The chief digital officer role is dead - good riddance

Just 1 per cent of companies plan to hire a chief digital officer in the next 12 months, according to a recent Forrester report – a statistic that hopefully spells the end for the digital silo within companies.

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Digital is embedded in almost every marketing campaign and customer touchpoint. From the Blippable billboard to the hashtag at the end of a TV ad, a digital current runs through even the most offline of communications.

Marketers do not need to be convinced of the power of digital by the addition of another executive to the c-suite. Marketers get digital and they don’t need a Google Glass-wearing evangelist with a blog and an army of Twitterlings to get them more enthused – they’re already there.

Preliminary results from the Marketing Week sister title Econsultancy’s Digital Skills Index suggest that senior level marketing employees have better digital knowledge than their juniors. The average scores in the test were 74 per cent for senior respondents, 72 per cent for mid-levels and 67 per cent for juniors.

Senior marketers understand the role of digital in business so well that Gartner predicts the CMO will spend more on IT than the CIO by 2017.

Isolating “digital” to one individual risks wandering into a dangerous territory of categorisation. Is the ad you placed on 4oD “digital”? Was the content partnership you negotiated with Guardian Labs a “digital” media buy? Where does the attribution apply on the customer who went into your store, asked your customer service staff’s recommendation on a sofa, tried it out, but then went back to her desktop PC at work to order a different colour to be delivered to her home address - was that a “digital” conversion?

A CMO owns digital within a business, because digital is increasingly powered into every communication a company has with a customer. They shouldn’t relinquish that ownership.

If a board is considering the creation of a chief digital officer role, it’s likely the CMO isn’t moving the company along fast enough digitally. Within many companies, the hindrance is the lack of collaboration between the marketing and IT departments, for example.

A recent survey from Accenture found 38 per cent of CMOs say IT deliberately keeps them out of the loop and 35 per cent believed IT did not place marketing concerns at a high enough priority. But it is imperative CMOs are strong enough leaders to be able to ward off the creation of a marriage guidance counsellor in the form of a chief digital officer to solve their woes with IT. CMOs are meant to be good communicators by definition.

Of course, a CMO will still require specialists and it is fundamental they empower their teams to become versed in new platforms and technologies. But businesses do not require another c-suite executive to make the case for digital, that battle has already been fought and won. The CMO is the CDO.

Readers' comments (2)

  • Does this have a defensive feel, requiring Gartner to endorse the message?

    Senior marketers understand the role of digital in business so well that Gartner predicts the CMO will spend more on IT than the CIO by 2017.

    I think this endorses the diminishing role of the CIO, rather more than who owns 'digital'.

    Are you suggesting the CMO sees digital as a budget for customers only?

    My instinct is that the emergence of the CDO role -embryonic as you say - is a sort of self-healing corporate reaction to the fact that digital is more than simply about customers, but to do with staff, partners and things (i.e. IoT) too, and that it's more than simply to do with budget allocation but has a technology component which will help solve the problem of how to stitch the whole digital business of a business together in order to serve the customer (digitally).

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  • so obviously written rom the terrified vendors' point of view.

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