MarTech trends: 12 insights from marketing and technology leaders on the 2021 season of the CMO Talks podcast

In 2021, I spoke to 23 marketing leaders, practitioners and analysts on the CMO Talks podcast. The podcast focuses on how marketing professionals can gain a competitive edge at the intersection of marketing and technology. Over the course of these conversations, my guests spoke about everything from addressable TV and quantum computing to non-fungible tokens and getting mentions in the press.

Some topics were niche, and some kept coming up throughout the whole 2021 season of the CMO Talks podcast. Keep reading to discover the top 12 MarTech trends I heard from chief marketing officers and other industry professionals.


The COVID-19 pivot to digital first

It comes as no surprise that COVID-19 forced organizations to start or immediately accelerate their digital transformation journeys. This pivot caught companies of all sizes off guard and left many scrambling for the technology and business processes required to take a digital first approach to serving customers. Companies basically rolled two years of digital into a compressed timeline while juggling many curveballs. Though the COVID-19 pivot was stressful for many, I got the impression that CMOs were excited about addressing the challenges that came with it.

“During the pandemic, there was a shift to digital. People are trying to figure out … how they build a relationship with their customers [and] how do they even stay in contact and engage with their customers? That’s what we do and so, we were able to help organizations globally make that shift as their customers shifted.”

  • Celia Fleischaker, Chief Marketing Officer, Verint


The challenge of staying relevant in tech

Tech is rapidly evolving, and this puts pressure on technology companies. How do they keep their technology relevant to the changing needs of their clients? My conversations with seasoned marketing leaders suggest that businesses must commit to continually evolving their technology offerings and the way they do business. It wasn’t too long ago that the floppy disk was revolutionary technology and now artificial intelligence is transitioning from emerging tech to a foundational requirement.

“It has been 22 years [at Ingram Micro]. It has gone by pretty quickly but honestly, the changes!  I joke … I’ve worked for 10 different companies because we have completely evolved just as technology has. To remain relevant, we have had to change our strategies, our offerings, our solutions. That is what we embrace; we are constantly evolving, we’re constantly changing and making ourselves relevant.”

  • Jennifer Villers, Director of Marketing, Ingram Micro Canada


Customer experience is a top priority

A big part of customer experience is being able to connect with your customers when and how they want to connect. This includes the challenge of providing seamless experiences between digital and non-digital channels. Essential inputs to creating memorable customer experiences include talking directly with customers, listening intently to their challenges and keeping the desire to help them at the forefront of decision making.

“Shannon [Hosford, CMO] and I work collaboratively together, as we do with a host of our peers across the organization, because we really do believe that our strategies should drive our structure and our approach to things. So, we really work hard on making sure that our goals around what we’re doing are relevant to our fans first.”

  • Humza Teherany, Chief Technology and Digital Officer, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE)


The collaboration between sales and marketing, aka smarketing

If my conversations this year are any indication, the rivalry between sales and marketing may soon be a thing of the past. More and more marketing leaders are collaborating with their sales counterparts, planning strategy together and agreeing on terms and a shared vision. This enthusiasm for marketing being in the service of helping salespeople sell is driving revenue, creating positive professional relationships and helping organizations hit their growth targets.

“I work very closely with our IBM Canada president Claude Guay and his leadership team of sales vice presidents and business unit vice presidents, and we’re responsible for revenue together, sales and marketing. We are one team. There’s no daylight between us.”

  • Jay Badiani, Chief Marketing Officer, IBM Canada


Collaboration across the entire c-suite

The leaders I spoke to weren’t satisfied with just bridging the gap between sales and marketing; instead, they emphasized the importance of alignment across the entire c-suite. Ideas for achieving this included having CMOs learn how to communicate with their CTO/CIO, having a single source of trusted data that doesn’t require debate and remembering to put the stakeholder at the centre of every conversation.

“The CMO or the digital marketing leader really can’t go it alone. That’s not an option. And if you think about these objectives that the digital marketing leader is responsible for in terms of driving growth, driving customer acquisition, ensuring that an organization retains customers, these are goals that involve and require collaboration with other leaders in the organization. So, achieving these strategic digital marketing objectives really requires the digital marketing leader to foster and maintain an active collaborative cross-functional network.”

  • Noah Elkin, Vice President and Chief of Research, Marketing & Communications, Gartner


CMOs with non-traditional professional backgrounds

This season of the CMO Talks podcast showed me that more quants are entering the marketing realm as CMOs. I spoke to chief marketing officers who were formally trained in accounting, computer science, architecture, electrical engineering and math. While it’s still novel enough to mention right now, I expect to see more CMOs to come from analytical backgrounds in the future. These analytical minds were quick to point out that marketing can’t function on numbers alone—creatives are essential because marketing is art and science combined.

“The heart of [going from data to decisions] is statistics and the limit of what I would claim of myself is that I have some foundational statistics background, particularly in the area of signal processing. I’m not really a classically trained marketer, but I did get a good dose of statistics. I hope that modern marketing programs like bachelors and MBA programs … [are] including a strong component of statistics because those marketers are entering a very data rich world.”

  • Aaron Ballew, VP, Demand Generation, Ping Identity


The integration of gut intuition and data analytics

This observation builds on the idea that, at its best, marketing is a combination of art and science. While we’ve moved far beyond the decision-making methodology glorified by the Mad Men era, gut feelings are still a valuable part of the marketer’s toolbox. However, many of my guests spoke about the importance of using data analytics to support marketing hypotheses, strategy and execution. For example, your standard toolbox tells you that a year-end promotion is good for business, but a data-driven approach can tell you why the promotion should be 30% off instead of 25% off.

