CMO vs. CIO? The future of marketing + IT

Just a few years ago, asking the question whether the CIO and CMO roles were merging would have been madness. They couldn’t have been further apart. The CMO was a key part of a company’s leadership team, driving performance and changing the course of the organization, while in most cases the CIO didn’t even have a seat at the table. Collaboration tools were hardly on either department’s radar.

That’s no longer the case—or, at least, that’s what we’ve been led to believe. If you believe Gartner’s January 2012 report entitled “By 2017 the CMO will Spend More on IT Than the CIO” and IBM’s annual CIO surveys, it would seem these two roles are on a collision course. Is it true?

Help me, I’m a CMO!

The role of the CMO is changing. Not necessarily because CMOs want to change, but because market conditions are forcing them to adapt. Today’s marketing is increasingly digital in nature—AdWeek anticipates digital will make up “between 25 percent and 49 percent of…overall media mix” in 2013—and with the adoption of digital marketing come a new set of skills and priorities. Digital marketing is driven by data, made relevant through personalization, creates communities through social media, and evolves through analytics. As a result, traditional marketers are being replaced by “Marketing Technologists“—a hybrid-breed that is part marketer and part IT guru—indeed, IDC predicts that: “Starting in 2013, after the CMO realizes that he/she does not have the skill sets in place for data analytics proficiency, 50% of new marketing hires will have technical backgrounds.” Whether this is accurate remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that a major shift in the make-up of marketing departments is taking place.

Help me, I’m a CIO!

The CIO’s role is changing at the same time – and, once again, it’s market forces that are causing the change. The rise of IT consumerization, led by initiatives such as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and a new generation of workers who demand better tools and hardware, coupled with the increasingly important role of technology throughout organizations, has changed the emphasis of the role. CIO no longer just stands for Chief Information Officer; it also stands for Chief Innovation Officer and Chief Integration Officer. With a broad view of the organization that is born from supporting their infrastructure needs, the CIO is now well-placed to be able to see where technology can enable efficiency and transform productivity – moving from a reactive role to a proactive one. In this new role, it’s less about new servers and laptops, and more about software and hardware solutions that make businesses leap ahead of the competition.

Two roles, one space

An increasingly business-savvy CIO and an increasingly technical CMO. A shifting business landscape. It’s in this space that Gartner’s statement lives, this mythical space where all IT is in the marketing domain. In reality, despite the rise of technology in the delivery and analysis of marketing campaigns, there are still many areas where the two operate completely independently. The one area that does overlap: marketing automation and related services. In the new landscape of easily procured and easy to use cloud-based software, marketing suddenly has the ability to select and implement without IT’s assistance, whether it’s a complete marketing automation suite, a simple email campaign tool, or a new CRM platform. It’s here where marketing spend on technology could well outstrip IT’s – simply because IT isn’t involved in the transaction.

Death by misadventure misunderstanding

Despite the rise of cloud-based services that offer a lower level of entry into the traditionally IT space, Marketing IT is not always CIO IT, and CIO digital knowledge does not replace the nuances of the CMO role. Alexander Pope, the famous English poet, has been famously misquoted as saying “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”, and he was right. This is still evident today, not least in this quote from Ian Forrest, Vice President of Marketing for GE Capital: “Logically as a marketer, you’re going to be thinking: How do I go faster? How do we go deeper? And you’re going to be a lot more reactive because you don’t have to deal with IT.”

It’s a misunderstanding of the twin roles of CIO and CMO, or more broadly of IT and Marketing, that leads to this kind of statement.

IT departments are often seen as full of naysayers, more driven by process than business need. As we explored in a previous article, this is no longer the case in many organizations. Increasingly, IT is becoming a strategic support function which is more consultative in nature, and whose role it is to champion the use of technology as an enabler – making existing systems and processes more efficient. Marketing needs to wake up to this change, and also understand that governance and control is IT’s strong suit. Digital marketing is data-driven, so when the data police come knocking, you had better hope that IT has your back.

