The Chief Digital Officer: Marketing Leadership for a New Age?

Feb 21, 2013

Jay Brokamp

Part of any marketer’s role (and any executive’s role, really) is to identify emerging industry trends and separate those with real staying power from the mere flavors of the week. This is particularly difficult when it comes to tracking emerging digital resources. For example, while experience would suggest Twitter is the second-most utilized social networking tool, a new report states that Google+ has actually overtaken Twitter in percent of market-share and active users.

While social media is just one example, the point is that while these individual trends can be tough to predict, one thing is clear: digital marketing mediums are not just here to stay; they are ever-expanding. And their growing prevalence means new challenges that stretch well beyond the confines of the marketing department.

The problem with going digital
Whether it’s via social media, e-mail, smartphone apps, or a traditional or mobile website, target audiences can be reached across a multitude of digital platforms. The problem for businesses in reaching those audiences comes down to a knowledge gap: the marketing team doesn’t have the IT knowledge to build resources and the IT department doesn’t have the marketing knowledge to build resources that resonate. Furthermore, whose responsibility is it to manage allotment of resources for these projects?

2-21-13_thumbIn order to bridge this gap, many organizations have created a new role – the Chief Digital Officer. According to predictions from research firm Gartner, 25% of organizations will have a CDO by 2015. Not taking into account the number of organizations who will create a more junior role to serve in a similar capacity, this underscores the urgency many businesses are feeling when it comes to taming the digital frontier.

As summed up by Gartner vice president and distinguished analyst David Willis, "The Chief Digital Officer plays in the place where the enterprise meets the customer, where the revenue is generated and the mission accomplished. They're in charge of the digital business strategy. That's a long way from running back office IT, and it's full of opportunity."

Are CDOs the only answer?
While a good overview of the job description, there are still questions about the nature of this new role that companies will have to answer on an individual basis: Will this position evolve from marketing or IT? How will that affect the competition for resources? Can the CDO operate effectively with the resources given, or will other subordinate positions and resources be necessary? Depending on how you answer those questions, it may be right to ask if it’s even worth investing in a new C-level position.

The fact of the matter is this: One person, however necessary, isn’t going to be a panacea in solving the woes brought about by digital adaptation, especially for marketers who will need constant IT support to evolve their strategy. The problem here for marketers really boils down to one of two things:

• The company has enough resources to support marketing but they are just not managed and/or distributed properly.
• The company does not have enough resources to support marketing.

While bringing on a CDO is a viable answer to the first problem, both of these issues can be resolved (partially, if not wholly) through alternative solutions. For example, web-based marketing resource management systems (MRMs) can help reduce reliance on in-house technical support for marketing initiatives. Full-service SaaS MRM partners provide additional support such as software administration that allows marketing teams to focus on creating customizable content and developing highly targeted campaigns.

The digital landscape is ever-changing and hard to get a grip on, but the one thing we know is that no one is trading in their smartphone any time soon, so adaptation is a must. As expanding digital use has blurs the lines between marketing and IT, we are seeing the emergence of Chief Digital Officers to solve this challenge. But while CDOs may fill a gap in management, they won’t necessarily alleviate the strain on resources marketers face in adapting their strategy to new mediums and new web-based solutions should be considered.

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Tags: digital marketing, CDO, IT, MRM, marketing technology, marketing resource management

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