. We can create a bot that asks you questions, and you go through the whole application journey much faster and much more painlessly than if you were to do it written. The same thing goes for customer service, for example, using voice to get simple answers to simple questions.
CMO.com: What’s the CTO’s role in customer experience?
Pretorius: If you speak to almost all CMOs and you ask them, “What is the fundamental thing that you want to be able to achieve with digital?” they will say they want to deliver relevant, substantial, and contextual messages to customers across all touch points, with the understanding of who those customers are, what they’ve just seen previously, and how they’ve interacted with the brand. Customer-centricity–a more integrated, end-to-end customer experience–is at the heart of what people are trying to achieve.
So if the goal is customer-centricity and you need to ladder up unified experiences, you definitely need the right marketing technology tools to be integrated in the right way–and you need to organize your data in one place so that you can understand your customers in different environments. And then, fundamentally, you need the organization to be aligned to deliver those integrated experiences and to use the tools and the data in a way that delivers the customer-centricity you’re aiming for.
Of course, we can help organizations with their technology, data, architecting, and even building the skillsets within their teams. But if a company doesn’t—at a marketing level—commit to end-to-end customer experience as a product, something that needs to be designed, optimized, and is part of the value proposition, then you’re never going to get there.
The CTO’s role is to ensure that the customer data and the marketing technology is organized and integrated in such a way that the marketing team can deliver those relevant sequential experiences.