Chief Digital Officer: A fancy meaningless designation or a crying need of the hour?

14 Feb,2014

By Amit Bapna


A recent Gartner study in the US predicted that by 2015, 25 per cent of organisations will have a CDO and that the chief digital officer may be the most exciting strategic role in the decade ahead. While such statistics are often swept aside by Indian head honchos as a US reality, the wave may reach Indian shores faster than expected.


Though a relative late starter, digital has made swift inroads into the Indian marketplace. Brands are upping the ante on digital allocations. No Indian marketing head can have a conversation without talking about how serious they are about digital. They’ve even moved to saying “It’s not the wave of the future but what’s happening right now!” which is an improvement.


But where are all the CDOs then? Globally, organisations as diverse as Starbucks, Metropolitan Museum of Art, BBC Worldwide, Amnesty International are known to be already deploying the services of a CDO. While the title is yet to gain vogue, some companies are making a few non-cosmetic changes.


PepisCo tweaked its structure to make digital a strategic vertical reporting in directly to the head of marketing. Earlier, it resided with individual brands. Deepika Warrier, vice president – Po1 (Power of 1) marketing, PepsiCo India, is clear that digital needs to be incubated by the CMO as it requires focused mentoring to build interactions with other business functions. Their team is led by Rishi Dogra, who along with the digital mandate is involved with a unique concept called Pepsi Labs. He works with co-creators incubating, experimenting and testing new content ideas. PepsiCo claims to have doubled its digital budget from last year.


SBI Life has a business vertical to tap the potential of online sales of life insurance policies. Shares Chandramohan Mehra – country head – digital business, SBI Life Insurance, “Through the channel, it distributes products exclusively developed for online business, and has gained leadership position in direct-to-consumer sales.” He was formerly the VP and head of brand at SBI Life Insurance.


Jasmin Sohrabji

Jasmin Sohrabji, CEO India and South East Asia, OmnicomMediaGroup is convinced about the case for a CDO. The reason it hasn’t happened thus far is due to scale and scope. Even among the more digital aware, spends hover at about 10 per cent, offering little or less than threshold scale. As focus (and spends) move to digital platforms, the relevance for a CDO will come into play, she feels.


Adds Rishad Tobaccowala, Chairman, DigitasLbi and Razorfish, “CDOs should be the evangelist for ensuring the company remains relevant to changing behaviour. His role is important in the early years of digital to ensure a voice for tomorrow.” The case for a CDO becomes even stronger in a backdrop where digital budgets are increasing but cutting edge case studies are few and far between.


Most conversations hover around aggregating fans and likes on Facebook as also prerolls of campaigns on YouTube. But has the market reached a stage where the advent of a CDO is imminent? Or is this yet another instance of India leapfrogging a few stages of development, to create its own delivery-mechanisms?


At L’Oreal India, where the digital spends have been ramped by nearly 125 per cent over the last year, the function is embedded within respective brands. Satyaki Ghosh, director, consumer products division, L’Oreal India avers that they could eventually have a CDO, but he would service the entire company as against just the Consumer Product division.


The CDO role needs to have a larger platform to build the digital capability of the entire organisation and the digital business, according to Arjun Srivastava, consumer practice leader – India, Egon Zehnder.


Marico too is currently embracing a decentralised structure. Sameer Satpathy, EVP and business head, Marico India says, “The medium gives enormous flexibility in terms of engagement, creativity and speed.” All their brand managers are being trained and certified on using digital, in order to have an enabling ecosystem.


CVL Srinivas

Which is as it should be says CVL Srinivas, CEO (South Asia), GroupM: “CMOs need to drive digital as part of their core job. Most advertisers still look at digital as a silo and struggle to integrate it into their mainstream plans.” However digital specialist Harshil Karia, cofounder, Foxy-Moron makes a case for digital having grown too big for a CMO’s mandate.


He says, “CMOs haven’t naturally taken to ‘digital thinking’ and ‘digital as an ecosystem’. It is difficult in a world where maintaining Share of Voice, pleasing brand ambassadors, coordinating to get the best out of various agencies and reporting to management and sales teams is a priority.”


A private sector bank claims that only 5 per cent of its business is coming from branches. The rest is from other channels that include digital: mobile and internet as well as telebanking. In such a scenario the medium is no more just for marketing or brand building but has a huge business implication as well. The biggest need for CMOs today is to adapt or otherwise provide for the digital landscape since it will emerge as a key component of marketing strategies.


Kent Wertime, COO, Ogilvy Asia Pacific, and co-author of DigiMarketing, believes “The CMO has to determine today how to integrate traditional means of marketing/channels with digital channels, the capture and use of data, and build new relationships with big digital media players/platforms.”


Digital gives insight in real time through social media and its endless streams of conversations and insights. Increasingly, it will be about harnessing this information. For instance, Dell has a chief listening officer, who “listens” to what consumers are saying and feeds these insights to the CMO. So whether as an adjunct to the CMO or his equal, a company serious about the future would do well to consider the CDO.


Source:The Economic Times

Copyright © 2014, Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All Rights Reserved

Licensed to republish


Post a Comment 

Comments are closed.