Suppose the following scenario:

  • Series A or B;
  • A data science firm (narrow machine intelligence, applied machine intelligence, general machine intelligence, predictive or prescriptive analytics, software or hardware);
  • Technical CEO / Co-Founder;
  • Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) just hired;

What might the CEO-CMO relationship look like?

The relationship could be great. If there’s one stereotype about data science CEO’s, it’s that they like incentives to be aligned. The CMO would likely be brought on to focus on growth. If revenue grows, valuation grows, and collective comp would grow.

There might be points of friction.

From the CMO’s Perspective:

  • Why is the CEO constantly at me about metrics all the time?
  • Why is the CEO always on about non-working dollars? (Why don’t they value creativity at all?)
  • Why is the CEO so dismissive of Brand?

From the CEO’s Perspective:

  • Why is the CMO constantly pushing Top Of Funnel metrics – is it just because they’re big?
  • Why is the CMO more interested in Branding and Awareness than Conversions and Dollars?
  • Why is the CMO always talking about stories?

What’s Changing

There are a few new technologies, social and technical, that can help each other answer those questions together, and arrive at a better place.

The first is the underlining megatrend that’s fuelling data science itself. It’s an explosion of Machine Readable Data, in conjunction with advancements in narrow machine intelligence, decision automation technology, and core theoretical marketing science. These advancements have forced the Art side of Marketing to engage with the Science side of Marketing. They’ve forced a lot of people to work together who normally wouldn’t. At some point, there could be a convergence into ArtScience. Perhaps, maybe, at such a startup.

The second is that the way leaders generate the conditions necessary for creativity are becoming more reliable, enabling greater resiliency and de-risking. Product organizations have learned continuous improvement processes. Marketing organizations, historically, are episodic, and often have outsourced creativity. (That was the function that an agency really served.) Increasingly, marketing leaders have been able to re-organize their departments to enable continuous improvement, and are less episodic in nature.

The third is the accumulating of knowledge about the interaction between stories, paid media, owned media, and earned media. A few new ideas coming from anthropology, criminology, and decision neuroscience have burst out into the pop business literature. More scientists understand the value of a great story. More marketers understand the structure of markets, in particular, the mechanics of word of mouth. And, marketing scientists are better able to understand the interaction between messages, their frequency, and their effect. We just know better because we know more.

The fourth change is that all of that data about prospective and current customers, and their networks, is knowable, addressable and actionable. It’s actionable at scale, even if the attention landscape is fragmented.

What those changes could mean for the CEO-CMO relationship

These changes could be driving a better relationship.

The CEO is concerned with metrics, all the time, because that is the primary way they understand progress. They’re always talking about non-working dollars because they want the paid-owned-earned media matrix to be improving and are inherently suspicious of what they don’t understand. They also value the direct traceability between paid media and conversion over the circuitous and agonizing long path of owned media into earned media into conversion and renewal. They shouldn’t nearly be as dismissive of brand if all of that branding work was not framed as colours and logos, but as beliefs, preferences, and addressable markets.

The CMO is concerned with Top Of Funnel (TOFU) metrics when they first start because they understand that there is a lag between awareness and conversion. Awareness is the first lever they have to pull. They’re more interested in Branding and Awareness because that’s the hardest part of the funnel to optimize. They’re always talking about stories because that’s what causes belief. And stories are what are repeated by reference customers to other customers.

These trends might also fuel better feelings, more security, and less risk perception about consumer decision lag. The challenge for the CMO is understanding how long it takes which consumer segments to decide to trial the product. A rough estimate of who, and in response to which stories, would go a long way in assuaging the concern of the CEO. It may also grant the CMO’s organization greater autonomy in the early months to build, measure, and learn about which stories generate the strongest beliefs in desirable market segments.

It may result in better marketing, happier customers, and greater valuation. It may make for a much better Series C. That would in turn mean a happier CMO and marketing organization that sits closer to the CEO at the table. And it could mean a far better relationship between the CMO and the CEO.

Wouldn’t that be great?