Don't Hide Behind a Chief Digital Officer

As CMO, It's not Enough to Just 'Get Digital'

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The digital revolution, spurred by the proliferation of digital touchpoints and changing customer behavior, has firms in a tizzy. Do we need a Chief Digital Officer? Aren't we in a post digital world yet, where the CMO should be the CDO? What about our CIO?

Many chief executives are aiming to make a big statement around digital -- that the transformation to digital business isn't an evolution, it's a revolution. But, in the mind of the CEO and Board of Directors, marketers represent the old way of doing business -- boring, non-digital business. Instead, they are looking for a change agent.

Enter the chief digital officer that some companies have settled on; the latest trendy "e" role to appear, though one that is far from standardized and often misunderstood. Responsibilities, job description, and positions vary, but commonly, CDOs have three main accountabilities. They are charged with developing and articulating a digital vision; executing against that vision and showing results; and embedding large-scale culture change into the organization.

Yet, by isolating or concentrating digital responsibility into a single individual, other executives and employees can feel relieved of the responsibility to get on board or to meaningfully change how they go about their job functions. But for the CMO, the rise of the CDO shouldn't serve as a cop out. Digital marketing is not someone else's problem and opportunity. CMOs are the brand owner for the business and must own the digitization of the brand whether in the physical store or ecommerce environment, through advertising, the website, mobile, social content and even digitally-empowered products like Nike Fuel or Mini's connected car.

Broadly, firms fall into one of three states with regards to their response to increasing opportunities fostered by digital.

Already fundamentally digital. Amazon, Netflix, Asos and a list of other online players fit into this category, most of which have little more than a decade of history and were born into the digital age. Few, if any of these firms have a CDO because to them, the very idea of calling out "digital" as a specific accountability is ludicrous. Everyone and everything is digital.

Making inroads towards building a truly digital DNA. This list includes Starbucks, Burberry, Pizza Hut, Krispy Kreme, Amtrak, Allied Irish Bank, and United Airlines. While all of these firms are making huge strides toward digital infusion, they are doing so in many different ways. For instance, only some such as Starbucks, Dollar Thrifty and CVS have engaged a CDO. But all are reinventing themselves in the age of the customer, recognizing that competitive differentiation comes solely from customer obsession.

Yet to wake up to the digital future. There's a high chance your firm fits here, but that doesn't make you a laggard. It makes you one of the vast majority of firms that hasn't worked out what digital really means to the business. At Forrester our research suggests that while just over half of firms have a vision for a digitally enabled customer experience, less than a quarter feel equipped to execute on that vision.

Whether your CEO sees the CDO role as essential or not, firms need digital leadership from the entire C-Suite in order to embark on a transformation that:

  • Evangelizes the importance of digital in creating innovative customer touch points and new business opportunities

  • Designs customer journeys that weave together the brand with digital and traditional content, commerce, and community into a cohesive lifecycle experience

  • Strips away the functional boundaries between organizational silos to create a leaner, more agile organization

  • Embeds new metrics into the business to measure success at the customer and brand level, rather than by functional silos

Martin Gill is is a VP and principal analyst at Forrester Research. Follow him on Twitter @martinjohngill. Carrie Johnson is a VP and practice leader at Forrester Research. Follow her on Twitter @carriejohnson.
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