CMO vs. CIO: Who’s Got the Power?

CMO: “It’s about giving consumers an experience that’s relevant to their lives!”

CIO: “Which the data tells us —.“

CMO: “Our research says that our customers —“.

CIO: “—want to be treated as individuals. Which our analytics found out how to do a week before your research started. It’s all right there in my marketing plan.”

CMO: (Freaks out and spontaneously combusts.)

CIO: (To the audience) “Information is a powerful tool. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Who’s on first?

Drama. It’s not just for television shows, teenagers or romantic relationships anymore (understand now why Baywatch worked?). On any given workday, dramatic tension can be instantly created just by calling a meeting of those two C-suite rivals: the CMO (chief marketing officer) and the CIO (chief information officer).

Too small an outfit to have either one, you say? Unless you’re running the Luddite Nonprofit Café out of your grandmother’s rent-controlled apartment, it’s 100% certain that someone in your organization assumes the duties of those roles. And even if a sole employee has both jobs, chances are that one area takes a distinct back seat to the other.

Is the CIO-CMO battle destined to be fought to the death, every day, for all eternity? Or can the two sides find ways to work together without surrendering the one thing neither can live without – organizational clout?

Together and equal…sort of

A new study from Accenture suggests that now is the perfect time to bridge whatever divide separates the information and marketing camps.

Why now? As the report summary states barely three paragraphs in, “CMOs regard digital orientation as their weakest capability—at the exact moment when it needs to be their strongest.”

Need more reasons? Accenture’s report minces few words when making the case for C-suite détente:

  • Tech spending will rise: By 2017, experts project that CMOs will spend more of the marketing budget on IT and analytics than will CIOs.
  • We ain’t there yet: 8 out of 10 CIOs say they feel the need for greater alignment with their chief nemeses, while only 5 in 10 CMOs feel the same way. More to the point, just one in 10 IT and marketing execs – a mere 10% of the hundreds of CMOs/CIOs surveyed — believe that collaboration is where it should be right now. Which amounts to some serious corporate fail.
  • Define the relationship: Who should be supporting whom, and in what ways, is a source of major contention. In Accenture’s words, “CMOs view the CIO organization as an execution and delivery arm at a time when they should consider IT as a strategic partner and involve CIOs when planning new marketing investments.” In more practical terms, neither party in this marriage of convenience should be unilaterally buying an RV or renovating the kitchen without first consulting the other side – a move that neither prefers, but that both clearly need to make in order to survive.

Compromise. It’s what’s for dinner.

Accenture’s report wastes little time in targeting five areas, termed “imperatives”, that are meant to improve marketing and IT relations and, by extension, company performance:

  1. Tell the CMO to act more like a CXO. No, not chief x-rated officer in charge of trolling seedy Internet sites and providing free access to select customers, thereby improving overall market share to the company. The Chief Experience Officer, Accenture recommends, is to take charge of the consumer experience and is also to drive consumer-centric tactics. The CMO can still be called the CMO. Just change that person’s focus to “the drivers of a connected customer experience,” the report says, and the CMO will inevitably find ways to work with CIOs and others to drive positive business outcomes.
  2. Admit that IT has a purpose in life. OK, that’s not exactly the wording, but we love it when techies show a little emotion. By accepting IT as a strategic partner in the marketing process, CMOs can look beyond IT’s role as a mere delivery platform. And hopefully see IT as a partner that can help implement needed changes to the company’s operating model in ways that are cost- and time-efficient. In other words, quit treating IT as an object, guys. Intimacy is what it’s all about. On a totally professional level, of course.
  3. Agree on crucial business levers for integration: You want customer data and your counterpart values privacy and security. Rather than dig in for the Mother of All Marketing Battles, why not find ways to leverage both? Especially since more than 33% of CMOs and CIOs shell out almost a third of their marketing budgets on technology-enabled marketing. Since tech is valued by both sides, CIOs and CMOs need to respect each other’s investment objectives. As the Accenture folks succinctly put it, “Sitting within their own silos with independent perspectives will only continue the downward trend in business success.”
  4. Beat them at their own game: Again, not the precise wording. However, what’s suggested here is that marketing and IT people each become better versed in the other’s specialty. This, it is hoped, empowers marketers to become more IT savvy and techies to respond more nimbly to the needs of marketers. If you ask us, that’s like letting the wife invade the man cave while hubby meets with the scrapbook club – just so things stay diplomatically sociable in the more private areas of the domicile. Except that marketing budgets ranging in the hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake here. Given that the marketing-IT landscape isn’t likely to revert to old stereotypes anytime soon, cross-training – which might as well be called “cross-intelligence” – sounds like a sensible, not to mention profitable, thing to do.
  5. Build trust by actually trusting: To follow the marriage metaphor, this means putting your individual money where your marital vows are. As dated or corny as it might sound, the only way to engender trust is to extend it. If you want to get all Reagan-and-Gore-like about it and “trust but verify”, well, OK. Just remember that IT has the advantage when it comes to scaring up information, and marketing the edge when it comes to broadcasting it.

Shotgun marriage

There’s a wealth of further information in the Accenture report, including some compelling stats on how CMOs and CIOs differ in their corporate philosophies and priorities.

Lest anyone get bogged down in a discussion around those, there’s also this sobering reminder: “Consumers don’t have the time or interest for the inefficiencies and mishaps that arise when marketing and IT work at cross purposes. Consumers can take their business elsewhere—and they will. CMOs and CIOs must open the floodgates of communication, pollinate cross-disciplinary teams of marketing and IT pros and welcome each other in the C-suite.”

Cohabitation, then, seems inevitable. And from the sound of things, no one gets to hang on to their apartment, just in case things don’t work out.

Image via Iain Heath / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Pierce Mattie

Pierce Mattie is a full-service marketing agency that interacts with consumers and key stakeholders at every stage of the journey. With a focus in beauty, health and wellness, we are immersed in the marketing landscape, able to powerfully communicate a brand’s point of difference to acquire and maintaining customers. The content team is obsessed with what's trending in the digital world, and how it intersects with consumer behavior. We are passionate about the changing landscape of the world, including how emergent technologies affect brand attachment, how diversity and inclusivity are critical to success, and where humans fit into the equation.

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