I was driving home from work the other day and listening, as usual, to Boston's National Public Radio station, WBUR, when a story came on about the push for doctors and hospitals to go digital by turning patient records into electronic health records (EHRs). There are a lot of tricky challenges that come with digitizing these documents: hundreds of products on the market to help with the effort, a steep upfront cost, lower productivity on day to day tasks while the system is implemented, the cost of accompanying hardware and maintenance, and a learning curve for doctors, nurses, and other staff. But as one of the office managers said for the story, the biggest challenge is actually "having everybody have a positive attitude to do it. If we can all keep positive and get through it and learn it…I think we'll be okay." Supporters of this effort cite improved cost and better, more efficient care – a win for all stakeholders – but in the early stages, it's hard for some to see tangible improvements.

This technology challenge should sound similar to CMOs who have to manage marketing’s move to become more digitally-enabled and technology-grounded. Many of the same challenges exist: a plethora of options to choose from, major expenses associated with the investment, training the marketing team to use the new tools effectively, and the broader obstacle of getting people sold that the new way can and will be the better way.

Despite the hurdles, CMOs absolutely must charge ahead with implementing systems that support all the interaction points that make up the customer life cycle, creating more relevant experiences at each. Why?

  • Consumers believe in and rely on digital as a source of value. The explosion of smartphones and accompanying mobile app use is one indicator among many that digital – devices, channels, experiences – are an essential feature in consumers' worlds; indeed, 39% of all US online adults have apps on their phones (source). They expect to be able to move fluidly between digital and analog in all facets of their lives and their interactions with brands are no exception. Adoption of digital tools as part of the marketing arsenal is fast becoming table stakes for CMOs; it's those who integrate digital to generate value for and build relationships with their customers that will win.

  • Aligning the consumer's needs and experiences with technology can't be left to IT alone. As the voice of the customer, marketing can bring a laser focus on customer needs to the technology buying process. This will likely demand getting comfortable with IT language and reading up on your systems architecture if you haven't already, but a strong partnership between marketing and IT will position the business overall for more efficient delivery of the brand experience, regardless of when and how the customer engages.

  • Successful change needs a change agent and you've been nominated. Effective CMOs will spearhead the organization's move into a post-digital world by putting the customer first and center in all business and strategy conversations to convince executive peers and marketing practitioners to embrace a customer-first approach to all investments, not least of which is technology. But beyond the dollars and cents, the biggest challenge may be managing expectations and keeping spirits up as employees transition to new roles, learn new skills, and grapple with the inevitable hurdles along the way. Keep everyone's eyes on the the value you're creating for the customer with and the benefits that will come post-rollout by sharing incremental, measurable wins and you'll "be okay."

The next 12-24 months are going to be exciting and challenging for CMOs and medical professionals alike as making digital a discipline for improved, more efficient experiences only becomes more critical. Now is the time!

Over the second half of this year, I'll be writing about technology suites that support the entire customer life cycle to deliver better experiences at every step of the way. For those who have undertaken a major technology implementation, I'd love to hear from you. Any comments or thoughts, please leave them below or shoot me an email.