The CMO responsibility shift

October 2022

We’re all familiar with the traditional C-suite structure with a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) sat at the top, with clear reporting lines below. Depending on the organisation the executives sitting directly below the CEO could include a Chief Finance Officer (CFO), Chief Information Officer (CIO) and, of course, Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). But business operating models have changed, and the C-suite is rapidly evolving alongside it.

Most recently, the primary driver for change to operating models has been a greater reliance on digital channels for businesses during the Covid-19 lockdowns. The move has been so dramatic that the UK saw online spending increase by more than a third (36%) during 2020 – representing a huge shift in consumer shopping behaviour and causing significant challenges for businesses that were hit by physical premise closures and online presence not being up to the mark. This has driven digital transformation initiatives onward, helping technology penetrate all areas of a business.

Traditionally, the digital investments required to make this work were driven by the CIO, with budgets firmly sitting in the IT department. However, as these channels increasingly represent a significant part of the customer experience, this budgetary ownership division no longer makes commercial or practical sense. These days, you’re more likely to see the CMO holding this budget and creating change, with the customer firmly front and centre of any investment. This is reflected in Gartner’s 2021 CMO Spend Survey, which found just over a quarter (27%) of marketing departments’ overall budgets were allocated to marketing technology and nearly three-quarters (72%) of their communications budget spent on digital channels.

Increased accessibility of tech

Part of this change has been driven naturally by the accessibility of technology. CIOs first began appearing in the mid-1980s, just as home computers were becoming affordable. At the time, the people who were comfortable with the technology had been trained in the technology – so a distinct business unit dedicated to technology made sense.

While technology experts are still vital for any business, the use of technology is no longer limited to those with specialist training; the sight of a five-year-old navigating a tablet’s interface to find their favourite YouTube video is a clear indication that almost anyone can use technology to some extent.

The result is marketing experts (and, ultimately, the wider company at large) who have a working knowledge of technology and are no longer willing to sit back as the tech team make all the decisions that impact their area of specialism. This is resulting in CMOs becoming more involved in choices around the technology used to develop online channels, such as content management systems (CMS). Many CMSs don’t require a deep level of technical knowledge to use, further narrowing the divide between marketing and technology.

CIO and the CMO

CIOs and CMOs have more in common than people think. They must both provide measurable results that tie into the overall business and deliver a compelling customer experience. While historically the CMO was the “ideas person” who trusted their gut instinct, now they must quantify their ideas with data-driven insights and analytics. Just like the CIO, the CMO cannot do their job without technology – a fact that is now being reflected in their budgets.

It's healthy and natural for the line between CIOs and CMOs to blur. A congenial relationship between the two is critical to the overall success of any organisation, and it’s likely the divide will disappear entirely within the next few years. In fact, when we begin conversations with any new client, we ask that someone from both teams be present at the sales meeting; this ensures that conversations run smoothly further down the line.

Some organisations have recognised this trend by appointing a Chief Digital Officer, who can dip their toes in both ponds – however research indicates only about 20% of companies worldwide have taken this step. The next move may well be rejecting the creation of a CDO in favour of making digital transformation the responsibility of the entire executive team.

More broadly, there should be a close relationship between all C-suite executives, not just the CIO and CMO. Everyone needs to collaborate with the CIO, because everyone relies on technology to do their jobs.

New C-suite roles

Chief Digital Officer isn’t the only new C-suite position borne from the changing role of technology. Chief Growth Officer, Chief Customer Officer, and Chief Experience Officer are just a few of the executives that have popped up in recent years.

Ultimately, it’s not about the job title, but the job function – and technology plays a key role for them all. All C-suite executives need to be sensitive to the organisation’s IT strategy and make sure they complement it, as they will be relying on it to get their jobs done.

Digital transformation isn’t a buzzword, it’s the direction that everything is heading. Opening the lines of communication for marketing and tech teams to work together is the best way to ensure that an organisation doesn’t just survive, but thrives in today’s digital-powered MarTech landscape.

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