Batman V Superman: Why The CMO-CTO Relationship Must Change

Only by cooperating can the two forces confront the technological changes that vex the world’s top brands.

Batman V Superman: Why The CMO-CTO Relationship Must Change

“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” recently hit theatres, and it is a perfect metaphor for the rift between chief marketing officers and chief technology officers.

In the movie, Batman and Superman begin as enemies and eventually join forces with Wonder Woman to fight their common enemy, Lex Luther.

Like a great CMO, Batman needs technology to win his battles. He splurges on cars, bat suits, planes, and gadgets. And similar to the CTO, Superman has superpowers. He overcomes or augments conventional technology to do things that Batman can’t do alone. When the two reconcile in the movie, they’ll kick some serious butt.

In the business world, though, these two key players haven’t resolved their differences. While CTOs want lower costs, higher security, and greater efficiency, CMOs want to spend money, move fast, and achieve an ROI.

Their goals—and often their personalities—clash. As Forrester CEO George Colony advised CEOs in 2007, “Marketing and technology in your company must work together to design and implement your Web 2.0 strategy. And you, and only you, can get the dogs and cats to interbreed.”

Personally, I think the CMO and CTO can work this out on their own. But how should Batman and Superman cooperate?

First, CMOs and CTOs must share the technology budget. Cooperatively, they must decide what goes to marketing and what goes to traditional IT.

As the CEO of R2integrated, an agency that manages marketing and technology projects, I see different arrangements. At one health-care organization, the CMO selects martech vendors and purchases the technology using IT’s budget. The CTO helps the CMO implement the technology with an eye for compliance and security. At a chocolate company, IT largely runs the show and chooses the vendors. One real estate firm empowers marketers to do the research and vet solutions, but the CIO makes the final call.

I share these examples to make a point: There’s no “right” structure for managing martech budgets. You can get superb results, even if the CTO has the power to accept or reject the technology. In each case, the CMO and CTO can build the type of collaborative relationship I’m advocating for. It will pay off, according to Gartner VP Kimberly Collins, who predicts that “by 2018, CIOs who build strong relationships with CMOs will drive a 25% improvement in marketing technology ROI.”

Second, the CMO and CTO must plan how technology will be implemented, used, and maintained. For instance, a CMO might not have the development talent to launch and run an enterprise marketing cloud. The CTO can find the developers within the IT department who are best able to do that job. In essence, the CMO knows how martech should function; the CTO knows how to make it function.

Ultimately, yes, CMOs will become tech-savvy enough to play CTO within their own department. In the meantime, CMOs are hiring chief marketing technology officers to manage the martech stack, hire technical talent for marketing, and serve as interlocutor between marketing and IT. These martech specialists are the next generation of CMOs.

Third, I have a tough request: The C-level team must stop distinguishing “technology” from the departments that use it. Marketing, sales, finance, customer service, etc. all depend on specialized technology. IT should oversee the shared systems used across an organization, but each department needs its own tech specialists. If the chief marketing technology officer role exists, the chief sales technology officer can’t be far behind.

If Batman and Superman do reconcile, who or what is their Lex Luther? I would argue that the threat is change. People don’t discover, research, and purchase products the way they did 10 years ago. Changes in the way people make decisions and access information challenges businesses no less than villains threaten Gotham City and Metropolis.

Changes like social media were (or are) equally scary to CMOs and CTOs for different reasons. CMOs didn’t know how to win on the social Web; and CTOs didn’t know how to make it safe and compliant. But both executives know they can’t survive without accepting reality and dealing with it. The CMO needs technology, and technology needs the CTO’s superpowers.

Confronting change can be painful, but ignoring it would make for terrible superhero movies. Only by cooperating can Batman and Superman, CMO and CTO, confront the technological changes that vex the world’s top brands.