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Transforming The Transformative: The CMO's Role In Leading Digital Transformation

Last updated: November 19, 2018

CMO on phone

CMO on phoneWhether you call it digital transformation, digitalization, or DX, it’s transforming companies of all sizes, across all industries. Within companies, DX is making its mark across disciplines, and marketing is no exception.

Broadly defined as “the reworking of the products, processes and strategies within an organization by leveraging current technologies,” DX has too often been led by technologies -- that is, cool technology in need of a problem to solve. While the tech matters, nontechnical criteria -- strategy, culture and management -- are critical to the success that DX hopes to drive.

According to a 2018 survey conducted by Tech Pro Research, 70% of respondents noted that their companies either have a DX strategy or are working on one, and 53% reported that their DX budgets grew from 2016 to 2017. Of particular interest, DX has become a priority beyond information technology (IT), with marketing key among disciplines funding enterprise DX initiatives. 

Why marketing? Put simply, it’s being driven by the power of the customer.

Consumer demands for the great experiences enabled by digitalization are forcing marketers and business leaders to reevaluate their strategies and approach digital transformation in a new way. Keep in mind:

  • Customers want great experiences.
  • These experiences are increasingly digital.
  • Digital experiences create a treasure trove of data.
  • What can be measured, can be improved.

The success of marketing’s DX initiatives hinges on the ability of the chief marketing officer (CMO) and marketing leaders to master the right balance of technology and business capabilities.

According to Forrester’s “Top Capabilities To Accelerate Digital Transformation” report, published April 2018, many organizations tend to struggle with DX due to placing too much emphasis on the enabling technology and not enough on organizational capabilities. The report identifies culture as the lead barrier to DX success -- without a plan to redesign organizational capabilities, there is no hope for achieving digital transformation.

In line with this report, a survey by MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte found that the “key traits of effective digital leadership are about enabling the organization: providing vision and purpose, creating conditions to experiment, empowering people to think differently, and getting people to collaborate across boundaries.” In essence, define the vision first, and select the technology to collaborate across disciples to reach the vision.

In many ways, marketing can lead -- or play an invaluable role -- in an organization’s digital transformation. Marketers’ history of working with customer data makes them uniquely positioned to drive DX. According to the “Challenge Traditional Leadership To Win At Digital Transformation” report by Forrester, “62% of survey respondents whose firms have a digital transformation led by the CMO indicate their firm is experiencing double-digit growth, compared with 50% of respondents whose firm’s digital transformation is run by the CIO.” 

Critical Capabilities For DX Success

As a CMO, it’s important to remember that technology alone won’t ensure your company’s DX is a success. When Forrester identified the capabilities most vital to DX success, just four out of the top 10 are technology-based. 

To accelerate digital transformation and drive revenue growth, CMOs must develop and redesign organizational capabilities like strategy, culture, change management, digital experiences, innovation management and customer journey mapping. Reshaping your culture to be customer-centric is essential in order to support continuous innovation and drive effective change throughout the organization.

Unsurprisingly, data and analytics capabilities are most critical among technologies that drive digital transformation success. Modern marketers are data-driven, and in an age where customer experience is the ultimate factor that can make or break a brand, CMOs often rely on customer data when strategizing how to meet and exceed high customer expectations. 

The CMO Transformation

True digital transformation is a continuous process -- not one that is achieved or determined by a single technology. Success happens through an approach that embraces emerging technologies, innovation and disruptors as they pop up, with an outlook that matches curiosity with pragmatism.

CMOs can drive this process. By mastering the right balance of business and technology capabilities, CMOs can transcend their roles within their organizations to become next-generation digital transformation leaders.

Written by Kristin Hambelton