Should CMOs Own Digital Strategy? Maybe Not

Digital-Tablet-Shutterstock-BWhen it comes to setting up the best digital structures for their businesses, marketers should just give up on finding the ideal solution. A new analysis from Forrester shows that many brands spend too much time dithering around with digital organization charts -- and in doing so, miss out on key opportunities. 

Besides, the report concludes, the most important thing is making sure that digital accountability and ownership reside in the part of the company most affected by the digital disruption. In some organizations, writes Forrester analyst Shar VanBoskirk, that may be the CMO. In others, it may be the chief sales officer or chief digital officer. And in others, it should be the executive in charge of product development.



At a time when they should be entirely focused on new ways to woo and win customers, “most current digital organizations are too tactical to create competitive differentiation,” she writes. What matters most are how well the three key digital functions -- strategy, governance, and execution -- do, not any specific organizational model.

The report, called “How to organize for the digital future,” is based on interviews with 15 companies. “The digital economy is no longer about doing something old -- such as selling or promoting products -- in a new way,” she writes. Surviving the digital disruption requires using interactive marketing capabilities “to become customer obsessed.” 

Customer expectations have changed radically, with always-addressable consumers wanting their needs to be met preemptively. And disruptors are constantly wreaking havoc, transforming industries from publishing to banking.

Yet most marketers are hamstrung, because they still only have “function-specific digital resources.” In other research, for example, including a survey of 152 marketing professionals, Forrester has discovered that most say their company’s current digital capabilities don’t match corporate priorities, that they operate in rigid organizational structures and that 64% wish that their interactive marketing and eBusiness functions could be combined in one team. (Only 34% of the sample say their company is set up that way.)

Yet moving toward this distributed model -- one where digital resources live within business functions -- isn’t easy. “An org chart doesn’t solve issues related to strategy, and simply organizing your digital staff -- even if done optimally -- does not shore up the skills and processes you need to create differentiating digital experiences.”

The better way toward customer obsession, she writes, is to shore up the following digital functions, no matter how the company is organized:

* Strategy   That means answering questions about how digital is changing your business, not media or Web site strategy. Multiple models work for managing digital strategy. And it doesn’t matter who oversees it -- CMO, CDO, or chief sales officer. 

* Governance   Internal and external experiences need to be consistent, and there must be a system to ensure “that enterprise digital activities tie back to strategy. Most companies lack here because they don’t have a clear strategy or because their governance function lacks authority.”

* Execution   Most eBusiness and interactive marketing teams today provide this program support. “But in the future, this function will carry out all tasks that your long-term digital strategy requires, not just those tied to online sales or marketing,” the report says.

"Digital Tablet photo from Shutterstock"

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