Are CIOs and CMOs interchangeable?


CIOs and CMOs should know enough about each other’s field of expertise to be interchangeable according to Jim Davis, SAS’s global marketing chief in a recent CMO.com article.

I had to read that statement more than once.

After considering this concept further, I thought to myself why don’t we also add the CFO, COO and CEO into that prototype and include a couple of engineering PhD’s and legal counsel.  Now that is an executive persona.  Clone them into a board of “Mini-Me’s.”

Think of the synergy in that boardroom.  No hidden agendas, no bitter debates or personality conflicts.  The enterprise now has complete strategic alignment across operations, product development, IT, marketing and sales.  Dream team.

Don’t get me wrong; Mr. Davis makes many important points.   As a former CIO his emphasis on technology is no surprise.  To be clear, I agree with the majority of his opinions.  I just don’t’ agree that the CMO and CIO roles could be interchangeable.

In fact, it’s not that I completely reject the ideal of that concept.  It’s just not realistic. Culturally speaking, no one sits at more distant ends of the boardroom than the CIO and CMO, assuming of course that the CMO has a seat.  Their training, skills, experiences and often personalities are polar opposites.

Technology is a tool; it’s not the solution to marketing’s mission.  There is no debate about the unprecedented potential it represents as a production, delivery and measurement mechanism, but to confuse marketing with technology is naïve and doomed to failure. And B2B technology vendors are often the worst offenders.

Marketing has become distracted by technology and automation.

Marketing is ultimately about awareness, communication, persuasion, and audience experience. It begins with a compelling message and story that delivers unique differentiation that your audience cares about. To quote Leo Burnett, effective messaging “does not just circulate information. It penetrates the public mind with desires and belief.”  It is human, empathetic, and most of all, memorable.

These basic building blocks do not come in a box.  The technology and the applications – they are tactical tools for delivery and measurement.  Ultimately success is measured in terms of customer acquisition and retention, not the size and quality of your database or email open rates.

As a technology marketing and content strategist, I agree with Mr. Davis’ philosophy at the tactical and execution level. Marketing does need a better understanding of what’s in the technology box, and how they can use it.  But do not become distracted by it.  Without simple, memorable, inviting messages, it will not achieve the objective.  Garbage in, garbage out, it’s just being distributed more efficiently.

The CMO and CIO are not interchangeable, but the evolution of digital technology does require that their roles and objectives be synchronized and complimentary. The digital age has also created at least one shared reality – it has forever changed the IT and marketing roles. The changes these executives have seen in the past 15 years are unprecedented, turning both their professional worlds upside down.

To succeed as business leaders in this new age, the CMO and CIO will need to transcend isolated and historic roles.  As digital interactions and devices continue to mature the two business groups will become inseparable in the customer experience conversation. Marketing and IT will represent a new business ecosystem that will ultimately be defined and measured by customer experience.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome additions to this conversation.

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