Business, Customer Experience, Startups

A CIO and a CMO Are Locked in a Room and Forced to Do Battle. Who Wins?

February 26, 2013
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Mike Troiano has had an enviable career so far, albeit one with a mandatory need for lightning fast reflexes, the ability to see the future and course-correct amidst the chaos, and by definition, a rather strong stomach. In my experience, these are the best ones to learn from.

Chief Marketing Officers have long had a difficult job. It can be a fun career choice for the right person, certainly, but the CMO’s challenges have changed dramatically over the last decade. Gone are the days when “We ran great TV” was enough to have everyone in management leave you alone. Along the way the CFO…and then the CEO started asking pesky questions about return on investment. Most CMO’s had no good answer for many of their programs beyond the tepid, “oh, it’s all brand awareness”. Brand awareness and many other marketing programs were generally declared unquantifiable…until the world changed and the CEO…and the business…said that would no longer be so.

One of the reasons I like Mike so much is that he always seems to be in the right place at the right time which makes his stories exponentially more interesting than, say, mine. I was a Creative Director for Mike when he was CEO of Ogilvy Interactive in New York in the mid 90’s, right at the time there was a seismic intersection of old and new media colliding.

Ogilvy & Mather had a Direct Marketing group at the time that created and mailed out direct responses pieces and compiled the results several months later, as was the custom of the day. On the other side of the third floor of Worldwide Center in NYC, the nascent Interactive group was publishing banner ads and calculating results overnight. This incredibly short time-to-market and ridiculously fast response time was, of course, summarily dismissed by the traditional Direct Marketing group and then history promptly went on to prove them delightfully wrong. Funny when that happens.

When asked about those days, Mike told me, “It’s important to understand that medium reflects hierarchy inside ad agency culture. What I remember most about those early days was the change in culture that took place. In the beginning, “interactive” (as it was called) sat somewhere below bumper stickers and t-shirts, below direct mail, newspaper, outdoor, magazines, radio, and – of course – television. After the Netscape IPO things seemed to change, though, and when digital became a shiny object, the big guns wanted in even if they didn’t really know what they were doing. Working and iterating at digital speed was part of what they really needed to learn but was also the most difficult for them. In the end I think our lasting impact on Ogilvy was that it got on that learning curve earlier than most.”

The Interactive group had data and they understood a customer experience that, while rudimentary, was a well enough defined loop to be useful. These were early ugly days but the insanely short duration communication-response-optimize process that is the Googleized world was born of those days and there was a great thrill in going home for the night and thinking, “I’ll see how that did in the morning and make it better by lunchtime”.

The Interactive group was a brilliant but scruffy upstart group that was nipping at the heels of a Very Large Global Agency. And while O&M was very comfortable with the traditional advertising they did so well, they were nonetheless a little worried about these crazy interactive kids who didn’t seem to be playing by the same rules.

Indeed, those early days birthed the exact moment when technology integration and customer experience appeared at CMO’s bedside, calling them from sleep, a torment that continues until this day.

About five years ago there were some very dramatic and lively discussions in corporate board rooms as the CEO informed the CIO and the CMO that they needed to work closely together because it was critically important to the business. But these two had never had to play together. In fact, as a general rule they avoided each other on general principles. Now there was a corporate mandate to work collaboratively but, man, they didn’t even speak the same language. Try saying, “non-trivial” to a CMO and see what happens. And collaborative project planning between IT and Marketing? Well, cats and dogs describe that situation best.

Over time things improved…not without difficulty and sometimes seismic eruptions that sent admins running for cover…but reluctantly the business world came to realize that marketing was going to either live or die by technology and it was going to take a village for it to work. Beyond that, it started to become clear that a CIO or a CMO was also going to become something of an interpreter and translator for each other.

Fast forward to 2013 and Mike Troiano is CMO at Actifio, a four year old data storage startup in Boston. So, what keeps him awake at night as CMO these days? You guessed it, data integration and a unified customer experience. With a marketing spend about two to three times the technology spend, clearly these two things are high priority to the strategic growth of the company.

Fortunately Mike has always had a good relationship with technology people so he is different than your typical CMO. My opinion is that his experience as a CEO put him in a position where he needed to focus on solutions first and then consider the chemistry required to get it done. This makes him one of the most pragmatic CMO’s I know. When I asked him about the typical CIO/CMO dynamics he has experienced over the years, he responded,  “I think historically there’s been this right brain / left brain divide, and both sides were the worse for it. If you look at why most CIO-led technology projects failed, you’d find more of the human factors that CMOs understand. And if you’re a CMO trying to communicate effectively in 2013, you need to know what’s possible with the latest technology, as good CIOs do.”

Out of general interest I did a Google search for “data integration unified customer experience” to see what would come up, expecting thousands of results as people clamored to solve this problem that Mike mentioned and the same one that I have seen across industries in my consulting work.

Astonishingly little. Almost nothing. One, actually. How is it that there is just one result that had data integration and user experience in the same thought?

So, if data integration and unified customer experience are all but ensuring sleep deprivation for CMO’s where are the solutions? I know it’s not a tool and I suspect it is more of a methodology or, at least, a process of sorts. More likely, it is a type of person who is trusted and is able to translate and interpret CMO to CTO and back again while being the advocate for the customer.

Ever the diplomatic pragmatist, Mike tells me, “Both jobs are about managing change. CIO’s are trying to change the flow of information – the “means,” if you will. And CMO’s are trying to change perception – the “end,” in that same sense. It seems almost inevitable that the two roles would converge, and the Internet really drove that convergence. It both made the technology easier to use, and softened the boundaries of the organization.”


Mike Troiano serves on the boards of several Boston-area startups, and is an award-winning blogger ( and counted among the top 1% of the most influential people on Twitter (@miketrap) and a pretty awesome guy, if you ask me.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Michael Troiano (@miketrap) February 26, 2013 at 10:22 pm

    Thanks, pal. Though my true gift has always been working with people smarter and more talented than myself ;)

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