Should Every CMO Be A CDMO?

24 02 2009

Carol Bartz, the new CEO of Yahoo! recently said:

“We shouldn’t let marketing decisions be made by a technologist who has never met a CMO”

I couldn’t agree more. But I’m coming to believe that the reverse may be equally true. Here’s a provocative thought.

cdmoWe shouldn’t let technical decisions be made by a CMO who has never met a technologist.

I think it’s time for Chief Marketing Officers to expand their titles to Chief Digital Marketing Officer. That means meeting people outside their comfort zones.

I don’t mean meeting with a digital marketing expert. Or a social media guru. And I don’t mean a sales rep from Hulu or Yahoo or Vimeo or any other company that ends in a fashionable vowel.

I mean meeting from time-to-time with an actual living, breathing programmer. Someone who speaks programming languages fluently, and English maybe not so much.

Why Not Let Someone Else Translate?

Don’t get me wrong. Most of the time, letting someone else translate is the right idea. It’s practical.

A CMO or director of interactive has to trust the experts he or she has assembled, otherwise what’s the point of having them?

But the CMO must also recognize that each of his subject matter experts will tend to view the overall problem through the lens of their own specialty.

Abraham Maslow had it right: “When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem begins to resemble a nail.” Inescapably, professionals love their specialties. They tend to believe their specialty is the best or even only solution for a problem. Pride — and profit — can get in the way.

The virtue of talking with someone who is completely outside these individual specialties is that they are OUTSIDE. That’s where all the fresh air usually is.

What Can A CMO and a Programmer Talk About?

I’ve been lucky enough to meet great CMOs and great programmers. In their day-to-day work lives, they might seem like they live on entirely different planets. But they share a critically important common ground.

That common ground is an openness to possibility, and an appetite for magic that is un-constricted by org charts and silos.

The best CMOs and the best programmers are able to climb out of the quotidian muck and get an overview of the whole situation. They almost have to talk to each other now and then, for things to change.

The Beauty of Misunderstanding

The great thing about CMOs talking directly with programmers occasionally is that it almost always opens up new possibilities. This happens, at least in part, because neither side entirely understands what the other person is talking about.

A completely misunderstood question tends to upend our established ways of thinking. We’re forced to discard our usual habits and patterns of thinking, because we realize they’re not going to work. If we can just relax and go with it, there’s a lot we can learn from straying from what we “know” and exploring what’s possible.

We Learn By Teaching

The other great benefit is that we often see new aspects of what we do when we have to explain it to someone who has no idea what we do, or why. Someone who’s a stranger to our world can ask very basic questions about why we do what we do without fear of looking dumb. Especially now, it’s good to revisit those basic questions: how much of what we’re doing is smart, and how much is simply an unexamined habit?

Smart People Are Smart People

The main thing I’ve learned from talking with techies is that most of them are scary smart and have a fantastic sense of humor. Maybe everybody in marketing should have a “Take A Techie for A Tequila Day”, and everybody in tech should have a “Meet A Marketer for a Martini Day” once a year.

Worst-case scenario? Everybody has a few laughs and learns a littlle. Best-case scenario: new ideas happen.

Smart people are smart people. Who can you learn from?