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Is the CMO Dead?

  |  July 7, 2014   |  Comments

A chief digital officer could add digital chops to a company. Should he or she kick the chief marketing officer (CMO) out of his seat?

In an earlier era, say, the post-dotcom years, it was common for business consultants to talk about the changing role of the chief information officer (CIO): He (always a he) needed to become a strategist, to play an equal role with others in the C-suite.

A 2005 Gartner white paper intoned, "Chief information officers today stand at a crossroads." One path led toward "IT mechanic. … The other path, influenced by the view that IT is at the heart of every significant business process and is crucial to innovation and enterprise success, leads to a role we call the new CIO leader. The new CIO leader bears all the prestige, respect, and responsibility of other senior executive positions (in fact the position will be a not infrequent steppingstone to chief operating officer (COO) and chief executive (CEO) positions)."

Ha. Didn't happen.

Now, chief marketing officers (CMOs) face a similar crossroads. The trendy new title of chief digital officer (CDO) may supplant not only the title, but the CMO's traditional role – according to some, at least.

In 2012, Gartner predicted that by 2015, 25 percent of organizations would have a CDO.

A press release touting this prediction quoted analyst David Willis as saying, "The chief digital officer will prove to be the most exciting strategic role in the decade ahead, and IT leaders have the opportunity to be the leaders who will define it....The CDO plays in the place where the enterprise meets the customer, where the revenue is generated and the mission accomplished. They’re in charge of the digital business strategy. That’s a long way from running back office IT, and it’s full of opportunity."

camford-mcGartner implied that the CIO would evolve into this role. But now, according to Chris Curran, chief technologist and principal in the advisory practice at PwC, it's the CMO's game to lose. While collaboration is still the name of the game, he says, "It's more about the opportunity that is presented to the CMO than to the CIO."

And, of course, digital has been on most companies' minds for quite a while. The renewed interest in the role of chief digital officer comes from a few factors:

  • The economy is getting better. Martin Williams, practice leader of Camford Management Consultants, says, "Businesses need to invest to get clients, and that's where you're seeing the marketing department getting the investment. They are under serious pressure to perform."
  • The pace of market and technology change continues to increase. "Marketers recognize the need for software tools to achieve their goals, and they can't wait six to 12 months for the IT department to [install the tools]," Williams says.
  • IT is also struggling to keep up. Curran says, "The CMO says, 'I should be turning to the CIO, but I've had issues in the past, either perceived or real, with its ability to deliver with speed and skill.' Some CMOs are motivated to build some of their own skills in their own team via these [new titles]."
  • The concept of marketing itself has expanded. Rand Schulman, managing partner of Efectyv Digital and executive-in-residence in digital media and marketing at the University of the Pacific, says, "The term marketing has been evolving for quite some time and has become an umbrella term to represent everything from creativity, product design, and demand generation all the way through strategic analysis of various channels and performance."

Ideas about what a CDO would do are all over the map. A survey of companies in the U.K. by Camford found several scenarios: The CDO reports to the CMO, acting as the digital expert within the greater marketing organization. The CDO reports directly to the CEO, on an equal footing with the CMO. Or the CDO replaces the CMO altogether.

Whether a company hires a CDO, and where that person sits in the organization chart, depends to a great extent on the CMO, according to Williams. "If you were a tech-savvy CMO, why would you need a CDO? When you have CMOs that aren't digitally aware, then having a CDO as your wingman makes perfect sense. By the same token, if you are a CIO and not that close to the marketing function, [a CDO may be in order]."

CMO or CDO aside, the danger of not bringing marketing into alignment with IT, according to Curran, is that the organization will end up with a shadow IT organization within marketing – one that can't take advantage of valuable data under the aegis of IT or other departments, and one that may not be fully secured.

He insists that marketing and IT must collaborate, and the way to do it is by redefining business processes and creating ad hoc teams from anywhere within the company that have the right skillsets. Someone - CMO, CDO, CEO or whomever – needs to ask, he says, "What roles do we have at each step, and who do we have on the team, from IT, marketing, product design, finance, and strategy for thinking through, designing, and executing a consumer campaign?"

For his part, Schulman is putting together a program at University of the Pacific that will produce digitally native CMOs who understand both the creative and the technical side of marketing. They'll be able to walk off the campus into lucrative jobs, but this vision is a few years away. Meanwhile, he says, "Business is not waiting for institutions to come around; it's too bad that institutions can't come along and accelerate it."

Schulman proposes a futuristic, even more radical vision: The CMO becomes the CEO. He explains that because, ultimately, the CMO is responsible for every aspect of getting the company's stuff sold, "The CMO is the CEO less HR." Where does this leave the CIO? "The CIO helps with process and platform," he says.

After all, in a digital, customer-centric world, shouldn't the whole company revolve around marketing?

Homepage image via Shutterstock.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Susan Kuchinskas

Susan Kuchinskas has covered interactive advertising since its invention. The former staff writer for Adweek, Business 2.0, and M-Business covers technology, business and culture from Berkeley, CA.

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