Aleetza Senn
Oct 21, 2015

How the CMO and CIO can just get along

How to turn the CIO/CMO relationship from a pain in the ass into a harmonious business asset.

Aleetza Senn
Aleetza Senn

Achieving harmony in the workplace is tricky. As we advance into an increasingly digitised consumer market, nowhere is this more obvious or contentious than the relationship between CIOs and CMOs. Both roles are under great pressure as the boundaries between their respective skillsets and responsibilities blur, and they struggle to meet the dual demands of customers expecting more engagement and greater personalisation, and boardrooms needing justification on marketing spend and ROI. 

This ought to be a golden age for both, as new technologies make it easier to engage in customer targeting, data measurement and analysis. Opportunities to make more strategic marketing and technology decisions are now far more accessible. But not everyone has been able to get with the programme. A critical disjoint remains between what CIOs and CMOs prioritise, and it’s causing headaches for both them and the companies they represent.  

Recently, the finger has been pointed at CMOs for being out of touch and largely responsible for this chasm. As many as 90 per cent of marketers ‘are not trained to calculate return on investment’ (The Fournaise Marketing Group), and two thirds don’t believe that marketing ROI requires a financial outcome (Forrester Research CMO and CIO conference, Singapore).

But like all relationships, the issue goes both ways. CIOs and CMOs have the relevant skills needed to help their businesses grow, but to be truly successful, they need to communicate their viewpoints with each other. As the connection between technology and consumers strengthens, and economic conditions dictate that every marketing dollar spent should be accounted for, CIOs and CMOs need to form a more harmonious and effective partnership.

Two skillsets are better than one 

In today’s digital world, the CMO and CIO have complementary skillsets to bring to the table.  With solid skills honed during their career, there is no doubt that the experienced CMO is au fait with new techniques and tools, and understands the founding principles of marketing. However, customer data, and our access to and understanding of it, is transforming marketing rules as we know them. Now more than ever before, businesses can use data to analyse customer actions, pinpoint sources of new customers and target their responses to individuals. 

With a more IT-focused outlook, the CIOs undoubtedly ‘get’ the value of measuring data quicker. They have knowledge and perhaps experience of using data-analysis tools and methods. But technology is just another tool, only valuable when used in tune with a longer-term business strategy. Similarly, all the data access in the world won’t make a difference unless there is an understanding of what is being analysed and crucially, how those insights are turned into manageable and tangible business actions. Without a strategic approach to data, it remains just that—data.

And this is where the disjoint occurs: CIOs tend to be more focused on protection, security and sales, whereas CMOs are often accused of being overly concerned with generating ‘brand awareness’, ‘amplification’ and ‘likes’—concepts that seem woolly but which can play a key role in attracting and retaining customers. In today’s digital marketplace, both sets of skills are equally valuable; this is not an ‘either/or’ situation. 

And this is why the CMO and CIO, working together, can make an unstoppable team, bringing together marketing nous and technology know-how to develop a well-informed, targeted and cost-effective marketing strategy that will deliver the strong ROI boardrooms require.  

The sharing of skills is a two-way win. CMO insights into customer behaviour driven by data analysis, can assist CIOs in developing new solutions for customer issues. Both viewpoints, when spoken in tandem, have a valuable role to play.

Change the culture

From an educational, organisational or even hiring perspective, this coming together of skills and mindsets cannot happen overnight. Some measure of change is being driven by market forces and consumer expectations, but organisations need to take steps to facilitate this shift in thinking. Both CMO and CIO need to have a greater understanding of the other’s value to have any hope of working harmoniously together. If the company itself is unsure about utilising and understanding customer data, then it becomes a cultural issue and not just a lack of communication between two individuals.

A good first step would therefore be to help the business as a whole understand how to measure, analyse and act upon their customer data. This doesn’t have to involve a complete systems overhaul; sometimes the smallest changes can reap the biggest results. Companies wanting to make this change might look to work with a data-analysis consultancy that can put customer data at the heart of the business. Once the overall culture becomes data-focused, so will employees, and none more so than the CIO and CMO. 

This isn’t a relationship that’s dead in the water—far from it. With the right internal and external support, and data analysis acting as matchmaker, CMOs and CIOs can form a business partnership to be reckoned with.   

Aleetza Senn is managing partner and co-founder of Sparkline. She was named one of Campaign Asia-Pacific's 20 Women to Watch earlier this year.

 

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