10 things I hate about narrow CIO vs. CMO arguments


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Last night, Vala Afshar and Michael Krigsman announced on Twitter that I would be their guest on CxO Talk show this Friday. A harmless enough promotional tweet, I thought. But crikey, it instigated a bit of a Twitter brawl over the topic of CMOs, CIOs, and tech budgets.

Here’s a sample of how it started:

CIO vs. CMO Twitter Debate

Twitter is not my preferred format for a meaningful discussion, so I thought I’d reply with this post. And I certainly welcome any and all useful comments, whether you agree or disagree with me.

The short version is: CMO vs. CIO arguments almost always suffer terribly from a “narrow frame.” Who should be in charge of marketing technology, the CMO or the CIO? Who should have the budget and responsibility to spend on tech-driven marketing, the one or the other?

That’s almost always an unproductive debate — because, frankly, there are good points on both sides. Instead, a better approach is to widen the frame. In a nod to the book Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath, everyone at the table should move beyond a false dichotomy of marketing vs. IT and ask: are there even better options? (And no, I don’t mean simply hiring a CDO.)

Most of these choices shouldn’t be A or B, but rather a combination of A and B.

Two of the people who chimed in on the Twitter “exchange” last night with what I believe were insightful comments:

Dell CIO on CMO/CIO Partnership

Holger Mueller, a VP at Constellation Research, who pointed folks at his excellent blog post: Can we please stop the [silly] CMO vs. CIO spend debate? (Amen, brother.)

Adriana Karaboutis, the global CIO at Dell, who remarked that IT is ubiquitous, CIOs and CMOs should partner for innovation and value creation — otherwise it’s the competition who wins. (Well said!)

Both of these remarks, I’ll emphasize, are about CIO and CMO collaboration. AND, not OR. Here are a few additional “wide frame” remarks that I’ll add, absolutely none of which fit in 140 characters or less:

10 not-quite-Tweetable remarks on the CIO vs. CMO debate

#1. Marketing is now a technology-powered discipline. We can debate the split of budgets and responsibilities in that mission, and we can debate the pros and cons of different organizational structures to manage it. But if you’re seriously debating whether marketing in a digital world is or is not deeply entwined with technology, please read my super short book, A NEW BRAND OF MARKETING. This train has left the station.

#2. Marketing cannot abdicate its relationship to technology — even if the CMO or the CIO might prefer that. An amazing CIO does not absolve the CMO of the responsibility to harness technology in the design and delivery of brilliant marketing and compelling customer experiences. You can’t lead this at arm’s length.

#3. Knowledge is not a zero sum game. Having a tech-savvy marketing department does not imply a weak IT department. Organizations benefit from having as many people as possible skilled in wielding technology to excel in their work. We need to hire and train more! Most of the “tech” that marketing is working with today is net new to the organization — this is not about taking things away from IT. In truth, it’s more taking things away from traditional media and marketing.

#4. The role of a chief marketing technologist is to help marketing be more effective in its use of technology. It’s not shadow IT. It’s not a replacement for the IT department. It is a liaison to help marketing be more successful in its relationship with IT (and, for that matter, its relationship with increasingly tech-powered agencies too).

#5. Marketing technology is not ERP. It’s not at all like software used for finance, HR, or manufacturing. It’s about designing and delivering customer experiences that will define your brand — and that is the core of marketing today. It’s done in an environment that is constantly shifting, out of your control, where the most important actors — your prospects and customers — are under no obligation to willingly adhere to your ideas of process.

#6. There is no “one size fits all” approach to organizational structure. The “right” relationship between CIOs, CMOs, and CDOs depends on the business, its culture, its industry, its choice of competitive advantages, and the individuals involved. There is not a universal “right way” to tackle these issues. What matters is finding a structure that is right for your specific organization.

#7. The definition of “tech” is broad — and getting broader every day. To say that IT is in charge of all things tech is unrealistic in an age of BYOD and ubiquitous web access. IT cannot be in charge of all tech spending because tech is interwoven into so many sources of spending. Does IT purchase and operate the badge scanners at a conference? Does IT control how marketing uses Google AdWords to bid on keywords? Should IT write the code anytime someone wants to include HTML in a sponsored email campaign? Of course not.

#8. All tech is not equal — and should not be governed equally. Selecting the company’s core CRM or marketing automation platform is not at the same level of, say, selecting a content curation tool or an agile marketing project management tool. For key infrastructure systems, IT and marketing should deeply collaborate in their selection, integration, and operation. For a whole multitude of other non-critical marketing software tools, overbearing IT governance simply imposes costs — including opportunity costs — with little benefit.

#9. The greatest tech expense is talent. This is true in all departments, and marketing and IT are no exception. Your marketing analytics software is not going to cost you as much as your VP of marketing analytics. It’s probably not going to cost you as much as your front-line analyst. When seeking to optimize tech spend, let’s make sure that we’re optimizing the overall equation, not just baseline vendor costs.

#10. Our focus should be on the customer and the overall business, not IT vs. marketing. Debating budgets and responsibilities outside of the context of what we collectively need to do to deliver remarkable customer experiences is a pointless exercise. The why, what, and how of leveraging marketing technology are far more important than who does which pieces and who pays for which pieces. Horse before cart.

There are more points to be made, but if these haven’t convinced you that an all-or-nothing IT vs. marketing debate is a misplaced investment of intellectual energy, then there is probably nothing I can do to persuade you to take a more open approach to this discussion. That would be a shame though, because the world really could use more creative thinking on this topic.

Agree? Disagree? Feel there’s something important I’ve missed? Do tell.

I’m sure that Friday’s CxO Talk will be interesting.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Scott Brinker
Scott Brinker is the president & CTO of ion interactive, a leading provider of post-click marketing software and services. He writes the Conversion Science column on Search Engine Land and frequently speaks at industry events such as SMX, Pubcon and Search Insider Summit. He chairs the marketing track at the Semantic Technology Conference. He also writes a blog on marketing technology, Chief Marketing Technologist.


  1. Scott, I’m afraid I agree with Esteban. Which hasn’t happened since 2009!

    Whether marketing buys more technology than IT is a pointless discussion. Call centers buy more technology than everyone else, so what?

    Tech buying has been moving towards business leaders for the last 20 years. Should we have a chief service technologist? A chief sales technologist?

    Marketing leaders, just like their counterparts in sales and service, should understand their customers first, their discipline second, and then figure out how technology can support their operation.

    I think marketers that decide they can go it alone, without collaboration with the CIO, are in for a rude awakening to the range of issues that must be managed.

    All that said, you got it exactly right in your last point:
    #10. Our focus should be on the customer and the overall business, not IT vs. marketing.


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