Strategic CMOs Use Crowdsourcing to Win – Here’s How and Why

October 21, 2014 Ben Kerschberg


Strategic CMOs Use Crowdsourcing to Win – Here’s How and Why

“The CMO becomes accountable down to the dime. Light dawns on marketing spend. Transparency is powerful when quarters are turning into dollars for the business — but potentially perilous when the opposite is the case.” — Jake Sorofan, The Rise of the Digital CMO (Harv. Bus. Rev. Apr. 15, 2013).

The modern Chief Marketing Officer (“CMO”) has a tough job. He must discover data-driven insights that drive corporate growth. He must then translate them into terms meaningful for senior leadership in order to have the influence to help set business strategy. He must also be a GM with profits and loss responsibility and bottom line visibility. Transparency can be frightening.

Each of these challenges points upward to the C-level suite when properly executed. More so than ever, the CMO is not just the person who handles marketing. That may be a blessing, but it doesn’t make his job any easier, especially in an age of constant digital disruption. The business world moves more quickly than ever; data moves even faster; and the CMO is still responsible for harnessing digital assets and translating them into business solutions.

The Digital CMO

Digital transformations that impact marketing now occur more quickly than ever, leaving many flat-footed. According to McKinsey & Company’s DataMetrics (Insights 2013), only 30% of companies believe they understand their customers’ insights in meaningful terms. For the remaining 70%, ignorance is a death knell. The same report states that companies that use analytics outperform their peers across the entire customer lifecycle and are nine times more likely to enjoy superior customer loyalty, and a remarkable 23 times more likely to outperform peers on new customer acquisition based on their analytics. Those advantages don’t come easily. It means churning through data to find insights that others haven’t seen and then developing the organizational capacity to act on them faster and better to drive above-market growth. Sorofan writes of the digital CMO:

A few CMOs may feel unfairly implicated here. Of course, there are indeed strong examples of digital converts who have completed this assimilation successfully and built world-class digital marketing examples that reimagine brand engagement, and have even reinvented business models. What do these “digital CMOs” do differently? They experiment aggressively. They hire smart digital natives and empower them. They work with great partners. They have the humility to admit what they don’t know, the courage to toss out the old playbook, and the confidence to allow digital metrics to illuminate the results. Id. (emphasis added).

Throwing out the playbook means looking for talent and solutions outside an enterprise’s four walls. Bill Joy, a scientist and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, made a simple assertion now known as Joy’s Law. He posited correctly that wherever you work, the most talented people in your field work somewhere else. Finding them individually is nearly impossible. Finding them collectively is an invaluable tool at the CMO’s fingertips. That collective engages in a process called crowdsourcing.


Crowdsourcing allows a CMO to tap into an expert audience of hundreds of thousands of experts to which the company normally doesn’t have access. These experts are data scientists, application developers, and designers around the world.

Let’s use a data science challenge as an example. The data is first atomized into its smallest possible pieces. Those tiny parts make up separate challenges to be solved and then reassembled as a whole.

Your data is then abstracted from its main domain. It sounds complicated, but it’s not — in fact, it’s meant to make your challenge as easy as possible. Imagine your domain is the genetic engineering of crops. There are few experts who can tackle that subject matter en masse in any meaningful way. That’s why you’re crowdsourcing in the first place, right? Appirio abstracts your data from its domain so that all the atoms are in one language–math–that the crowdsourcing community speaks. By doing so, the number of viable experts may jump from 39 to 39,000. Now we’re talking — finding your solution just got a lot faster.

Appirio also delivers extra speed to your challenge by allowing contests to run in parallel. For example, Let’s say that members of the community choose to compete in the following portions of a single competition:

  • 156 contestants choose to tackle challenge (A) (atomized);
  • 207 choose (B); and
  • 47 choose (C).

The reason for their respective choices are usually related to which part (atom) of the competition they think they can win. When their work is done, the results from (A), (B), and (C) are available at once to be synthesized and put back together. The alternative, sequential development, is highly inefficient. It requires that challenge (A) be completed before (B) can begin, then (C) and so forth. At best, that’s slow and inefficient.


The Jetsons-like nature of using crowdsourcing to solve world-class problems is at our fingertips. For an ambitious CMO, it is the stuff of both now and tomorrow. Today because there are realities to face within any company. You can’t just stop, drop, and start crowdsourcing. Tomorrow because in the C-suite, a CMO will have his peers’ attention, and what may once have been thought of an IT process will become mission critical.


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