Apple's History Offers Insight Into CMO-CIO Relationship

How Apple's changing IT and marketing dynamic is a reflection of the evolving partnership between CMO and CIO

At Apple in the late 1990s, shortly after the triumphant return of Steve Jobs, marketer Liz Allen worked on the team that built Apple's prolific website. They designed a simple, elegant digital storefront, which, eventually, would lead to Apple fanatics tapping the "buy" button in droves.

The marketers completed the site's revolutionary design and sent it to programmers with a single order: Make it all work. The programmers couldn't push back on functionality, couldn't request buttons be moved elsewhere, couldn't make changes to the navigational layout, and especially couldn't prolong the project -- lest the wrath of Jobs rain down upon them. In Apple's world, the CMO trumps the CIO.

"The Apple experience was ahead of its time in many ways," says Allen, who left Apple after four years to take on marketing stints at Lucas Arts, Gap, Cost Plus World Market, a few startups, and is currently CMO at home-decor superstore At Home.

You can see the volatile relationship between the CMO and CIO evolving over the years through Allen's eyes. In a sense, she has come full circle: from Apple, where CMOs were worshipped and CIOs despised, to the many bitter CIO and CMO fiefdoms battling over technology budgets and power, to today when the CIO-CMO power struggle has reached a zenith and the CMO is the favored one.

Marketing Becomes Less Magic and More Measurable

With social networks and mobile gadgets becoming customer touch points, the CMO is closer to the revenue pipeline than ever, which should tell you why the CMO is so important. A digital customer has emerged, one that can be profiled and whose buying habits predicted. Today, digital marketing efforts can be measured and tied closely to sales. It's a complete turnaround from marketing's traditional "black art" past.

When the CMO, who exploits digital channels and connects with the customer, is supported by the CIO, who gathers and analyzes customer data, great things can happen.

At Cost Plus World Market, for instance, Allen was part of the marketing team that launched the World Market Explorer rewards program, which lets members earn rewards and save money on purchases. At the time, the company was struggling to survive. The loyalty program quickly delivered fantastic results.

Related: CMO-CIO relationship is improving, but there's a way to go
CIO should be a CMO's best friend, says Sephora marketing chief
Customer focus can unify IT and marketing departments

"It is sort of credited with saving the company," Allen says. "We had, I think, six million users in a year-and-a-half. It was responsible for about 60 percent of our sales. The cool thing about that is you know a lot about that customer. At the end of the day, we could send out emails that hone in on content that makes them really relevant, whether geographic or based on attribute or desire."

For most companies, the CIO and CMO don't see eye to eye. Bickering and internal politicking ensues. Silos are erected. Communication between the departments breaks down. At Gap, for instance, Allen didn't even know the CIO's name. At Lucas Arts, she had to seek out the CIO and ask for his participation and approval to get a visual database so marketers could access images such as Darth Maul. It took a while, she says.

CMOs and CIOs Don't Know They Need Each Other

"There are massive opportunities for collaboration, but we don't really see that happening," Donovan Neale-May, founder and executive director at the CMO Council, told a roomful of CIOs at the CIO Perspectives event in San Francisco last week.

Neale-May is quick to point out that marketing is wrought with inefficiencies that CIOs can help solve. Marketers lack accountability, have poor visibility and must manage globally distributed teams, he says. They face a huge problem in their digital marketing makeover. Neale-May says some CMOs are trying to acquire digital and analytical skills in their marketing department by recruiting from the IT department.

In other words, marketing needs IT just as much as IT needs marketing, says Allen. She doesn't advocate for marketing to take a leadership role over IT, instead she firmly believes in close collaboration between the CMO and CIO. But Allen also acknowledges the challenges in collaboration: marketers tend to be more vocal, while IT is more reserved. Marketers like to run with a nugget of an idea and then brainstorm, while IT wants fully baked ideas. Marketers want things right now, while IT serves many internal customers.

"The perception that IT is slow-and-no is true in a lot of places, but I absolutely have empathy when they are bogged down just getting the MacGyver-ed infrastructure in place," says Allen, whose father was a mainframe programmer. "But sometimes you just have to make things happen."

The ability to make things happen -- in marketing's case, sales from the digital customer -- really means IT must do marketing's bidding. No longer can IT throw up barriers. Truth is, IT has always been seen as a cost-center, whereas marketing sits in the money-making driver's seat. At Apple, there was no in-fighting, and the results clearly speak for themselves.

"If you're at odds, fighting, and have different objectives, then your competition is going to win," Allen says. "You need to be fighting outside these walls."

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Blog Posts

To DMP or not to DMP?

There are plenty of brands that can benefit from plugging into a data management platform. But should you engage an agency to run one or bring it in-house?

Ben Willee and Richard Taylor

Spinach Advertising

Innovations in retail will bring creative and technology closer than ever

While approaching a customer in a shop and asking what you can help them with is Retail 101, how many of us actually enjoy being approached? Generally, you have to give the forced, fake smile and say, “Just browsing, thanks,” while screaming on the inside, “just leave me alone!” Maybe it’s just me?

Jason Dooris

CEO and founder, Atomic 212

There’s a brand in my digital soup

Not a day passes by in the life of business executives where digital innovation or the prospect of disruption is not front of mind. This in turn, drives an unrelenting flow of questioning, discussion and strategy papers.

Jean-Luc Ambrosi

Author, marketer

It is really inspiring to see that medial psychology & machines are going hand in hand to innovate new things and even are improving ...

CBT Professionals

How psychology is shaping better machine learning

Read more

Anything is achievable when you talk the talk .. good luck

Mo Al Hooti

Data Creative crowns Matt Bates as new CMO

Read more

Great hire and good luck Andrew. I am sure you'll do a fabulous jobRob

Rob

Amaysim marketing and commercial chief joins property tech investment startup

Read more

I need to be reborn before i can grow up & become a contestent.

Kaye Peterkin

Channel Nine's content now streamed digitally on 9Now

Read more

I hope The Block, will continue for many many more seasons.When i die, & grow up, I want yo come back as a contestent.

Kaye Peterkin

Channel Nine's content now streamed digitally on 9Now

Read more

Latest Podcast

More podcasts

Sign in