Align or redefine the CMO and CIO?

CMO and CIO relationship counseling

The CMO Council and Accenture just released a new report, Driving Revenue Through Customer Relevance: Aligning the CMO and CIO to Achieve Agile Intelligent Marketing.

We should start by noting that Accenture makes its money through IT consulting.

Based on the executive summary I reviewed, it strikes me as less of a blueprint for the future so much as a contentious relationship counseling session.

The report begins with a noble goal:

The CMO Council believes there is a global imperative for marketing and IT organizations, which too often have been polarized and adversarial, to find common ground around the business of innovating more efficient, effective and measurable ways to target, acquire and stay intimately connected to customers. The need for greater synchronization between these two groups has never been more critical to their mutual success.

But it quickly devolves into finger-pointing and a debate about who’s in charge of digital marketing. In the survey conducted among both marketing and IT professionals, 69% of marketers said the CMO should be the primary leader of digital marketing, and only 19% of them see the CIO and the IT department important to defining digital marketing strategy. However, 58% of IT executives see themselves as the true champions of digital marketing.

Sorry, I’m going to have to side with the marketers on this one. Why? Consider this insightful anecdote, quoted in the report from the CIO of Disney in Europe:

“I had a two-hour meeting with our top marketing guys and after the meeting, honestly, I didn’t understand half of the meeting… I’m just not sure I understood what they were after. As a company, we spend a lot of money in marketing. It’s one of our top cost pools. So how could we make sure we optimize that money? This is where creative minds and engineering minds tends to have a very different dialog because we don’t think at the same level.”

Not surprising then that 46% of marketing executives say the CIO doesn’t understand marketing objectives and requirements.

See ultimately, marketing is more important than the technology that is used to implement it. And while I completely agree that there needs to be much better coordination and leadership around marketing technology, the tail can’t wag the dog. IT inherently has a technology-centric worldview. And that’s not the same as having a technology-savvy worldview within a domain such as marketing.

Marketing can’t escape responsibility for the technology underpinning its new reality. And IT can’t escape the diffusion of technology out of their clutches and into the fabric of everyday business operations.

While the IT department can — and probably should — be a partner in marketing’s new reality, I think the days of IT owning all technology (“if it’s bits, IT fits”) are coming to an end. I think a far more likely outcome is embedded IT within the marketing (i.e., a chief marketing technologist role). Or as Eric Brown suggests, the IT department might become more of an open, agile consultant to marketing.

But, as this report makes clear, the current uncertainty between marketing and IT is not sustainable:

In the struggle between marketing-lingo and IT-speak, the gap seems to revolve around three key areas: governance, priority and measurement. And while the simple challenge can be boiled down to who is at the helm of digital and technological strategy, innovation and transformation, the deeper issue is that both marketing and IT have developed similar (albeit not identical) goals, but outlined very different definitions of success.

Governance, priority and measurement — that essentially covers everything about business leadership, no? Having “gaps” at that level is kind of like having big holes in your parachute.

But if we take the “simple” approach of saying that this boils down to who is really “at the helm” of digital and technological strategy — which seems like a pragmatic question to answer definitively — then it has to be under the direction of the mission it serves. If it’s a marketing mission, then the buck must stop with the CMO. Otherwise, you’re just asking for perpetual issues with alignment and incentives.

Once you squarely give that responsibility to the CMO — along with the resources and authority to have technology leadership under his or her command — you move away from the bickering and get on with the job at hand.



  1. If the CMO is smart, they can do and end run around stubborn CIOs that run Dr. No departments by using hosted SaaS applications. They don’t need to bring in a Big 5 consulting firm.
    I would also add that the alignment of Sales and Marketing is also a significant issue that needs to be addressed. It’s the third leg of the stool between sales, marketing and IT.
    I have good blog post about that called “How to fix the sales and marketing alignment problem”
    DMZ Interactive

  2. Hi, Derek — thanks for the comment!
    I agree with you on all counts: smart CMOs, SaaS applications, no Big 5 “magic bullet,” and alignment between sales and marketing is probably the more important issue as far as actual business strategy is concerned. Thanks for the link!

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