CDO, c-suite’s newest role will be short-lived

The role of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) has been much debated over the years. Today, it’s the ‘go to’ answer for global CEOs looking to adapt to the digital world. However, much like putting your head under the covers and ignoring the importance of digital all together, hiring a CDO isn’t the answer.

Recent months have seen a flurry of global organisations announcing the appointment of chief digital officers including Nike, Morgan Stanley and AOL. Often, as CEOs wake up to the importance of digital, the CDO role is a logical next step when scrambling to bring in someone with digital experience to manage all of the new digital touchpoints that now play a part in the customer journey.

It’s no surprise that in a recent PWC study of 1,500 companies, only 6% had a Chief Digital Officer, yet just over a third of those CDOs were hired in the last year.

Crucially, the missed step is checking whether that person already exists within the business. According to a global survey of 499 CMOs and senior marketing executives sponsored by Marketo and conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) this year, 90% of European respondents expect to own the entire customer journey for their organisation by 2020, up from 79% who believe that today.

Two fundamental problems of the CDO

Firstly, it signals to both employees and the wider public that no one in the company really knows what to do with digital. This ‘all eggs in one basket approach’ undermines the expertise that has evolved throughout the organisation and generates the perception internally that digital is a problem to be siloed away and solved somewhere else.

Secondly, as we settle into this new digital world and digital extends across all customer touchpoints, a CDO is like hiring a chief PowerPoint officer or even a chief breathing officer – it doesn’t make sense to put one person in charge of something that everyone must own.

> See also: Is a CDO just a CIO who collaborates with marketing?

For individuals thinking of aspiring to become a CDO, think again. It’s been widely reported that the measure of a CDO’s success is when the role becomes unnecessary. Therefore, any well-functioning digital company doesn’t have a need for a CDO, and – in years to come – neither should any company.

There’s no longevity in the role or function, as digital becomes inherent to all aspects of an organisation and its relationship with the customer.

So if the CDO isn’t the answer to driving digital across all of the business, who or what is? To address this question, let’s start by looking at the CMO. Responsible for fostering customer relationships, embracing digital as a means to personalise brand engagements has been essential.

This has meant that for the past 10 years digital has grown up in the marketing function because no other team had to take control or adapt to changes in the same way. Digital has developed to empower marketers to become the steward of the customer relationship.

Gartner research even points out that marketing is so inextricably linked to technology that by 2017, CMOs are projected to spend more money on information technology and analytics than CIOs – a remarkable development considering how many CEOs think that they need to appoint a CDO.

Taking a step back

To understand the state of affairs within the C-suite today, it’s important to consider that historically the CMO was an incredibly creative mind that managed agencies and outsourced the task of developing a campaign. In a digital world, the role has been transformed. Marketers must now adopt a far more scientific, data driven mind-set.

It’s understandable that the decision by the CEO to employ a CDO is linked to the fact that CMOs perceive digital orientation to be their weakest capability. But if the marketing function is ever going to be taken seriously as the organisation’s digital driver, CMOs and marketers need to rise up to the challenge and make digital their strongest capability.

A recent study by Accenture stated that it’s up to the CMO to prove they can serve as catalysts that can help embrace broader digital opportunities for their organisation while defending against threats.

Redrawing the c-suite

So how can marketers pre-empt the invasion of the CDO? Put simply, it’s tied to confidence, and there are positive signs on the horizon. The findings of the recent Economist Intelligent Unit report showed new confidence among 90% of European CMOs that believe they will exercise significant influence over business strategy by 2020.

To make good on this belief, marketers must make it clear to the C-Suite that they recognise the importance of digital, and are actively taking steps to embrace this in everything they do – after all, they’ve held the responsibility for the past 10 years.

> See also: How CDOs can harness the right combination of people and technology

Teams will also need new skill sets to engage customers across emerging channels, but if they can demonstrate an understanding, they will foster trust and support amongst peers and the CEO.

As the shift toward a more digital world continues to become apparent, a company’s digital strategy and its overall corporate strategy are now deeply connected and often the same thing. Marketers must accept the fact that digital isn’t just another string in the marketing bow – it’s a fundamental part of everything the business does.

The quicker this change in mind-set occurs, the sooner CEOs can set their trust in marketing to be the steward of the customer relationship in a digital world.

Sourced from Sanjay Dholakia, CMO, Marketo

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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