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CIO vs. CMO: Who Owns What?

Jennifer Dublino
Jennifer Dublino
business.com Contributing Writer
Updated Sep 20, 2022

Businesses invest heavily in marketing technology. But who controls the budget and owns decisions?

The chief marketing officer (CMO) role has been around for a while now. Still, as digital marketing strategies and marketing tech solutions gain prominence, CMOs and chief information officers (CIOs) have found their responsibilities overlapping.

As a result, the lines of division between roles and responsibilities are increasingly blurred.

For instance, CIOs are generally responsible for evaluating and implementing technology solutions for the enterprise, yet CMOs who lead marketing initiatives have a vested interest in many of these solutions.

Who should be responsible for selecting and investing in the best content management systems for an organization? What about customer analytics tools, secure marketing automation and customer relationship management (CRM) solutions

CMO and CIO roles explained

To understand how businesses navigate technology purchases, it helps to know the roles and responsibilities of the CMO and the CIO.

What is the CMO’s role in an organization?

The chief marketing officer is responsible for planning, developing and implementing the organization’s marketing strategy, including brand identity and advertising. They also handle the web design process, trade shows, email marketing campaigns, promotions, social media marketing, events and more. 

Many of these marketing responsibilities include digital technology, such as high-end computers for graphic design; external technology vendors, such as Google for advertising; CRM systems, big data insights; and artificial intelligence. 

In some organizations, the CMO role is combined with sales functions, including new-business development, distribution channel management, and sales team management. The role may even spill over into product development and customer service. 

The CMO’s focus is external. This executive communicates the organization’s marketing message to current and potential customers to increase brand awareness, improve market perception, and ultimately increase sales and boost profitability.

What is the CIO’s role in an organization?

The chief information officer’s responsibilities include planning, deploying and maintaining information technology (IT) systems and operations. The CIO may have some or all of these responsibilities:

  • Managing software development needs
  • Purchasing the best business phone systems
  • Maintaining network, device and data security
  • Instituting IT policies, procedures and best practices throughout the organization 
  • Monitoring local area networks and internet connectivity
  • Supervising individual computer and mobile device setup and permissions
  • Handling database setup and security
  • Implementing firewalls and virtual private networks
  • Installing highly rated antivirus solutions and other breach-protection measures

The CIO’s focus is both internal and external. They ensure employees have continuous, smooth use of hardware, software and networks. They also aim to protect the company’s technology assets from cybercriminals.

TipTip: A cybersecurity risk assessment can help CIOs identify network risks and vulnerabilities to help the organization avoid devastating data breaches. 

CMOs and CIOs may have conflicting motives

CMOs and CIOs are typically analytical and responsible for crucial functions within their budget constraints. However, the CIO may be more cost-conscious, because technology is typically seen as an expense to be minimized. In contrast, the CMO may justify higher expenditures with the potential for creating additional revenue. 

CMOs may seek control over marketing-related technologies, because they want to implement the best tools to support the organization’s marketing processes. Their goals include the following:

  • Reach potential customers. CMOs want to create a positive, engaging experience that’s consistent across various marketing channels, including mobile.
  • Empower their marketing team. CMOs want to empower their marketing teams to adapt readily to ever-changing consumer demands and preferences, and they don’t want to rely on IT to make these changes. 
  • Make quick decisions. CMOs may want to make quick decisions to adjust to changing market conditions. 

CIOs’ goals are different. They want to do the following: 

  • Keep the big picture in mind. The CIO is usually more concerned about the big picture. For example, whereas a CMO may push for a stand-alone solution that solves a specific problem, the CIO might be concerned about how the proposed technology purchase would integrate with existing hardware and software.
  • Make informed decisions. CIOs may be more deliberate in their decision-making because they must consider the entire organization’s well-being from technological and cybersecurity points of view.

Myriad digital and tech-related marketing tools entice companies with their features and benefits, and the tool you select for the job will substantially affect your organization’s productivity and marketing ROI.

For example, dozens of business intelligence and analytics tools fuel marketing programs with actionable data about their target audiences, competitive landscape, opportunities and more. The CMO likely would be interested in seeing how these tools could benefit an organization’s marketing strategy. 

CIOs, however, are focused primarily on risk management and security. When CMOs implement solutions that facilitate better marketing outcomes but introduce network vulnerabilities, conflict is inevitable. 

Did you know?Did you know? The CIO’s data integration expertise is critical to marketing because understanding customer analytics and acting on customer behavior guide future marketing efforts.

CMO-CIO collaboration is crucial

The only genuine solution to CMOs’ and CIOs’ conflicting motives is enhanced collaboration. Effective collaboration in the form of data and analytics integration has broken down silos in other departments, such as sales and marketing, whose motives can differ. 

The better organizations can break down silos and promote streamlined information sharing, communication and cooperation, the more effective the organization will be at meeting its objectives while satisfying everyone, including executives, various departments, team leaders, employees and customers. 

Modern-day CIOs and CMOs can’t work in isolation. Without input from the CIO, a CMO might implement technology that proves disastrous for the company’s security. Likewise, a CIO might not choose the best marketing technology without a clear picture of the organization’s strategic direction, marketing goals and business requirements. 

When they communicate and collaborate well, marketing and IT can work together to boost an organization’s success. Marketing technology produces massive amounts of data, and the IT department can manage and translate that data into actionable insights. 

Did you know?Did you know? An Infosys study found that 44% of business leaders think better cooperation between the CMO and the CIO can increase sales and boost profitability.

How to create a streamlined, collaborative CIO-CMO process

If your organization wants to cultivate a better relationship between marketing and IT functions by creating shared ownership of marketing technology investments and assets, these four key strategies can serve as your roadmap for success: 

  1. Always map your investment priorities to your business strategy. What areas of focus hold the most promise for boosting revenue? For example, instead of making massive investments in technology and infrastructure to analyze all data, identify the key performance indicators that will best drive results, and focus on these areas first to minimize total costs. By prioritizing investments based on real business needs, you’ll get better engagement and buy-in from key executives and top-level management.
  2. Balance speed, cost and acceptance. If you rush implementation or prioritize low costs, you may end up with a solution that doesn’t work well in practice. Ultimately, you’ll spend more cleaning up such mishaps than if you had conducted comprehensive planning in the first place.
  3. Focus on frontline engagement and capabilities. Your technology must be user-friendly. Include any technology’s frontline users in the planning and decision-making process to ensure that new solutions won’t interrupt established workflows or be too complex for practical use.
  4. Use each executive’s expertise as needed. CMOs should know that it’s critical for new technology to be secure and fit within the current system. When considering new technology, they should consult with the CIO to ensure it meets requirements. In turn, CIOs must understand that end users in the marketing and sales departments have specific needs. As such, the technology must be functional and user-friendly. 

CMOs and CIOs may have conflicting motives and vested interests in tech-decision ownership. However, there’s a far greater value in effective collaboration and shared ownership in marketing technology and its underlying infrastructure. 

Fergal Glynn contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. 

Image Credit:

Martin Barraud / Getty Images

Jennifer Dublino
Jennifer Dublino
business.com Contributing Writer
Jennifer Dublino is a prolific researcher, writer, and editor, specializing in topical, engaging, and informative content. She has written numerous e-books, slideshows, websites, landing pages, sales pages, email campaigns, blog posts, press releases and thought leadership articles. Topics include consumer financial services, home buying and finance, general business topics, health and wellness, neuroscience and neuromarketing, and B2B industrial products.