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Customer wants and needs are changing. The ways to meet them are changing, too. Marketing is changing.

For many companies, it has been crucial over the past years - as well as today - to help evolve the role of the CMO. After all, marketing goes hand in hand with technology, and if technology develops, so should the job description. Other companies, however, have taken a more radical step. They have claimed the CMO position as a thing of the past, replacing it with another three-letter abbreviation. The CDO, or chief data officer.

So is the CDO the new CMO then?

In a recent report, Forrester sheds light on the shifting marketing landscape and the need for CMOs to become drivers of growth by embracing data next to the creative side of their role. The prediction goes so far as to say that many companies may even scrap the traditional CMO position and embed it into that of the newly-appointed CDO.

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Chief Data Officer: A definition

At first glance, the emerging CDO position seems rather straightforward: It is all about taking control of a company’s (marketing) data and using it to derive actionable business insights.

Minda Zetlin, a business technology writer, concurs saying that the CDO “may be responsible for data analytics and business intelligence, the process of drawing valuable insights from data.”

According to Wired, “the CDO ensures that strategic importance of data is properly maintained and managed throughout the organization. With access to detailed market information, customer data and predictive analytics, [the] CDO is in perfect position to identify ways in which this data can be harnessed.”

While it is clear that a CDO can actively contribute to a company’s long-term success, it is still hard to justify replacing the good old CMO entirely.

Are companies really looking to scrap the CMO position?

Here’s a simple truth: In this day and age, CMOs need to broaden their skill set and embrace data as part of their job description. There is simply no more marketing without data. That does not, however, mean that the position of the CMO is becoming obsolete. On the contrary, it is evolving to become something bigger and better.

Are CDOs replacing CMOs?

As Keith Johnston, VP Research Director at Forrester, says (as quoted by AdWeek): “CMOs who have traditionally been rewarded for creating great campaigns will need to ‘grow themselves,’ to fit the new marketplace.” They will need to prioritize growth, changing customer expectations and an increasingly mobile-first customer journey.

Data can help CMOs do that. It can help them do more than that, in fact: It can give a boost to their creativity. After all, the more data you have, the more questions you can ask of it. And the more creative those questions, the more your company will differentiate itself in the long run.

Yet, it does not work the other way around. You cannot have marketing based solely on data. As Steve Babcock, Chief Creative Officer at Vaynerchuck Media, puts it: “Creativity without data is just art. But data without creativity is neglect.”

This is exactly the point that makes it hard to believe that a CDO could (ever) completely replace marketers.

When data trumps marketing: The case of EasyJet

If there is one company that has recently attempted to shake up its marketing operations, it is EasyJet. In January, it announced that marketing director Peter Duffy would be leaving and would be replaced by a CDO (at that point not yet hired). Without question, EasyJet must be facing millions of new data points every day that need to be analyzed and leveraged to provide users not just with a seamless, but a great customer experience, too.

In that sense, “data is undoubtedly a good thing – it can help bolster the efficiency of a media campaign, it carries the potential of making mass communication more meaningful and it certainly helps make better decisions about where budget should be allocated.”

What it cannot do is take in account shifts in customer attitudes and behaviors, or unexpected moves by the competition. In other words, it cannot generate actionable business insights.

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Mike O’Donohue, data chief officer at Camelot, strongly believes that instead of talking about CDO vs. CMO dynamics, we should be focusing on how the two positions complement each other. Companies need people who understand data just as much as they need people who know about brand, strategy and the customer journey.

So, whether a move towards data and away from the creative and analytical aspects of marketing will work for some companies is something only time will tell. Still, it looks rather unrealistic that CDOs will take over, leaving CMOs behind - or completely out of the picture.

What is your take on this discussion? Feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments.

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Written by Eugen Knippel

Passionate marketer and traveller. Loves sports, Thai Food and spending time with friends and family. Talk to him about video games, data-driven advertising and internet pop culture on Twitter @eugilicious

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