Friends With (Digital) Benefits: CMOs Link With CIOs

From Data Networks to Mobile Platforms, Marketers Are Finding Themselves Arm-in-Arm With Tech Teams

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CMOS, meet your new BFF, the CIO.

We know you and the tech guys might not have gotten along so well in the past. They chastise your need for speed and the fact that you rely on your "gut" without regard for process. And chances are you think they're a little too steeped in process, governance and security concerns. But now's the time to mend fences and learn to speak the same language, because in today's digital world, it's never been more important for the chief marketing officer and chief information officer to work together.

"The bias is very strong. It's part of the DNA of the two functions, so the stereotyping is there. They like to make fun of each other," said Luca Paderni, an analyst with Forrester Research who has been studying the two roles.

Mr. Paderni said there's been a significant shift in just the last 18 months, instigated by the digital revolution in marketing and fueled by the economic crisis. "Now, both functions are under pressure from the CFO and CEO. The market dynamics are pushing accountability for both functions," he said. "And, at this point, even the marketer that would like to go it alone is realizing the level of complexity and data management is too big to manage alone."

Indeed, Lisa Macpherson, Hallmark's chief marketer, says one of the biggest priorities of CMOs right now should be nurturing a relationship with their CIO. "We've gone through the making marketing credible with the CFO and partnering to do great shopper and trade marketing with the sales officer, and now it really is about the CIO and developing the data networks and connectedness that can let us do great database interactive marketing," she said.

The need for marketing and information execs to team up highlights the shift from creating digital marketing that broadcasts a message to creating online or mobile tools that can foster loyalty, juice sales and require lots of data and targeting. In other words, gone are the days of the one-off web-banner campaign.

Dave Finnegan and Teresa Kroll, CIO and CMO, respectively, at Build-A-Bear.
Dave Finnegan and Teresa Kroll, CIO and CMO, respectively, at Build-A-Bear.

"Ideally [chief information officers would] be involved in all such projects. There's high risk when they're not in the room and you're building something with a level of complexity that 's not just delivering a message to a consumer," said Patricia Korth-McDonnell, partner-client services for Interpublic digital agency Huge .

It's the reason why agencies shouldn't be surprised to see Dave Finnegan, CIO at Build-A-Bear, and Teresa Kroll, CMO at Build-A-Bear, tag team on agency reviews. "I came to the realization about four years ago, when we were working on this digital world and doing an RFP. Dave and I started to talk about it, and I said, "I don't think I'm capable of doing this on my own, because there will be so many technological questions,'" Ms. Kroll remembered. "We went through the process together, and it was amazing how we looked at things differently. Ever since then we work together on basically every agency selection I make or he makes."

Agencies, especially those involved with digital work, say they're increasingly taking meetings with both the CIO and CMO. Marketers in retail, financial services and media have been among the first to liaise with their technology teams, agencies say, and the result has been more useful customer data and innovative campaigns.

"If you can find the modern CIO that 's into innovation, they're going to have some good ideas on how to use Facebook or Android," said Shannon Denton, president of the central region for Razorfish, a Publicis Groupe agency that often works with both CMOs and CIOs. "If you can marry that with the marketer's knowledge of the brand or consumers, you have a good thing."

But just three years ago, getting CIOs and CMOs to talk was nearly impossible, said Sapient CEO Alan Herrick. Today about half of his agency's meetings start with a CIO in the room. The company has even spawned a new breed of agency, hoping to further bridge the CMO-CIO divide. After growing up as a technology consultancy that primarily dealt with CIOs selecting and integrating new systems, Sapient Corp. formed SapientNitro, an agency-services arm to back that tech expertise with marketing savvy.

But with two stakeholders in relatively new territory, challenges can -- and do -- arise. Who owns a project? When does marketing get involved, and likewise, when does technology get involved? And exactly how do execs get their disparate teams to play nice?

Mr. Paderni said the companies that are having the most success are embracing a shared view of the customer, along with shared business goals and metrics. He also suggests starting with something simple, like a joint audit of systems that deal with gathering, analyzing and distributing customer data and insights. "Start to improve what you have. Most often it's not the tool that 's the problem, it's how it's been implemented," he said.

And, as with most things, setting the right example and effecting change starts at the top. Build-A-Bear's Mr. Finnegan acknowledged that the CIO and his or her team used to be the group that "sat in a cold room. You didn't see or hear from them much." But as he began to recognize the shift in marketing that would require more technological know-how, he sought to build a close relationship with Ms. Kroll and her team. The pair attends conferences together and even interviews each other's job candidates. The message to their teams -- and potential hires -- is crystal clear: "We're all focused on the same objectives," summed up Mr. Finnegan.

But Build-A-Bear is still the exception, said Mr. Paderni, though he said that CMOs and CIOs at many companies, including Supervalu and AB-InBev, are also doing a good job of working together.

Huge 's Ms. Korth-McDonnell said embracing a structure that facilitates collaboration is key, as is hammering out exactly when the technology team should get involved. "The lines of communications or the approval to grab each other is not there," she said. "Companies need to have the structure to connect the dots without the agency having to facilitate."

Still, while many companies will be hammering out this relationship in the months and years to come, a hybrid exec is already beginning to emerge. Take, for example, Eric Pearson, chief marketing officer for the Americas division of InterContinental Hotels Group. He started out at IHG as senior director-emerging technologies, before moving into e-commerce and then marketing. That kind of cross-pollination -- "geeks" heading to the marketing department and vice versa -- will be a boon for the C-suite, Mr. Paderni said.

"Technology is becoming critical to marketing," said Mr. Pearson, who has a degree in electrical engineering. "The next generation of CMOs will be a blend."

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