The secret to successful CMO-CIO market research collaborations

Mary Shacklett uncovers a hidden truth about market research collaborations between CMOs and CIOs.


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When you're a market research analyst in a non-market research-oriented company, it can be one of the most frustrating experiences out there. For instance, will you report to IT, even though your major responsibility is performing technical research for the marketing department? Or should you report to IT, since most of your skill set is IT oriented?

In the banking industry, this conflict between marketing and IT first surfaced with the appearance of customer information systems (CIS) 30 years ago. During the pre-big data era, CIS were created by IT or outside service providers as data marts that could be queried for customer demographic information by marketing. The information was then used in target marketing campaigns.

But with today's focus on big data as a corporate strategic asset, executive expectations and responsibilities for creating actionable information and then acting on it have also been raised—even in industries (like banking) where market research was rarely emphasized. 

To illustrate, in a 2011 survey of more than 4,900 Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) and Chief Information Officers (CIOs), IBM concluded that there was a "call to action for improved collaboration between CMOs and CIOs…brought on by a digital revolution that now requires marketing to become more technical in its analytics." 

In a 2013 Forbes article about strong CMO-CIO partnerships, Dan Pingree, head of marketing for retailer Moosejaw Mountaineering, talked about how important it was to be located near the IT team and to have all of the company's IT development in-house and not outsourced so continuous face-to-face collaboration between the two departments could occur. His IT counterpart, Michael Moore, added, "We just have to force the relationship. We have weekly meetings with just the two of us and a bi-weekly meeting with the two of us and the CEO. This forces alignment, communication, and progress."

The thoughts of both these executives make a very critical and nearly hidden point: The CEO must play an active role in forging the new market research collaboration between CMOs and CIOs if it is going to happen. Without this CEO intercession, the potential is still too high for collaboration to just fall by the wayside in the face of different goals for marketing and IT. The CEO must also clear out politics that can quickly get into the way of collaboration, such as who will get credit for achieving breakthrough market research because of effective IT solutions?

If anything, forging daily collaboration between CMOs and CIOs will be a hands-on exercise for many CEOs—much like the Moosejaw example where the CEO inserted himself into bi-weekly meetings to keep a hand in the collaborative work.

This brings us back to the market research analyst; this position needs a boss to report to, and past organizational history with primary and dotted line reporting relationships has never worked well. Ideally, the CMO and CIO should determine on behalf of the business where this position best fits. These two executives (aided by the CEO, if necessary) must also find ways to actively collaborate with and support each other that are readily apparent to their staffs and to everyone in the company.

As research firm Forrester observed in 2011, "The CIO's number-one job in the coming decades will be to drive business results—and by definition this requires CIOs to reshape IT for future success. Failure by CIOs to recognize this shift and shape a new IT for the future will result in turnover in IT leadership. CEOs can no longer afford IT leaders without the vision and influence to effect business change."

The observation from Forrester could just as easily have been made about CMOs, because now is the time to abandon territoriality, familiarize one another with each other's disciplines, and learn how to "pull the wagon" together—with the CEO out in front as a definite lead.