The Emerging Creative Executive: CIOs and CMOs Leading the Charge

The emerging creative executive is in charge of design-driven companies. Whether this starts with the CIO or the CMO, this role is crucial.

In speaking with executives at market-leading organizations, we consistently hear about the heightened focus being placed on design-oriented thinking as it applies to the customer experience. One such executive at a major financial services firm recently told me, “You’re only as good as your best app.” This sentiment is further backed up by data that includes a recent study by the Design Management Institute (DMI) telling us that “design-driven companies outperform the S&P by 228 percent over ten years.” These facts have driven many companies to jump on the “creative bandwagon.”

But jumping on the creative bandwagon too late can have heart-stopping consequences for organizations that are failing to keep pace with their more creative competitors and, without question, a lack of adoption will lead CIOs and CMOs alike to the company’s exit door, looking for their next opportunity. Consequently, there has been a shift in thinking at the executive level with company leaders trying to address this critical need in the organization in a way that will create a path to market differentiation and financial results.

The Emerging Creative Executive

So what are these executives looking for? Are they seeking a “marketing savvy” CIO, or perhaps a CMO who can navigate “techno-speak”? Regardless of which path they take, what they’re all looking for, in essence, is someone who can capably perform the emerging role of Chief Creative Officer, a modern-day blend of the best skills and capabilities of Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO).

Emergence of this role has arisen from the need to more tightly align marketing and IT organizations, with the common goal of delivering creative product solutions that, at the very least maintain competitive parity, but preferably drive competitive advantage. Sources of funding to develop these creative product solutions was often aligned with “power” within the organization; did these resources reside with the marketing organization or with the IT organization? Typically whichever group more consistently delivered results for the company determined which of these organizations held the funding / budgets to pursue strategic product development.

Not all that long ago, these two functions were entirely separate and distinct; IT provided website support, software development, data center and network administration and support whereas marketing was in charge of branding, advertising, creative content, direct mail campaigns, lead generation and public relations. Notably, the roles were very distinct and rarely converged.

However, looking more closely at this situation, rarely was it possible for the marketing team to deliver a world-class product without the support and involvement of the IT team, and vice versa. Heightened demands placed upon business executives led them to require their IT and marketing leaders to “collaborate better” and have led to the melding of roles that cross organizational boundaries, up to and including the emergence of Chief Creative Officers. These CCOs are more frequently chartered with delivering solutions that require tight integration between marketing and IT organizations to deliver expected results.

Further, the source of creative funding dollars really should not matter since the Chief Creative Officer is tasked with finding the money in the appropriate budget and reallocating it to the creative initiatives required to obtain or maintain competitive advantage.

Today, the way in which an organization represents itself in the marketplace requires a synergistic unity between IT and marketing to ensure customers enjoy a seamless product/service experience. If this synergy does not exist to enable a top-tier user experience, then your ability to positively differentiate your company in a highly competitive market is seriously compromised. Early adopter companies who embrace this “new normal” organizational approach position themselves well to pursue incremental market share and create competitive differentiation.

What exactly are companies trying to achieve within the realm of “creative services?”

In brief, the challenge is to create a great customer experience in the most convenient way possible, without compromising product and feature robustness.

Let’s look at the evolution of creative services within just one industry financial services (e.g. banks, investment advisors, brokerage houses, mutual fund companies, insurance companies, etc.), and how the rapid emergence of “virtual banking” has affected them. Historically, these were “brick and mortar businesses.” Years ago, you could walk into a bank and be on a first-name basis with the bankers and tellers. The IT products that were found in banks were essentially support-based software applications with no customer facing components. These products primarily served banking operations functions.

Fast forward to recent years and we initially saw first generation products emerge that were more customer-facing. Over time, as the Internet of Things (IoT) came online, we began to see the virtual representation of financial services firms. No longer did you have to go into the bank and customers started relying on having the flexibility to do their banking and investing in their own way and on their own time. So now these firms are scurrying to rapidly create the best possible virtual representations of their products and services so they can compete and win in a very crowded marketplace. Seemingly overnight, we’ve witnessed the transition of the business model of choice for customers from a bricks and mortar base (in-person transacting) to the virtual store-front, facilitating the ability to transact business on your time, in your way, 24x7.

Who needs to drive this transition, Marketing or IT?

The best answer is, “it depends.”

You probably don’t need to implode your entire marketing and IT organizational structures to become a creative content-producing market leader. Rather, build on what you have and leverage the capabilities of your teams as a starting point. Recognize that success will most likely come from a tighter integration between your IT and Marketing organizations, and it’s critical to compel your leaders of these organizations to make this happen. Evaluate needed versus available skills and supplement as necessary to address missing or insufficient capabilities.

In many organizations, it has not been necessary for IT to wear creative hats; this has been the domain of UI designers and experts, as well as the “storytellers,” regardless of where they sit in the organization. These “usability” roles have emerged in order to better understand and develop “client personas” and to translate these through the development of engaging customer experiences via the apps that represent their businesses online. Marketing often takes the lead here; from whiteboard storytelling to electronic capabilities, we have begun to see a merging of the ideation and creative problem-solving process that effectively utilizes the appropriate technology.

Sometimes, tighter integration will be led by forward-thinking CIOs who bring on the necessary talent while in other cases, it has happened within marketing, starting with a marketing executive who has taken the lead on understanding the technology and skillsets required.

If this capability is evolving through the marketing role, then you are cultivating a greater understanding of IT and the technology landscape. If it arises on the IT side, then there must be acquisition of marketing and business skills. And the continuum for this knowledge acquisition is largely dependent upon educational and career paths. So now more than ever before, we are seeing an overlap between marketing and IT with a greater effort to understand the roles that each function plays. Are you an IT professional who “gets” marketing or a marketing professional who understands IT? Either is fine, as long as the need is recognized and the effort is being made.

So what’s next and how do we get on the Creative bandwagon?

If your company creates customer-facing technology solutions, you cannot ignore the implications of design and user-oriented experiences as they relate to your bottom line. In a recent Under30CEO article entitled, “Bringing Design to the C-Suite: The 7 Core Traits Designers Can Bring to Your Business,” they state:

“Whether it’s through the inclusion of a chief marketing officer, chief customer officer, or chief design officer, the C-suite can benefit greatly from the addition of design-oriented thinkers. Why? Because in all of these roles, the design-minded executive is focused on what matters most: the customer.”

While you may not be considering hiring a Chief Creative Officer or Chief Design Officer anytime soon, you should certainly be considering how you can bridge the gap between IT and marketing to effectively support your customer-facing technology products. How can you bring the right skills to these groups and get them together to develop solutions that will best serve your customers? By addressing this question, you can begin to build a design-oriented mindset that will help you achieve your business goals and stand out from the pack.

Are you trying to figure out how to build a more design and usability-focused environment within your organization? We are happy to answer your questions and assist; reach out to us at