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Shopify CMO: The secret to modern marketing is data

Why quantitative skills plus inventive strategies may be the essence of the next generation of marketers

For the modern marketer, data has shed its foreign language status. Not only has data has crept into the vernacular, but it has cemented itself as one of the primary tools needed to compete in the digital marketing space.

Craig Miller, CMO for Shopify  a software platform for creating and managing online storefronts  doesn't think that quantitative know-how is just temporarily in vogue. With a background in engineering and 10 years of on-the-job marketing experience, he believes understanding analytics is fundamental to his work.

“For the last decade, there has been a focus on the quantitative side versus the qualitative side,” Miller told Marketing Dive in an interview. “Once upon a time, it was innovative to have digital marketers, but now I think if you don't have that, you're missing out.”

Miller talks about how it used to be that the loudest voice in the boardroom was rewarded with their idea tapped for the campaign. But now reality favors the data scientist.

In order for marketers to optimize their purchase funnels, they have to test different theories — a process rooted in the scientific method. “As a marketer, you always have to think about what's the latest thing that hasn't saturated [the space] and hasn't become noise,” Miller said.

The rise of the Chief Marketing Technology Officer (CMTO) to the C-Suite shows how brands' needs have shifted. As Marketing Dive has reported, the CMTO role helps companies find "a middle ground where marketers can still keep up with latest technology offerings to make their lives easier, while still placing a certain amount of rigor in the technology purchasing process." According to Gartner research, 80% of businesses have someone filling the CMTO role or an equivalent — even if they don't have an employee with that exact title.

Data is increasingly becoming an important tool for businesses of all types. EMarketer points to a February 2015 CA Technologies study conducted by B2B tech market research firm Vanson Bourne that found for IT managers worldwide, increasing top-line revenue growth (46%) and keeping up with competitors (41%) were among the top factors driving data adoption. However, a May 2015 poll by enterprise cloud company 2nd Watch found that U.S. business and IT execs say lack of skills and poor technology are hurdles for implementing big data strategies.

Miller is not alone in his belief that data is the secret to modern marketing. Last week, newly-minted Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang told an audience of marketers and media professionals at Nielsen’s Consumer 360 Conference that “data is oil in the new economy,” and that fuel will drive digital marketing. And in an article for Re/code, Nielsen’s CEO Mitch Barns writes: “As advertising becomes more precise, it will become more efficient, which will drive up its ROI. This higher ROI will then lead to more investment in advertising.” That, Barns argues, can only happen if marketers take to big data — something that Miller does in his job every day. 

Shopify's data-driven marketing: From 'buy' buttons to brand growth

Programmatic ad buying is one popular example of how data can be put to work in B2B digital marketing. At Shopify, talk centers around buy buttons as vehicles for data gathering and merchant growth.

The Ottawa-based e-commerce company has forged partnerships with Facebook and Pinterest to power their freshly-announced buy buttons. For Facebook, long loved by advertisers for its targeting data and reach, the buy buttons could allow Shopify’s smaller merchants to better understand their customer base. On Pinterest, “Buy It” pins could help brands see how their pinned content drives sales.

Shopify sees the buy button opportunity as a way to help merchants take a step forward and test ad interactions, as users perform actions on the ads themselves, instead of simply clicking on ads. Rather than redirecting users to another website, consumers can shop directly within the brand's ad without ever leaving the window. Miller says buy buttons produce wins for advertisers and consumers because of their utility, specifically on mobile, where he argues the e-commerce experience still lags behind desktop.

“It’s kind of like an arms race, looking for the latest experimental thing no one else is doing,” Miller explained.

The secret to being a modern marketer

Miller did not take the traditional route to becoming a CMO. He learned to code at a young age and “dabbled in marketing on the side” in college, eventually landing a job with eBay where he handled marketing for the online marketplace before moving over to Shopify five years later.

“I told [Shopify] my background is more engineering, data and numbers, and that was exactly what they wanted,” Miller told Marketing Dive. “And that's the trend we're seeing [in marketing]  we’re looking for people with a quantitative skillset.”

In a May 2014 tweet Miller currently has pinned to the top of his feed, he posted an image of an email exchange with a young marketer seeking advice. One nugget of wisdom that stands out reads: "Learn to code. It's a great way to organize your brain, and being able to speak to a developer in their own language will pay off in spades."

In the four years since Miller joined Shopify, the company has grown from 70 employees and 15,000 merchants to some 700 employees and 165,000 (and growing) customers. The Canadian e-commerce solutions provider, which began trading on the New York Stock Exchange in May, rose 51% to $28.74 per share in its debut and was recently trading in the $34 to $36 range.

But when asked what the most successful ad campaign has been for Shopify, Miller's response strikes a stark contrast between the traditional marketer's perspective and that of a modern, data-savvy marketer's approach.

“I don't think we've ever done something we see as incredibly strong,” Miller said, explaining that “it's more incremental, like compound interest. You build on top of your efforts.”

In fact, for Shopify, the thinking goes more like this: How do you make Shopify 5% better each week steadily, rather than having it spike and flat line?

He adds that some of the best marketers he knows are “nimble” and constantly devouring the latest announcements, looking for ways to take advantage of new tools in new ways.

“That’s really the secret for the modern day marketer: Learning about the latest ‘thing’ and figuring out how to use it before it becomes table stakes,” he said.

Filed Under: Trends Analytics
Top image credit: Shopify