2.0 - "Rise of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO)" (2 of 2)


  • Marketing that's measurable and works?

  • Who is this "CDO you speak of?"

  • Key benefits of a CDO?

  • How does Ruder Finn / RFI accelerate the benefits created by a CDO?

[*Because there's so much going on with the “Digitization of Everything”, I broke these posts up into 2 parts but they're still long.  Future posts will be much shorter...music to the ears of those of you like me who suffer from a real deal case of "The ADD" ;)] *   

“Evolution of Digital From a ‘Marketing Thing’ to an ‘Everything Thing’”

Before going further into the actionable 2nd half of this 2 part post, I thought it might be helpful to take a quick step back and consider the roots of “digital” for context purposes.

For 50+ years of traditional marketing, corporate executives such as Henry Ford were quoted as saying “"I know half of my advertising budget is wasted - I just don't know which half."  Then along came digital with its instantaneous feedback loop and measurability.

Originally, “digital” sat in the domain of marketing.  The digital team was responsible for thinking through a brand’s online presence, digital marketing and other forms of digitized consumer engagement enabled via the web.

Capturing, processing and developing strategic insights from the real-time data then led to the ability to optimize marketing in a much more meaningful way.  Foreshadowing of things to come well beyond marketing.

Then, as social media developed into a worldwide phenomenon followed by the mobile revolution, digital began to take on a much broader role.  It became clear to early adopters that digital was destined to become the membrane that stretches across everything we do both professionally and personally.  

All channels were becoming digital as the social and digital layer became our “new normal”.

Therefore, the digital data that was initially isolated to marketing oriented efforts had quickly expanded into a much broader data set due to the explosion in data generating activities well beyond marketing.  This broader definition of digital and the resulting data available has implications across the entire business and can inform the way a business is run, optimized and marketed.  

This brings us to the rise of the Chief Digital Officer to capitalize on this macro trend.


What Does A CDO Look Like?

The explosion in data generation caused by phase 3.0 of the Internet coupled with the disruptive efforts of “born digital” companies have been the catalysts driving legacy businesses to earnestly explore methods to redefine their business models.  This job has quickly become the CDOs.

While the role is new and the “job description” is anything but static, one could describe a CDO as a change agent meets visionary leader meets blueprint architect meets executor meets evangelist meets an individual with a seat in the Boardroom who needs to be able to communicate accordingly.  

Ultimately, their job comes down to developing the digital vision for the business, translating the vision into a proper strategy, developing an actionable blueprint to operationalize the game plan and as my friend Kristian Schwartz, a rockstar executive recruiter in the digital space would say, “landing the plane”.

While there are many topics one could dig into in this area, including the question of whether or not a CDO is necessary vs. an alternative approach (more on that in a future post), for the purposes of this piece, we will assume the CDO is absolutely necessary.  

Therefore, the characteristics a company should look for in these leaders include the following:

  • Ability to build a truly digital DNA within an organization by operationalizing transformation efforts aka “landing the plane”

  • Silo-buster connecting different disciplines and departments by overcoming legacy systems to lead transformation efforts

  • Fluent and persuasive in all “forms of business languages” including technology, business, marketing and operations

  • Demonstrated ability to directly tie digital investments to enterprise KPIs

  • Knowledgable, well connected and respected within the emerging technology and start-up ecosystem

  • Obsessively focused on creating a seamless consumer experience across all digital and real-world touchpoints

  • Ability to architect sustainable systems to embrace next wave of digital innovation (i.e.) IoT

That's it, right....?  Did I mention that it's a big job?

“What are Tangible Examples of How a CDO Creates Enterprise Value?”

This is where we get to the heart of the matter.  Below is a quick summary across several main business drivers of how a CDO can impact a legacy business and deliver a meaningful ROI.

Investor Relations

  • Hiring a CDO is an indication to the market that a company “gets it” and is bringing in the right leader to jumpstart the company’s digital transformation in a meaningful way

Corporate Strategy + Business Development

  • Hiring a CDO alters the perception of the market in general and key industry stakeholders within the ecosystem

  • It opens doors to explore opportunities with companies with high tech/digital quotients that otherwise might not be available

    • (i.e.) A CDO client of ours was instrumental in leading a partnership in 2014 with a very high profile technology company as one of a small group of companies selected as a syndicate of launch partners for a game changing consumer technology initiative

Sales + Marketing

  • A CDO works closely with the CIO and CMO to bridge many gaps that exist today between “managing infrastructure” and “managing the brand” to unlock opportunities to make digital investments that align directly with enterprise KPIs

