If the $42.3 billion spent online this past holiday season has taught retailers anything, it’s that capturing customers—and their dollars—online is crucial.

But online is a big place. And mobile, which can seem like an entirely different universe, looms ever larger. So where to even start if you haven’t yet…started? And who should lead the charge?

The modern day merchant must have an intimate understanding of the importance of online and mobile commerce, access to a vast array of customer data, and a strategy for transforming this analytical data into winning online experiences.

In all cases, the goal is to attract and retain both new and returning customers. Whether online novices or experts, business leaders crave insight on how to accomplish this. The question is: who inside the company can embody these traits and help the CEO rule the roost? That responsibility should belong to the chief marketing officer.

A CMO should be somebody who uniquely understands marketing, merchandising, data, analytics and web design, and who can also maintain a creative, innovative organizational structure. IT tends to lean too heavily toward data for data’s sake, while Sales too often relies on revenue and relationships.

Placing the CMO in charge allows for the best of both worlds. Armed with the science of data analysis and the art of consumer engagement, the CMO is well positioned to emulate merchant princes of old and join the ranks of retail royalty. A good CMO can nurture a culture of testing, measuring and learning instead of depending on guesswork and subjectivity, as well as reach out to those on the front lines of customer interactions to figure out what those customers want. The ambitious CMO knows that their company site must be more engaging than the competitions’, as well as a place that customers trust, valuing the available products, services and information on offer. It also needs to be a reliable gateway to actions that grow sales beyond the initial purchase, such as cross-selling and upselling.

What’s the best way to make all this happen? One word: data.

Data is crucial to online retail. It comes in many different forms, the main type being the individual behaviors of current site visitors: which search term or webpage brought them over, what time of day and day of the week they’re most likely to stop by, what recent purchases they’ve already made onsite, what pages they visit and what product categories most interest them. All this pertinent info helps define what the “best content” is for each specific viewer. Other types include customer relationship management (CRM) data and social media data.

The aspiring CMO must then use this accumulated data to gain perspective on what customers want; analytical optimization and personalization tools will aid in this quest. Segmentation sifts through the data to find discrete groups of people with similar traits and/or interests, who can then be targeted and tested with relevant content based on site activity. Product recommendations and other offers are then provided based on what the various groups are most likely to purchase.

Product information tools give customers a deeper understanding of the product at hand—a 360-degree view of an article of clothing, or a close-up of various types of textured materials. User-generated content, like ratings, reviews or social media feedback, also aids and influences purchasing decisions. The savvy CMO uses all these methods to strike the delicate balance between intuition and analysis.

Written by Paul Dunay
Paul Dunay is an award-winning B2B marketing expert with more than 20 years’ success in generating demand and creating awareness for leading technology, consumer products, financial services and professional services organizations. Paul is the global vice president of marketing for Maxymiser a leading web optimization firm, and author of four “Dummies” books: Facebook Marketing for Dummies (Wiley 2009), Social Media and the Contact Center for Dummies (Wiley Custom Publishing 2010), Facebook Advertising for Dummies (Wiley 2010) and Facebook Marketing for Dummies 2nd Edition (Wiley 2011). His unique approach to marketing has led to recognition of Paul as a BtoB Magazine Top 25 B2B Marketer of the Year for 2010 and 2009 and winner of the DemandGen Award for Utilizing Marketing Automation to Fuel Corporate Growth in 2008. He is also a finalist for the last six years in a row in the Marketing Excellence Awards competition of the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA), and is a 2010 and 2005 gold award winner in Driving Demand. Buzz Marketing for Technology, Paul’s blog, has been recognized as a Top 20 Marketing Blog for 2009 and 2008, a Top Blog to Watch for 2009 and 2008, and an Advertising Age Power 150 blog in the “Daily Ranking of Marketing Blogs.” Paul has shared his marketing thought leadership as a featured speaker for the American Marketing Association, BtoB Magazine, CMO Club, MarketingProfs, Marketing Sherpa, Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG), and ITSMA. He has appeared on Fox News, and his articles have been featured in BusinessWeek, The New York Times, BtoB Magazine, MarketingProfs and MarketingSherpa. Paul holds an Executive Certificate in Strategy and Innovation from MIT’s Sloan School of Management and a bachelor’s degree in Marketing and Computer Science from Ithaca College.