When will this madness stop?

man smashing laptopDuring a recent presentation to a group of CIOs about my book, Disrupt IT, I used data from an Accenture survey to demonstrate why an increasing number of CMOs are being tempted to bypass their IT function and deal directly with IT suppliers. The purpose of using the data was to illustrate the need for CIOs and the IT function to change the way they work. In other words, it is not the CMO’s fault if they feel that the only way their needs are going to be met is to deal directly with vendors.

After the presentation someone from the company that hosted the event introduced herself to me and explained rather apologetically that she was “one of those marketing people”. Now, for the record, I have nothing against “marketing people”. It is the IT function that has got left behind while the rest of the business, technologies and vendors have all moved on. In this respect I am actually on the side of marketing – IT needs to change to meet the needs of the digital business.

The thing I do object to, however, is the exaggerated, misleading and sometimes simply incorrect headlines and claims about how much marketing will spend on technology, the importance of the CMO role relative to the CIO, the CMO’s power/authority when it comes to technology decisions and the (mis)perception that being a digital business is primarily about marketing and hence the CMO is the natural successor to the CEO, etc. See Lies, damned lies and CMO stories for an example of such a headline.

Now, I suspect that the vast majority of CMOs do not believe these claims and neither do they want to take over IT, have a CIO reporting to them or make key technology decisions without the advice, support and involvement of their IT function. Such headlines are usually propagated by certain analysts and vendors trying to gain publicity and have little to do with what is really happening or should happen, or what CMOs actually think. Just about every CMO I have spoken to wants their IT function to work alongside them, helping to identify technologies and solutions that will help them do their jobs. They want IT to handle the technical discussions with vendors, to ensure issues such as service levels, security and integration are covered, and they want IT to manage the vendors on an ongoing basis so that the marketing teams can just get on and use the tools they need. It is not a difficult concept; if IT does its job well then the rest of the business can do theirs and there is no need for other functions to develop shadow IT teams or bypass the corporate IT department.

The title of this post is based on my reaction when I read an article titled Why You Need A Marketing Technology Strategy. The article uses the fact that many CMOs do not know whether their “marketing technology investments are producing tangible business value” as the basis for recommending that CMOs should “own and define their own marketing technology strategy.” The article then gives a standard and fairly simplistic five-step guide to developing an IT strategy for CMOs to follow.

But is it not the quality of the advice that is the problem, it is the suggestion that marketing needs its own technology strategy which is the issue. In the article Who needs an IT strategy?, I explained why in the digital age it is debatable whether there needs to be a standalone IT strategy at the organisational level so the notion that an individual function should be developing their own technology strategy does not make sense. This is silo thinking. And if there is one thing a business cannot afford in the digital era it is silos of any description.

Front cover advertDesigning, building and launching digital products and services usually involves multiple areas of the organisation working together to create something new and innovative. Being a digital business means being a joined-up business. Digital does not stop at functional boundaries; it flows through the organisation to create integrated offerings and a seamless customer experience. A business with silos, whether organisational, data, systems or any other type, will struggle to survive in the digital age.

Just because marketing is spending an increasing amount on technology does not mean there is a need for a marketing technology strategy. Other functions are also increasing their technology spend as organisations invest in digital initiatives. Do they also need their own technology strategy? Marketing also spends a lot of money on other things so should the CMO have a procurement strategy? Do marketing functions with a large number of in-house staff need a HR strategy? And why not a finance strategy to cover how those growing marketing budgets will be managed?

The point is technology is just another resource used by marketing and every other function in the digital age. The technology used by every business function is part of the overall platform. And that platform must be integrated, secure, reliable and capable of being adapted, changed and developed quickly and easily in response to changes in competitor or customer behaviour, or to gain competitive advantage by being first to market through a new offering. It is the role of IT to design an architecture and relevant standards that ensures the platform meets these needs. And it is the IT function that has to oversee the organisation’s technology investments to ensure they are consistent with these standards. This will be very difficult to achieve if every department is working to its own technology strategy and making decision outside of the corporate standards.

Returning to the original problem that the article was trying to answer – how do CMOs measure the return from their technology investments – surely the answer is that they need to measure the overall effectiveness of the marketing function? As any CIO will tell you, technology is only ever part of the solution. People and processes also have to be considered; it is the combination of all three that produces a return on investment. And increasingly in the digital world those people, process and systems will span multiple functions and sometimes multiple organisations.

We need to move on from the madness of headlines about what CMOs could and should be doing with regard to technology and focus on how IT and marketing can work together and with the rest of the business to create new products, services, and digital experiences. Without doubt IT needs to change to realise this ambition but we also need to stop encouraging CMOs to act in isolation of the rest of the business.

If you are a CIO that wants to create an IT function that can meet the needs of a digital business then please contact me or visit my website, axin.co.uk.


  1. Of course, the big thing you didn’t mention is that much of the nonsense about the CMO – CIO relationship is of course peddled by… technology vendors wanting to sell to CMOs. The article you reference (‘Why You Need A Marketing Technology Strategy’) was a ‘content marketing’ piece written by an employee of Tealium – a provider of digital marketing technology products. Of course, we’re all trying to sell something: but this is one example of Content Marketing that’s masquerading as serious business/technology advice but is really just cynical sales material.

  2. kdsingh1971 says:

    I quite agree with your argument, specially the one regarding the lure of creating catchy headlines by few analysts and vendors. In fact I have argued in one of my blogs ‘Self Interest, Half Knowledge and the CIO Role’ (http://cioleadingchange.com/2013/06/self-interest-half-knowledge-and-the-cio-role-2.html) that when such discussions enters an organization, it is damaging for the digital initiatives.

  3. In an increasingly digital world, the CMO is often the custodian of the customer experience. A marketing eye can be much more insightful than a technology one when pefecting this, however IT’s ability to satify the CMO isn’t always that easy. All the online stores are competing with Amazon, and the only way to keep up or beat them is to continuously innovate. Coming up with the ideas (marketing) is easy. Having the infrastructure in IT to implement them in weeks rather than months is tough. I agree that IT and Marketing need to work side by side, but additionaly it need executive sponsorship from the CEO/CFO, and an acceptance of change by the CIO in order to fundamentally change the way IT, and thus the business works.


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