The case against the chief digital officer

While the intent behind the chief digital officer (CDO) role is right, the execution is wrong. A good chief marketing officer (CMO) should be responsible for driving digital transformation – not the CDO.

Therefore, marketing leaders are required to step up their game.

Every now and then, you run across business ideas that experts initially laud, that later ends in tears. (Does anyone remember business process reengineering?) 

As the nature of our world and our interactions has become more digital than ever before, companies are adding a newly created role of CDO to their executive masthead.

business-agreement-flickr-14565350736-0c1456e0f8-z

It seems that this year, experts and firms around the world have increasingly been talking about the rise of the CDO. In fact, research from Gartner predicted that by the end of this year, 25 percent of organizations would have hired a CDO.

Among other things, the CDO is supposed to drive their companies’ digital presence as well as their digital consumer experiences.

bad-idea

This is a bad idea.

Some are absolutely thrilled by that prospect and contend that the CDO really ought to be the CMO of the future, but I beg to differ. I know this is provocative but the CDO, in title and role, just should not exist: the CMO is really the new CDO of the future. 

CMOs and marketers need to rise to the challenge of our new digital world and take control of the transformation in their organizations. As a recent Accenture study noted, it’s up to CMOs to prove they can serve as catalysts who can help embrace broader digital opportunities for their organizations while defending against threats.

Digital: the new apple pie

Chief executive officers (CEOs) now operate in a vastly different marketing landscape from what they faced just a few years ago. E

verything used to be offline, but within a relative blink of time, every business has become – or is in the process of becoming – focused on digital. Digital is now as ubiquitous as “apple pie” American values.

classic-america-apple-pie

Even now, you can’t watch a TV ad without having it drive some digital action. Think about the broadcast ads enticing fans to sign up for fantasy sports leagues – there’s always an offer for a code to sign up online. This is an instant way to turn an analog experience into a digital one.

Sure, the code is meant to identify when the company interacted with the consumer, in addition to what city the consumer lives in and even which team they were watching, but this also allows the company to have a more personal and relevant discussion with its audience.

Brilliantly, this also makes large marketing investments – TV ads – directly measurable for the first time. So who can blame the CEO for feeling compelled to hire a CDO to help define a digital business strategy to make sense of it all?

Like data, quality, collaboration, or people; digital is more than a universal good, it is a universal imperative. It is simply just that important. 

The wrong tool for the job

The world of digital has changed forever how we think about brand engagement with customers, and engaging with customers at different digital interaction points is considered a good and necessary idea. There’s now an onus on companies to maintain an ongoing dialogue with customers on a personal and individual level, engaging with them over a lifetime.

CEOs are aware of the imperative, and they’re clearly trying to solve the problem.

rubiks-cube-solve-345056969-e9cdec3f5b-z

Digital is core to every facet of customer interactions and relationships. Likewise, customers are the center of every business – without them, the business doesn’t exist. So, it would seem to follow that the champion for making a business digital should be an executive who has operational responsibility – and familiarity – with customer related processes and interaction points, right?

But the superfluous addition of another executive function – one that, by definition, is distant from the customer relationship and doesn’t directly control the interaction points – is just not a good idea. 

This conversation must be directed by the CMO. If not, the result is just one more voice at the table that is disconnected from all of these places.

As one expert at a leading analyst firm said to me, “It’s just a title that lacks definitional integrity.”

What isn’t digital? It’s like having a chief collaboration officer, a chief PowerPoint officer, or even a chief breathing officer – why put someone in charge of something that everything must own?

Don’t get me wrong – I have many friends that carry the title of chief digital officer. They are smart, bright, talented people. However, the fact is that the CDO is fated to fade away. Even industry pundits readily state that success for a chief digital officer will be the fact that the title goes away or that their role is no longer needed.

If we can see that end-state now, shouldn’t we all save ourselves the trouble, skip that step, and put the responsibility where it belongs?

Calling all CMOs

Sadly, CEOs feel that they can’t turn to CMOs for the solution. When Accenture asked C-Suite executives about who was responsible for driving their company’s digital strategy, only one percent answered that it was the CMO. That is a failure in the job function and a failure on our part as marketers.

We’re at a pivotal point where marketers must grab the mantle of responsibility. A good CMO should be responsible for driving digital transformation – period. This is no longer one of things that CMO has to do: it is the thing that the CMO should do.

So marketers – grab the brass ring! Go get smart, build your skills, build your org, assemble your technology, and take more responsibility. CEOs want marketers to own the entire customer relationship. In turn, you’ll be doing the right thing both for your career and your organizations.

Article images via Flickr. 

Related reading

nurcin-erdogan-loeffler_wikipedia-definition-the-future_featured-image
pwc_experience-centre_hong-kong_featured-image
12919894_10154847711668475_3893080213398294388_n
kenneth_ning_emarsys_featured-image
<