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Is the CDO stealing the CMO thunder?

Emilia Robbio

December 21st, 2017

Is the Chief Digital Officer stealing the Chief Marketing Officers’ thunder

In a world where technology is rapidly changing before our eyes, the challenges and opportunities that present themselves for businesses are colossal. Business models are being disrupted left and right. To help see the light at the end of the tunnel, companies are increasingly turning to Chief Digital Officers (CDO).

The CDO is an individual who is brought in to convert traditional “analog” businesses into digital ones. The CDO is often referred to as the “transformer in chief” or my favorite reference: “the digital czar”.

The role of the CDO is closely connected to the CMO

The role of the CDO however, in many organizations, is closely related to that of the chief marketing officer (CMO). The CMO role initially emerged as one of the key individuals responsible for adopting digital technologies, as the CMO took responsibility for creating digital experiences.

While in the past marketing was in charge of creating awareness, in today’s world its role has become much more strategic, more technical, and key for achieving sustainable growth. In fact according to McKinsey, the CMO is responsible for transforming marketing into an engine of growth. In many organizations it was the CMO that pushed for the adoption of new digital technologies, because they recognized early on how customers wanted to engage with organizations in new ways. We even started seeing the emergence of chief technology marketing officers.

The CDO is now eclipsing the CMO

Despite the CMO having driven the creation of digital experiences, some organizations are seeing the role being eclipsed by that of the CDO. This is because digital is now integral to every organization’s strategy. But the trick is not just creating a strategy, but changing everything about your business in order to implement digital into your core DNA. In order for the strategy to be properly implemented the CDO needs to work closely with the CEO and the CIO. Working at such a high level of the C-Suite, there needs to be credibility.

CDOs obsess over the customer. Their infatuation for the customer is possible thanks to the tools that have been built or integrated by the CIO for them to better do their jobs and further reference statistics. “Why is the customer so essential to our business?” “Exactly who is our customer?” “What do they feel?” etc. The chief digital officer sort of becomes the voice for the customer – a role that traditional belonged to the CMO.

CDOs build agility, speed and data. What this means is your organization is going to need to have the ability to reawaken itself, adapt, change quickly and succeed in a continuous changing, ambiguous, fierce environment. When it comes to speed, when an organization is switching to digital, that means creating fast responses, and that growth is reliant on the CDO. Now this individual also needs to love data because that is what is going to give them the answers to what customers want. They need to get creative about your data, use social media, and get the necessary IT support. After all the IT team will manage unstructured data on new types of data storage and more.

CDOs and CMOs need to learn from each other

So as we’ve seen there is overlap between CMOs and CDOs. But the CMO is not going anywhere…just yet. Customer obsession is going to be the foundation of organizational success for 2018. It is no longer just about delivering an alluring campaign, it’s about delivering an alluring campaign that resonates and provides the organization growth. But if CMOs don’t want their thunder to be stolen they’re going to have to evolve their roles to become more “data-centric, performance-oriented and transformation-focused”, according to Market Week. That technical side that is being demanded from marketers is something the CDO has.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with this perspective? If you’re a CMO or CDO then leave a comment below.


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