3 steps for CMOs to win the support of the CIO



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September 22, 2022 | 6 min read

With collaboration between the marketing and IT departments vital to a strong, healthy brand, Acxiom’s Beth-Anne Bygum (chief security and compliance officer) and Janet Cinfio (chief information officer) outline three steps CMOs can take to align with their CIO

In case you didn’t get the memo, collaboration between the chief marketing officer (CMO) and the chief information officer (CIO) is no longer optional. It’s a must.

Why? Because almost everything the CMO does is now digital. From business goals and resources to outcomes and accomplishments, the world the CMO is looking to influence is digital, with all the data used to meet customer and business needs traversing digital infrastructure. The smart CMO can leverage the CIO’s insights, from upcoming trends and cost-efficient design, to optimized operations.

What’s more, the CMO relies on service resilience to maintain consistent performance and deliver a consistent brand experience. But this ability is under pressure due to a variety of factors stretching beyond the natural rapid pace at which technology develops. These include changing economic and geo-political conditions as well as privacy and security concerns, which all impact supply chains and have a knock-on effect on ESG requirements.

These are all areas where the CMO and CIO should be working together. Collaboration allows the CIO to be a business and technology enabler, helping provide the CMO with the resilience required to maintain great experiences and brand strength.

So what’s the hold up?

Troubled dynamic or dynamic duo?

At times the relationship between the CMO and CIO may seem adversarial, but to us, it’s perfectly symbiotic, a healthy tension that stems from the way we train as two professions through to our remits. Marketing is always looking forward, wanting to explore the boundaries of capabilities that allow the brand to adapt to and interact with its customers’ rapidly evolving digital behaviors. While equally focused on business success, IT’s natural focus is on integration, security, and delivering consistent performance as economically as possible.

In practice, collaborating around the unique objectives of each party delivers a powerful opportunity, as long as each role takes the time to understand the purpose and motivations of the other. With that in mind, here are three steps CMOs can take together with CIOs to effectively align, collaborate, and succeed.

Step one: Form trusted partnerships from the outset

The notion that CIOs exist to “keep the lights on” is outmoded, and most already have a far more strategic role. When the CMO and CIO connect frequently, the outcome is often more innovative and better-performing designs. In the future, we hope we’ll see both roles invited to cross-functional conferences and introduced to new challenges and capabilities at the same time, but that’s a whole other article.

For now, forming trusted partnerships means having early conversations when the marketing team is exploring new strategies or technologies that the CIO will ultimately need to operationalize. Shedding potential historic territorial concerns, this also means ensuring both teams are working to solve the same problems in an integrated way without worrying about who will get the credit. After all, the problems the CMO is trying to solve today will eventually become new systems and services the CIO will need to develop and maintain.

There’s a general perception that CMOs want to lead with new tools and technologies, while CIOs want to form long-term relationships with specific vendors. But in the cloud-first era, there’s a combination of flexibility and hidden expenses in which the CIO is most fluent, and a compromise that works for all can usually be achieved through good communication.

Step two: Forecast early and set long-term goals

A key area the CMO and CIO need to collaborate on is their long-term strategies and roadmaps.

The CMO is effectively driving what the next generation of data and technology will look like because they’re on the front line of customer experience, defining the brand’s future needs. The CIO could potentially forecast ahead just by sitting down with the CMO and understanding how they are trying to connect with the customer.

As an example, CMOs are already thinking about how to balance customer interactions in both the metaverse and the physical realm. Integration of digital capabilities across realms is critical to customer experience that directly impacts brand reputation. When the CMO and CIO develop shared strategies and roadmaps, the CMO can ensure the infrastructure to sustain their vision is part of the IT roadmap.

Step three: Lean into the incubator opportunity

We’ve already discussed how CMOs and CIOs need to partner at an earlier stage when they’re exploring new capabilities. What we didn’t mention was that this provides the opportunity for the marketing department to be a proof-of-concept that the CIO can leverage to transform their long-term roadmaps.

If a CMO wants to be an early adopter of a new capability (which can be crucial to maintaining brand resilience), their CIO can work with them on how to get there. If the marketing team acts as a proof-of-concept for a new investment, the CIO can better forecast how they need to shift infrastructure to support the CMO ahead of the eventual launch.

Allies not adversaries

If we’re honest, the title of this piece may be a little misleading. The truth is the CIO and the CMO are already on the same side and ultimately want the same thing: healthy, resilient, trusted brands that customers want to interact with, today and in the future.

We believe a strong CMO and CIO partnership is vital to brand success in the current climate. And it’s easily achievable with open communication where each partner is willing to listen and consider the other’s viewpoint as well as putting forward their own thoughts.

So don’t wait. Just pull up a chair and see what you can achieve together today.



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