Marketing departments, on the other hand, are seen by some IT departments as technology Luddites caught in a blizzard of buzzwords and desperately reaching out for mobile applications and social networks “because everyone else is doing it.” This attitude is just as destructive. Marketing typifies the BYOD generation, and has a real understanding of the way customer interaction is changing – despite its early adopter status, IT needs to stop assuming that it knows best. They are not marketers.

The way forward

The most successful organizations will adapt and embrace the changing roles of the C-suite. Businesses don’t stay relevant by staying the same, they change and evolve over time in reaction to market conditions. The alliance of a marketing-savvy CIO and a tech-savvy CMO is a strong one that can pay real benefits. There is a better alignment in terms of business and technology requirements, but at the same time a strong tension – IT guardians versus marketing pioneers – that holds excesses in check.

Back in 2010, Scott Brinker wrote that “embedded IT within…marketing” was a possible approach to the issue of who owns and defines “marketing technology.” It’s 2013 now; it’s time that we made this a reality and got on with business as usual.

Are your marketing and IT departments a slick well-oiled collaboration machine? Or are they more like oil and water? Have you felt the benefits of a combined technology and marketing approach? Let us know your experiences in the comments.

Post by James Gardner

is a digital technology strategist. Now working in the pharmaceutical industry, he previously worked at Volume, one of the largest independent B2B digital marketing agencies in the UK. Throughout his career, he has dealt with everything from social media and cloud computing to storage area networks and virtualization, giving him a broad view on the technology issues facing businesses today. In his spare time he can be found making cars out of Legos - with his two kids obviously - or dreaming of a walk-on part in a Romero zombie movie.

7 Responses to CMO vs. CIO? The future of marketing + IT

  1. Pingback: Central Desktop: CMO vs. CIO? The future of marketing + IT « Writing by James

  2. The tension and the transition are both palpable.

    I’m curious as to how the dynamic between the CIO/CMO effects the sales cycle and process? Do vendors now need to sell aggressively to both IT and Line of Business? Does one wield more power than the other?

    Perhaps its more difficult for vendors during this transitory period – but I’m interested in understanding how this shakes out over the next few years.

  3. Great post, James…and insightful comment, Isaac Garcia. For me, our marketing and IT departments were not so much a “slick well-oiled collaboration machine” as a well-attended table in each other’s offices…which often led to budgeted collaboration IF other CXOs and stakeholders were A. Current on this topic (not likely), B. Persuaded of the value, much less revenue-driving necessity, to approve budgets for our collaborative projects (More likely). Examples of approved collaborative projects successfully presented were a stand-alone server for more effective email marketing; a digital tour for prospects of our secured client-portal; integrated, multi-division prospect-response channeling. And small but brand significant, consistent global branding style of internal email signatures. As for vendors, CIO and CMO discussed and often met with vendors as a more powerful team on the same page.

  4. Debbie Qaqish


    Really excellent article. Brings home the point of the changing roles for CMO and CIO, analyzes what is different and presents a clear idea of what the future may look like.

    I really enjoyed reading it and think there will be a lot more discussion on this topic. We are seeing this every day with our larger clients and it will also be a chapter in my upcoming book: Rise of the Executive Revenue Marketer.



  5. Jeff Ton


    Outstanding post! I like the “opposing” Help Me sections. It really highlights the opportunity ahead of us.

    Isaac, you raise a great question about the vendor dynamic in the changing landscape. I think that is a challenge for the CIO. They must stay involved as a partner with the business units so they continue to “have a seat at the table” for procurement decisions. If not, there is a danger in an architecture that quickly becomes unsustainable, with disparate applications that do not integrate with each other.

  6. Mark

    I have started to slowly see the two actually begin the slow transition of working more collaboratively rather than the vs. described here. That said, it is going to take some time. Most recently, I saw a more obvious attempt to see the two groups approach one another as true partners.

  7. Pingback: Mktr2Mktr » Blog Archive » So your company sells enterprise technology. Should you be marketing to business decision-makers?

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