Apple's History Offers Insight Into CMO-CIO Relationship

Liz Allen, a former Apple marketing executive, has seen the volatile relationship between CMOs and CIOs evolving over the years. CMOs were worshipped and CIOs despised at Apple, but Allen isn't taking sides: 'If you're at odds, your competition is going to win.'

At Apple in the late 1990s, shortly after the triumphant return of Steve Jobs, marketer Liz Allen worked on the team that built Apple's prolific website. They designed a simple, elegant digital storefront, which, eventually, would lead to Apple fanatics tapping the "buy" button in droves.

Apple, Steve Jobs, CIO, CMO

The marketers completed the site's revolutionary design and sent it to programmers with a single order: Make it all work. The programmers couldn't push back on functionality, couldn't request buttons be moved elsewhere, couldn't make changes to the navigational layout, and especially couldn't prolong the project -- lest the wrath of Jobs rain down upon them. In Apple's world, the CMO trumps the CIO.

"The Apple experience was ahead of its time in many ways," says Allen, who left Apple after four years to take on marketing stints at Lucas Arts, Gap, Cost Plus World Market, a few startups, and is currently CMO at home-decor superstore At Home.

You can see the volatile relationship between the CMO and CIO evolving over the years through Allen's eyes. In a sense, she has come full circle: from Apple, where CMOs were worshipped and CIOs despised, to the many bitter CIO and CMO fiefdoms battling over technology budgets and power, to today when the CIO-CMO power struggle has reached a zenith and the CMO is the favored one.

[Related: Inside the Minds (and Personalities) of CIOs and CMOs]

Marketing Becomes Less Magic and More Measurable

With social networks and mobile gadgets becoming customer touch points, the CMO is closer to the revenue pipeline than ever, which should tell you why the CMO is so important. A digital customer has emerged, one that can be profiled and whose buying habits predicted. Today, digital marketing efforts can be measured and tied closely to sales. It's a complete turnaround from marketing's traditional "black art" past.

When the CMO, who exploits digital channels and connects with the customer, is supported by the CIO, who gathers and analyzes customer data, great things can happen.

At Cost Plus World Market, for instance, Allen was part of the marketing team that launched the World Market Explorer rewards program, which lets members earn rewards and save money on purchases. At the time, the company was struggling to survive. The loyalty program quickly delivered fantastic results.

[Related: Are CIOs Destined to Work for the CMO?]

"It is sort of credited with saving the company," Allen says. "We had, I think, six million users in a year-and-a-half. It was responsible for about 60 percent of our sales. The cool thing about that is you know a lot about that customer. At the end of the day, we could send out emails that hone in on content that makes them really relevant, whether geographic or based on attribute or desire."

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