Managing Large Marketing Teams With Agile
New Marketing Terms In The Digital Transformation Camp

David Mathison on Chief Digital Officers


David Mathison CDO ClubIn the last few months I’ve been reading more about digital transformation; the process of transforming a company’s business models in reaction to digital disruption. I’ve come to view the industry chatter about marketing technologists, marketing technology, chief digital officers and even agile marketing all aspects of the same stimulus--digital disruption, and the resolution being the appearance of new roles such as chief digital officer’s and marketing technologists. To continue to explore the ongoing topic of digital disruption and its effects on marketing and the enterprise, I interviewed Dave Mathison, the Founder of the CDO Club ( on the topic of chief digital officers.

John: What is a Chief Digital Officer?

Dave: The generic definition is that chief digital officer’s are transformation agents, usually AT an incumbent organization, for definition sake, to differentiate them from a CIO or a CMO. The role of the CIO can be split into two, generally The Chief Data Officer, who is responsible for all data. CDO’s will never own the brand, the CMO owns the brand from end to end, and they own the omni-channel experience. The CDO can be responsible for social, that’s very rare. Perry Hewitt at Harvard is one example, but she has a particular background having been a marketer at Crimson Hexagon, a social media intelligence platform. Perry’s larger role covers digital innovation. Most CDO’s are building business, to do social media. Rather the focus is on innovation.

John: What's the role of the CDO?

Dave: Chief digital officer's were first hired in music and publishing about ten years ago, in that time we’ve gone from one person to a 1,000, the most successful CDO’s report directly to CEO. Overlapping responsibilities between a Marketing Technologist, and CDO. The CDO is not in the marketing function, rather they work across silos, and CDO’s provide a service to the entire organization.

CDO’s of the year, one is Adam Brotman at Starbucks, his Chief Digital Officer role, is a transformative role. While Faisal Masud the Chief Digital Officer at Staples, has 700 people reporting to him, innovation labs in 3 parts of the country, and basically doing everything to disrupt themselves. CDO’s need to have P&L responsibilities to be effective.

John: What models have you seen with digital transformation?

Dave: A company needs to be able to divide the responsibilities. If two people are already arguing, the CIO & CMO, it makes no sense to introduce a third person (the CDO) as then it’s likely you'll have three people arguing. The real goal is to have harmony across the c suite.

John: How do you get harmony in the c-suite?

Dave: Look at the examples of companies that do have harmony. The job description is important to bring in the right person/people, and operationally it’s important that there is a clear definition of roles and responsibilities. You need to make sure your business goals are aligned properly, so that the CMO, CDO, and CIO are working in harmony instead of competing for resources and headcount. A good example is Adam Brotman, CDO at Starbucks, working together with (then) CIO Stephen Gillette. They constructed a major overhaul to their point of sale system, with the CIO’s support. This overhaul allowed Starbucks to do a deal with Square. The press portrayed this as two entrepreneurs getting a deal done over a latte. In reality it was years of hard work and millions of dollars in commitments. The Square deal (and others like it) could not have been done until they re-built the infrastructure, and required the C-suite to work in harmony.

30% of companies doing digital transformation, 30% of them were more successful with a CDO!

John: How does the Chief Digital Officer help the CMO with digital marketing?

David: Mayur Gupta, Global Head, Marketing Technology & Innovation, Kimberly-Clark focuses on marketing innovation, people who have more of a marketing and digital background, the majority of CDOs are out of the digital natives, coming out of innovation.

John: Do you think there's a set of processes companies need to adopt in marketing to be successful in today's era of digital disruption?

Dave: Overall that’s why companies are hiring people, Chief Data Officers and data scientists. The growth is incredible. Broader role not just what marketing needs, in the majority of cases, going across silo’s, in marketing.

At the board level, they need to help create the job description. CDOs have to work across silos, it makes CDO’s even more impactful. If not, they will be battling it out, but there are big drivers, companies that are successful are seeing cooperation across the c-suite.

John: What's the future of chief digital officer's?

Dave: One of the things we are tracking is CDO’s who have become CEO’s and board members; companies that have had CDO’s for the longest, most successful have gone on to become CEO’s.  Charlie Redmayne, who is CEO of Harper Collins UK and was Harper Collins’ former Chief Digital Officer.