Technology now underpins and shapes the entire customer experience, from the delivery of marketing campaigns to the aggregation of analytics and insights. The amount of raw consumer data now available is a major challenge for today’s CMOs; making sense of it, while trying to justify their marketing spend to guarantee ROI, is even harder – especially without a strong bond to the CIO.

Alignment is not just an imperative for the CMO and CIO, but a point of competitive strategy that must be shared across the C-suite. Every organizational unit, from sales to human resources, should be pulling to achieve the promise of digital initiatives. While most marketing organizations and IT departments are moving in the right direction, they are simultaneously falling behind. The state of the art in marketing practices, customer analytics and relevance is changing so rapidly that most companies simply cannot keep up. 

For CMOs, stepping up their ownership of the customer experience requires assuming a leadership role that embraces new digital marketing practices, data-driven strategies and marketing process integration programs and platforms. But they can only do so in close partnership with the CIO and IT function.

In return, the companies that create an impenetrable CMO and CIO alliance, and a broader organizational alignment, will hold the keys to the digital kingdom. The payoff is customer relevance and life-long loyalty, the only real currency in today’s hyper-competitive global marketplace.

Modern technologies allow organizations to understand consumers through their Web, mobile and in-store behavior data, and tie this data  to marketing initiatives in milliseconds. This granular view of the customer intent enables marketers to engage customers across channels (mobile, Web, storefront, phone, email, social, etc.) with a single marketing program.

For example, consider a company that not only knows what searches a potential buyer has performed before entering their site, but also whether this visit is their first or fifth and if they entered the site via Facebook Connect or a smart phone app. This specific behavioral data provides insight into exactly what follow-up content is most relevant and drives the buyer to the next stage of the decision cycle.

There is an obvious need for CIOs and CMOs to take leadership roles in strengthening their alignment, setting a common agenda and moving forward with a definitive plan for marketing transformation and customer relevance. Executives on both sides need to convince the full management team of the importance of moving forward on digital and articulate the consequences of failing to take action.

Whose Data? 

With so much raw data available today, every organization must harness the most relevant data to make the most of the marketing investment. A big part of the problem is that all too often data ownership is unclear within organizations. On one side, there’s marketing, with its desire to exploit data to create close contact and relevant experiences with customers and prospects. On the other, IT strives to protect data, ensuring integrity, customer privacy and security. With seemingly different business outlooks, marketing and IT must work toward the common goal of delivering relevant communications.

A significant transformation in data management practices is needed; gone are the days of big investments in data warehouses that hold massive amounts of useless data that fail to illustrate customer behavior. Today, companies are turning toward solutions that enable better decisions by driving the most relevant data and insights—from both digital and traditional sources. 

This allows teams to focus only on information that has predictive power, such as where consumers have been and what their intent is. And more and more of this so-called “audience management data” is migrating to the cloud so that it’s accessible in real time instead of being siloed in a data warehouse.

Coming Together

Investing in talent, technology and processes to bridge the divide is also critical, as is an organizational mandate that prioritizes transformation. An aligned strategy must identify the investments that will be required for business-wide growth and optimized customer experience. This will counterbalance spending on past technologies that have proven difficult to implement and measure ROI.

According to a 2011 Accenture survey, “CMO-CIO Alignment Imperative,” only a small percentage of marketing and IT executives (8 percent and 6 percent, respectively) say their companies have fully integrated their online and offline analytic capabilities. In fact, only 14 percent of marketers and 10 percent of IT executives say analytics are even well-integrated into their online channels. Considering the mission-critical nature of gaining insights that drive relevance, these numbers are disheartening at best.

The goals and business outcomes of a successful organization must be in total coordination with marketing and IT.  All parts, such as digital advertising channels, 4G wireless network build-outs, social media channels, digital communications and real-time notification, must become cornerstones of successful marketing strategies for global brands. 

At many companies, broad divisions between the functions of CMOs and CIOs remain, and the search for a common language between them seems elusive, as it would appear the two come from different planets. But their differences are a classic case of right-brain versus left-brain thinking and full integration is certainly possible. 

Accenture’s survey found that 45 percent of marketing executives do not agree that their company’s CIO understands marketing objectives and requirements, while 39 percent of IT executives report problems implementing marketing solutions and IT projects.

It seems too easy to chalk up differences to fundamental cultural divides, but it is evident that the situation is more complex, often stemming from budgetary controls, differing organizational objectives, a lack of shared governance and an agreed-upon vision of success.

However, there is a high degree of consensus among CMOs and CIOs on the central role of technology in defining today’s customer experience and powering effective market engagement. They also agree on the critical importance of customer intelligence in creating sustainable business advantage. Both sides, at least in general terms, know what they need to do and clearly bring a unique set of talents, strategy and ability to the table. The problem is that neither group believes they are actually doing a very good job of getting it done.

Today, the distance between thought and action is substantial. And there is a growing fear that this distance will only slow and impair companies, as customers increasingly flock to new, fast-moving channels of engagement. For those who can catch up and keep up, the rewards could be endless. The challenge is getting up to speed and arriving there together, with both the CIO and the CMO locked in step, for the good of the organization.