    • (i.e.) We’re currently exploring ways to globalize a luxury client’s existing customer relationship management (CRM) system to inform “smarter marketing” campaigns to engage traveling consumers tied directly to sales, consumer data acquisition and alignment with other enterprise level KPIs


  • Making the authentic transition from digital being viewed as a channel to becoming a “digitally led business” requires a highly collaborative working relationship between senior leadership to facilitate the transformation

    • (i.e.) Sephora’s transition into a digital brand led by CDO/CMO Julie Bornstein exemplifies the way a brand can integrate digital into both its marketing and business strategy to create the seamless experience across all digital and real-world touch points to meet consumer expectations

Product Development + Innovation

  • This is a sweet spot for CDOs as their backgrounds include being both consumer/customer obsessed via digital experience design while also having the technology chops to manage a team of developers and the product roadmap

War For Talent

  • In an extremely difficult environment for attracting and retaining digital talent, hiring a CDO helps a company’s talent efforts as the war for technology talent continues to heat up in a major way

    • Digital transformation requires the right talent integrated into the organization in the right way to realize the potential of these strategic talent investments

“Everyone’s Chocolate Is Getting In Everyone Else’s Peanut Butter”

Just as other industries are being dramatically reshaped, the marketing communications landscape continues to experience its own fundamental shift due to the macro digitization trend.  

Agencies such as ours that specialize in the intersection of owned and earned media are helping our clients understand how to develop and execute on communications and digital creative strategies that are increasingly moving into the broader domain of “consumer experience”.  This expertise requires a variety of cross-disciplinary capabilities coupled with new, more hybrid skill sets such as experience design.  

This is also happening in conjunction with similar changes within the management consulting industry as digital continues to break down historical barriers and silos associated with where business strategy ends and marketing strategy begins aka “everyone’s chocolate is getting in everyone else’s peanut butter”.  

More on this topic and the resulting macro trend of “Consumer Experience Becoming The New Battleground” in a future post but safe to say, agencies and management consulting shops alike need to be “digital first” from here on out.

It’s a very exciting time for those on the right side of things.

The “Art of the Conversation” to Accelerate Transformation Efforts

The “Art of the Conversation” is at the root of what Ruder Finn as a Global Corporate Communications and PR agency has been doing for 67 years.  While the landscape changes, the fundamentals remain the same.

Given the overwhelming amount of content published online everyday, the “Art of Conversation” needs to be considered within the context of digital transformation as it has the potential be a major success accelerant.  Transforming a business is as much a communication challenge as anything else.  

Education, engagement and activation of both internal and external stakeholders via the strategic and integrated use of owned, earned and paid media is the path to success.  Just as a company can no longer view digital as a channel, the agencies and management consultants of the future must make a similar evolution in their approach.  

We've done just that.  For example, we work with a variety of CDOs and CEOs to develop conversations with high priority media stakeholders, coveted bloggers, strategic influencers and key opinion formers to help shape our client’s transformational narrative within the market by sticking to the fundamentals:  

  • Understanding the CDO’s digital transformation roadmap and associated KPIs

  • Applying the “Art of the Conversation” to develop a storytelling architecture

  • Leveraging our relationship network to cultivate strategic press and media coverage

  • Identifying alignment opportunities between the communications and brand strategies

  • Building out a robust digital content and experience strategy across owned channels

  • Amplifying fully integrated storytelling through paid media

  • Measure, iterate, rinse + repeat

Not Just Working Harder But Also Working Smarter

Below are 5 principles that frame how we work with our clients to create value:

  1. Move Smart + Fast

    • Embrace “born digital” principles upfront including allocations for experimentation, KPIs, stuff that matters but can't be measured and a culture of measurement/iteration

  2. Never Underestimate The Importance of Your Own People

    • Internal communications, engagement, education and activation tied to transformation / culture change are big challenges --> bring in the experts to help make it happen

  3. Create a Movement

    • Make sure vision / platform development is a priority?  What’s the higher purpose of what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and the role your company’s efforts play in society? How is it connected to the overarching brand strategy?  Why should your people and customers care?  

  4. Focus on the Highest Value Targets

    • Compare your digital transformation strategy/roadmap with a map of digital landscape/social web influencers to prioritize highest value targets with highest value reach so they can be engaged the right way

  5. Doing Things "The Way You've Always Done it" Isn't A Modern Consumer Engagement Strategy

    •  Align all relevant owned, earned and paid media strategies to significantly increase the focus of your efforts to breakthrough the “Content Marketing” clutter and achieve internal and external results

Thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed!

Next week's post will focus on China's Super Consumers and the global opportunity to engage them both at home and as they travel to 6-8 key international markets including NYC, LA, London and Paris.


E: Alec.coughlin@sapientrazorfish.com; T/IG: @Alec_Coughlin