Building a bridge from CMO to CIO

The turning point in marketing and IT collaboration
At Nationwide, the turning point for a closer working relationship between me and Mike Keller, our IT leader, was the construction of the CIM, or Customer Information Management, the large-scale dataset we use for all our customer relationships and analytical activities. The building of that database is at the heart of the technology and marketing overlap. We’re using advanced marketing techniques that enable the analysis of millions of customer interactions to design better products or better experiences, which is my role. There’s no way I could do that without a strong partnership with my technology leader to build a stable, safe, secure, clean data environment.

“Don’t underestimate the importance of culture and of modeling the behavior that the senior marketer and the senior technology professionals are good colleagues and friends.”
When we began this program, we put a set of formal and informal structures around it. Mike Keller and I attended every single meeting of the committee that ran the project and oversaw the construction of the database. The two of us also attended every single meeting every single month with the team, which was a cross-functional group that consisted of the technologists who were building the database, the architects, and the program managers. The sense I’m trying to convey is the scope of the personal attention and detail we both put into it. The financial magnitude of the project spend meant that it was reported to the board of directors regularly and was followed with great attention. Both my CIO and I had this as an objective. If this had not gone well, or if it had floundered and languished, or if it just hadn’t been accomplished, I would have personally felt that as a failure to meet an objective and a commitment I’d made to my boss.

Foundations of a strong CMO-CIO relationship
You don’t survive very long as a CMO if you’re not technically capable in classic information technology, but almost more importantly, in the data of marketing. When the marketing team has hard data about customer preferences or user experiences they want, that’s a great basis for the partnership with the IT folks.

A CMO has to deeply understand the business strategy and the role of marketing in that strategy. You should also be able to put yourself in the shoes of the CIO, to say, “What is the technology role in that business strategy?” In my world, you need to be able to ask, “How do the role of marketing in the business strategy and the role of technology need to intersect?” The role of data is massive, whether it’s in the context of a customer experience or special communications or promotional activities. And the tool to improve marketing spend is analytics, which are predicated upon a strong technology foundation and a lot of data. When a marketer brings data and has an analytical orientation, IT folks feel very comfortable.

“When the marketing team has hard data about customer preferences or user experiences, that’s a great basis for partnership with the IT folks.”
On the other side, my CIO colleague asks very deep business questions and has a thirst for marketing. So each side appreciates and understands what the other wants to do.

The organizational building blocks
My CIO and I rely on both formal and informal structures. The most formal structure we have is something called the BTC, or the Business Transformation Council. These are predominantly large-scale IT programs, but they have massive interrelated effects on business processes, including marketing. All of the business presidents and all of the major leaders of finance, IT, and marketing attend this meeting. It takes at least half a day, and it’s very formal. We review all major programs personally.

Second, each of those major programs has a separate meeting. So for this customer information management database that I primarily own and administer, every single month both the CIO and I attend an additional, separate, formal structured meeting with formal reading materials, a budget, and Gantt charts.

I’m also partnering with my CIO to create a chief marketing technologist role. This would be a formal role in marketing for someone with more of a technology background. But I’m not building a shadow IT organization. This is very important. We’re trying to formalize the role of folks who don’t try to do IT but who try to translate marketing needs to the information technology folks more crisply.

“As CIO, you want a CMO to be safe and avoid obvious risk. Marketing has a cultural need to be innovative.”
In terms of informal examples, my CIO and I and a few of our top directs have dinner once a quarter. We bring in an agenda and review where things might have happened on the margin that could have been done better. All of our teams know these dinners happen. They all know how collegial and collaborative we are. Don’t underestimate the importance of culture and of modeling the behavior that the senior marketer and the senior technology professionals are good colleagues and friends.

Hub & Spoke: Organizing our talent
Digital is quite broad, but it’s also one of the fastest-moving areas. The bulk of digital is within marketing., which includes web page designers, user experience labs, and social media—that’s all within marketing. But it’s the IT professionals who actually write the code and make sure we’re properly handling customer data and personally identifiable information.

We organize people and talent in digital through a hub-and-spoke system. We have a center of excellence of about 100 digital marketing professionals. One or two people among the marketing brand leaders help write digital strategies. Those strategies are brought into the digital center of excellence and marketing and turned into what an IT professional would recognize as a more classic program.

“Ultimately, you have shared goals, which are protecting customer data, giving the customer a distinctive experience, and selling more in order to hit revenue targets.”
So a digital strategist will talk about a certain aspect of the user experience. There’s a group within digital marketing that says, “Here are the actual programs you’re going to have to run.” We assign program managers, and these teams are then set up with a group of people within IT. They lay out wire frames, code web pages, do user experience design, make sure that the connection to the legacy systems is accurate, and make sure personally identifiable information is protected.

The need for marketing to come up the curve in digital technology and digital knowledge is what’s driven this partnership and this synthesis to actually get this customer-driven requirement done.

Advice for a CMO
The CMO and the CIO have to have a relationship, trust each other, and understand where the other is coming from. Having established a rapport, you should establish a shared agenda. Each of you will have a set of objectives. Share them. What you’ll find is that a third or half of the items on each agenda will overlap. My CIO and I use that shared agenda as the basis when we have monthly informal one-on-one meetings. We each have a different role to play on the team, but we have shared accountability.

Advice for a CIO
I would tell a CIO that sometimes your CMO is going to do things you might not like. This isn’t to intentionally create risk or do things to make the IT folks nervous, which can happen with stand-up websites or promotional campaigns and social media. Marketing prides itself on being creative and fast-paced. When a competitor does something like a promotional action, marketers want to get out there and do one better. There’s a cultural need to be innovative.

Information technology professionals have to be regimented, process-driven, and risk-focused. That’s okay. If you’re a new CIO, spend some time with your CMO colleague to help him or her understand how you see the world and how you might work together. As CIO, you want a CMO to do these things and to be safe and avoid obvious risk. Addressing that explicitly ahead of time, before a situation arises where these things are in conflict, would be time well spent. Ultimately, you have shared goals, which are protecting customer data, giving the customer a distinctive experience, and selling more in order to hit revenue targets.