“That kind of gut-feel intuition … is still very much important in marketing, but now everything gets backed up by data. So, we know, ‘Is the gut-feel right? Or do we need to adjust, change, update, message, test?’ We can do all of that and actually come to a far better answer based on the data and the responses we’re seeing from our customers.”

  • Jason Rose, Global Chief Marketing Officer, Pure Storage


Artificial intelligence is the future for data analytics

Data drives business decisions and most organizations generate much more data than they can analyze. Fortunately, artificial intelligence and machine learning are no longer the creative musings of science fiction writers; they’re quickly becoming standard practice in marketing departments and beyond. The industry professionals I spoke to are certain that using AI for data analytics is no longer a nice-to-have—it’s essential for success in today’s competitive landscape. If you’re new to AI, I recommend watching Ingrid Burton’s The 3P’s of Demystifying AI for Marketers.

“The secret sauce here is that we give back insights.”

  • Ingrid Burton, Chief Marketing Officer, Quantcast


The rise of brand purpose marketing and social responsibility statements

Companies are increasingly tying their brand to social causes. Whether it’s supporting One Percent for the Planet or Black Lives Matter, more organizations are positioning themselves for (or against) certain environmental, political and/or social movements. Social responsibility statements are becoming more common on corporate websites. While this can increase brand loyalty, it can also backfire if a company is suspected of green-washing, woke-washing or any insincerity.

“We have a next gen program where we purposely and intentionally are working to further and advance and help the next generation of technologists. We have a partnership with Black Girls Code. We have lots of initiatives when it comes to diversity and inclusion and driving advocacy along those lines is important too.”

  • Celia Fleischaker, Chief Marketing Officer, Verint


The importance of appreciating employees and partners

Going back to the art of marketing, many of the leaders I spoke with emphasized the importance of looking after relationships with employees and partners. They believe that satisfied employees provide better client experiences and partners find more success when an organization understands their needs. Creating and delivering positive employee experiences is especially helpful in a tough labour market.

“Our partners at Sugar are a key part of our go-to-market strategy and many of our customers work directly with our partners. We treated [our partner community] just like our own internal employees. They were part of our extended brand family to help us reinforce and tell that story to customers [and] were a key part of our reframe.”

  • Clare Dorrian, Chief Marketing Officer, SugarCRM


Metrics for success not vanity

The overall theme for this topic is being disciplined enough to use metrics that are clearly tied to overall business goals. Vanity metrics like click-through rates are being replaced by conversion rates, procurement teams search for total cost of ownership rather than licensing costs and new technological solutions are purchased to solve specific problems instead of supporting vaguely formed objectives. Correcting misalignments between departmental incentives and overall business objectives is a great way to make sure your metrics matter.

“When you get into the meat of a particular solution, my hope is that you are looking at those problem-solving aspects. And when we’re trying to understand the benefit that can be brought to solving a problem, we use value as the quantifier. How much value can this create for us? And we usually break down value into three areas … How much revenue can you impact? … How much cost can you save? … How much risk can you mitigate? In some cases, you can do a little bit of all three. In some cases, it’s very specific to one category and you can do very detailed analysis of this.”

  • Mike Couch, CEO, Couch & Associates


Ownership of the MarTech stack

Many of my guests on the podcast told me that their organization’s MarTech stack is owned by marketing. However, more marketing leaders are partnering with their IT peers to make collective decisions on where to invest tech dollars and how to eliminate tech that no longer supports business objectives. Two common themes around expanding the MarTech stack were avoiding shiny new objects and instead buying with the intent to solve specific and defined problems.

“Our MarTech stack belongs entirely to the marketing function, which is very fortunate for us. IT does not get involved beyond ensuring we are meeting security measures, and anything related to compliance. By and large, we’re free to purchase the tools needed to be successful and to do our jobs.”

  • Claudine Dumont, Chief Marketing Officer, Aptum


Fail forward

Innovation in marketing requires pushing the envelope and not all these decisions can be wins. In a constantly evolving technological landscape, many marketing professionals embrace the concept of failing forward. This is about failing quickly, learning the lessons and moving on. Not all leaders use the “F” word to describe the process of constantly iterating and learning—some call it agile.

“To me, our cultural evolution is really characterized by a belief in the power of collaboration and empowerment and embracing a fail-forward mindset. This notion of progress over perfection has never been more important than in today’s world. When we look at the pace of change … we need to encourage courageous mindsets and decision-making to curate the culture that’s truly innovative and can help us win.”

  • Katherine Bond-Debicki, Chief Marketing Officer, KFC Canada


Thanks for reading the top 12 insights and observations gathered from the experts who joined me on the 2021 season of the CMO Talks podcast. What a year! Subscribe to the CMO Talks podcast today to hear more insights, stories and best practices from MarTech industry leaders in 2022.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Fawn Annan
Fawn Annan
Fawn Annan is the President and Group Publisher of IT World Canada/IDG Canada, the largest global IT media company located in 87 countries. Its global brands such as CanadianCIO and Computing Canada are written with local views for global IT issues.

CMO Talks is a bi-monthly podcast that is focused on conversations with marketing leaders from around the world. 

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