How Marketers Can Shape The Chief Digital Officer Role
Posted by Jennifer Wolfe on 21st March 2013 in ClickZ

Digital assets are often at the center of today’s marketing and social media initiatives, many of which cross over long-standing company silos. As a result, forward-looking companies are arming themselves with a new senior executive: the Chief Digital Officer (CDO).

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The CDO’s main purpose is to provide strategic direction for how a company leverages its digital assets and reputation in a digital world. CMOs and their marketing teams have a tremendous opportunity to help shape this role; in many instances, if marketing doesn’t take this lead, then IT quickly will.

While the CDO role includes many functions, integrating with marketing is most central to long-term success. Additionally, the role of the CDO can bolster marketing if cultivated in a way to integrate the many facets of digital strategy into the overall marketing strategy. Without leadership from marketing in developing and empowering the CDO, digital may never realize its full potential or, worse, spin off into its own silo and be counterproductive to traditional marketing initiatives.

A few leading companies have already announced the CDO role. Microsoft, Starbucks, The Washington Post, Lincoln Financial, TOMS, and even universities such as Harvard and MIT have restructured with a CDO. These organizations recognized that having digital fragmented across groups was not effectively tapping into the power of digital strategy and assets–for example, connecting social media engagement platform with e-commerce, Wi-Fi strategies (for brick-and-mortar outlets), mobile applications, and other functions. Additionally, bridging offline and online experiences also falls under the CDO umbrella, yet inherently requires a connection to and understanding of marketing.

Recent industry reports show that companies now spend more on social, mobile and related apps than on traditional media. Social media departments have popped up across companies or have been outsourced to specialty agencies. With these activities often parsed out to separate brand managers, few organizations have tied them all under once strategic digital roof where economies of scale and better implementation could prevail.

In the past 20 years, CMOs have been required to learn a new language and manage big data that challenges every aspect of how organizations are run. Now savvy marketers recognize the valuable data and intelligence driven from digital-related marketing efforts. Add to this the addition of thousands of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) set to begin to launching this year—potentially shifting the domain name landscape forever. The reach of digital is too broad to be housed in any existing department and warrants its own leader. For marketing executives, now is the time to get engaged in defining the CDO role and ensuring strategies are in synch.

CDOs can also help a company integrate e-commerce into a cohesive strategy that impacts marketing initiatives. In addition, as more marketers become content curators, the need for data about consumer choice is essential. Starbucks, for example, uses its Starbucks Digital Network to stream localized, valuable content that has enhanced the overall consumer experience. Starbuck’s CDO has gone a step further, driving social innovation through job initiatives and other social movements. The CDO can also work hand-in-hand with marketing to use data captured through digital strategies to find, attract, and engage new customers. Ultimately, the key messaging and themes of these digital initiatives must flow in and out of marketing messaging and strategies.

In addition to working with the CMO, the CDO will cross over the divide to work with the CIO and corporate communications on reputation management. Together they must ensure the company is monitored and information is distributed, brands and assets are protected, privacy issues are evaluated and audited regularly, and the technical infrastructure of its digital assets are properly developed in synch with legacy company technology.

At its core, ROI from the CDO role can be determined by the P&L of digital initiatives. In addition, a few other advantages to the company include eliminating redundancies associated with fragmentation of digital initiatives across a company. The ability to use data analytics across numerous departments can improve overall company performance; for example, the same data that helps detect counterfeiting or brand infringement can also be used to help corporate communications planning for reputation management. A CDO can also work to eliminate digital blunders with more focused strategy and implementation. How many companies and CEOs have gotten in trouble because of a tweet, Facebook post, or text gone awry?

The role of the CDO is emerging and becoming of increasing importance. Forward-thinking companies will begin to look at this as an important next step in the evolution of the corporate structure. Savvy marketing executives can lead the changing landscape by shaping the role of the CDO to strategically integrate and align with marketing initiatives.