CIOs, CMOs share tips for successful partnerships

The importance of technology in marketing continues to grow, and the stakes for those leading the charge to a digital transformation have never been higher. Savvy CIOs can turn the challenge into an opportunity and make their roles indispensable to the business.

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The CIO role is in a state of perpetual evolution, and while this reality can be daunting it also presents new opportunities for IT executives. Marketing hasn't traditionally been considered part of the CIO's domain, but that's all changing as more businesses revamp their operations for the digital future.

Marketing continue to grow more complex as businesses incorporate additional data points, technologies and automation to achieve objectives. CIOs may not have the same expertise as their colleagues in marketing, but IT execs' ability to implement solutions to company-wide problems make them prime candidates to play greater roles in the evolution of digital marketing.

The ongoing tug-of-war between CIOs and CMOs is real, but it's only part of the story, according to Brian Solis, principal analyst at Altimeter Group. During Altimeter's study of the "six stages of digital transformation," Solis found that a shared goal to enhance customer experience is a primary catalyst for CMOs and CIOs to join forces. Successful digital marketing is increasingly defined by customer experience, so businesses that embrace that dynamic are more likely to drive lasting and effective enterprise-wide change, according to Solis.

[Related: Why Snapchat is the next big thing in digital marketing]

"CIOs that understand and appreciate the extent to which digital customers, and the companies who cater to them, are causing disruption, tend to think about technology and supporting architectures and models uniquely," he says. "CIOs can become the technology architects of the future by thinking about improving things as they are (via iteration) and investing in new models that unlock new value (via innovation) externally and internally."

IT and marketing can unite around common goals

Savvy CIOs see the inherent value in digital transformation and drive related initiatives accordingly, Solis says. "However, CIOs tend to look at technology through a technological lens, which limits the extent to which businesses can fully compete in a digital economy." Innovation usually begins in groups or business units with different objectives, but progressive CIOs understand that disparate investments in new technology roadmaps will eventually merge around common visions and goals, Solis says.

"A solid CIO knows that it is about using technology to solve business problems that creates value, not using technology to solve technology problems," says Jeffry Nimeroff, CIO of Zeta Interactive, a marketing data and analytics company. "Very few areas are as impacted by, or reliant upon, modern technology as digital marketing. The ability to hold meaningful conversations with one's prospects or customers requires an ecosystem that includes advanced data management, analytics, [and] multi-channel delivery." 

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CIOs are well-positioned to take more active roles in digital marketing because of these technical needs, according to Nimeroff. "Data is the linchpin for doing most things well, and digital marketing is no exception," he says. "The CIO plays a very large role in helping the business create and curate data as a product or asset." A clear data strategy with a tactical approach to data ownership, centralization and access is key to aligning an organization's IT and marketing efforts, Nimeroff says.

Something about marketing also feels more natural, intuitive and interesting to many CIOs than other areas of the business, which makes it easier to understand, he says. "Unlike other domains such as legal, finance or supply chain, we all participate in marketing relationships every day." 

CIOs and marketing pros must be equally agile

Today, marketing encompasses every experience customers have with a brand, and both IT and marketing executives must be agile if they hope to keep up, according to Kevin Cochrane, CMO of Jahia Solutions, an enterprise marketing software vendor. "This is the axis point of change for the CIO's role today," he says. "CIOs are now responsible for creating, designing and executing an effective digital platform that can accommodate customer needs while working alongside their CMOs to accommodate dynamic marketplace conditions." 

Many organizations are currently altering their operations and tools to better align with hyper-connected customers, Cochrane says, and that's an opportunity for IT execs. "CIOs can use their technical skills to identify and work with tools that enable organizations to make sense of their data and customers, and empower marketers to use that information to develop personalized campaigns, nurture customer relationships and identify prospects."

[Related: What the hell is the difference between ad tech and marketing tech?]

Cochrane says CIOs should "hold the key" to all business data, but also do everything they can to help marketers use the information to create relevant conversations with customers. "The new paradigm for success is when the CIO, whose focus is on strategy, employee engagement, business process and technology, partners effectively with the CMO, whose focus is in making the brand promise made visible and exceptional through every customer touch point."

The modern CIO is in a unique position to manage existing technology infrastructure and define future models for digital transformation according to Altimeter Group's Solis. "The balance between management, iteration and innovation will ultimately define how businesses change," he says. "If you're waiting for someone to tell you what to do, you're on the wrong side of innovation."

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