What's the CIO's role as marketing builds its digital empire?

cmo cio

The chairman and CEO of Racepoint Global sees CMOs increasingly in the driver's seat -- but the best CIOs will strike a smart partnership

The corporate landscape captured in marketing guru Larry Weber's new book, The Digital Marketer: Ten New Skills You Must Learn to Stay Relevant and Customer-Centric, is one where the CMO might be seen as increasingly moving onto the CIO's traditional turf. Weber sat down with IDG News Service recently to talk about how that relationship can work in the successful digital enterprise.

Your new book, "The Digital Marketer," lays out a set of best practices for that discipline. What's the division of labor between CIOs and CMOs at companies that are doing it well? Thirty-some years ago, IT and marketing couldn't be further apart. Physically, people looked different, they dressed different. Now, you go into a company, and what's happened is that underneath the CIO, IT is separating into two different groups. One of those groups I would call more internal or infrastructure technologies like the cloud, energy monitoring, security. That should report to some kind of a technology officer. The other part of the bifurcation is this mushroom of software that is flooding the market for customer-centric purposes. Every company that succeeds in the future is one that focuses on the customer experience. So who better than a chief marketing officer, or chief customer officer, to now actually oversee this integration of software and human thinking for the benefit of connecting with customers in a more effective way?

So, it's not saying 'CIOs, you're losing something,' it's that, you've got to come a little this way, to understand the technologies that are available for the marketer to use, and the marketer has to understand the basics of coding, of development, of how you make websites and Web destinations richer and better, because ultimately, it all comes down to creating great digital environments. But the CMO has taken over so much more of an information role, because of the data and the analytics. IT and CIOs were not trained in data and analytics -- that's not saying they couldn't do it.

What should the CMO cede to the CIO, if the CIO is going to cede this whole stack of marketing software to the CMO? I think there has to be an effort, not to be political and try to control the CIO's stuff, but there has to be a joint learning. You, CIO, have to tell me that these software companies are of quality, what are the questions I should ask before we buy that kind of software, what kind of costs are we getting in for on a long-term basis? Also, is this data going to be secure? Where are the investments we've already made as a company in things that I should be aware of as we start being a major purchaser of marketing automation and different flavors of cloud?

So, what authority does the CIO retain? I think as CMO you admit that you're not a software developer, that you respect their experience. The other thing is, multiple devices make things very complex, so CMOs need to rely more on CIOs to help them maneuver through this jungle of multiple devices -- I'm using my iPad, my mini iPad, my Samsung Galaxy and my iPhone all in one day, and it's both personal and business.

Will companies move toward seeing technology as a core competency and bringing it in-house instead of buying it from software vendors? I think companies will build more internally, and rely more on outside vendors for strategy.

So that creates an opportunity for the strategic technologist in a company? Absolutely, there's a huge opportunity there. Also, it's amazing how much development is happening in places like Costa Rica and Argentina, because companies refuse to pay what's an average $300 an hour now just for basic Web development work. That is just prohibitive, if you're going to be a digital enterprise, which every company will be. So, it's important to understand how to manage that.

All this digital marketing depends on customer data, which is then a tremendous asset to protect. Is it the CIO's or the CMO's role to oversee that protection, and to advocate for it, and set policies? Each has to take a role. The CMO is an educator around the importance of data and analytics, what needs to be protected, what doesn't need to be protected. And then the CIO has to know what software's available to help meet the rules that have been determined.

Amid all the enthusiasm for digital marketing, is there a danger that the predictive power of big data is being oversold? Yes. I think trying to automate everything is a mistake. There's a reason that we never had a marketing ERP [enterprise-resource-planning] system, and that the attempts to do that, like Siebel and Salesforce ended up being just big contact management systems. There's a human element to content creation, and there's a reason that we can't completely automate all of this, even as we go marching toward more automation.

Do you know of companies where the technology and marketing partnership is working well? Yes, Amazon comes right to mind. And I think actually Google is doing a very good job. And then, for companies in traditional industries? I think Tesla's doing a good job. The way they're doing customer relationships and information is a pretty good example of how those two segments are working together for an industry that's been around over a hundred years.

Where would most Fortune 500 companies rank in digital marketing, on a scale of one to 10? The more advanced ones are a five to a six. The main reason they haven't been able to fully engage next-generation marketing is the way they're organized. For example, why would customer service not report to the CMO? You have to organize around the customer. There are also some more advanced companies saying, maybe CMO is even the wrong title. Maybe the future is the chief customer officer.

(The interview transcript was edited and condensed.)

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