Ryan Klarner, a high school swimmer and diver from Palantine, Illinois, asked Taco Bell for a favor: "[I]s there any way you guys could make me a customized speedo that says 'think outside the buns' on the back of it?" Inside of two weeks, the fast-food chain responded: "What size do you wear? And what's your address?"
The exchange between big corporation and fanboy is an excellent example of responsive customer service. But the lesson for businesses, according to a panel of chief digital officers (CDOs), is about where the exchange went down. Klarner posted the message to Taco Bell's Facebook page, making it visible to the fast food chain's millions of followers; it attracted thousands of likes and dozens of comments. Taco Bell realized it could create an unofficial spokesperson by granting the teen's request but also that social media is a platform where "audiences have audiences," said David Shing, AOL digital prophet -- yes, that is his official title -- at the recent Chief Digital Officer Summit in New York City.
"Doing digital things and interacting with customers digitally is something every company is going to have to come to grips with in every functional area," said David Chivers, CDO for Jostens Inc. in Minneapolis.
Organizations that want to succeed will have to come up with new ways to serve customers and integrate technology into the fabric of customer engagement. That's the reality of digital business and that's where the CDO is finding room at the table -- yes, that table. At the summit, hearing that a CDO reported to the chief marketing officer (CMO) or even the CEO was not uncommon. Nor was it surprising to hear David Mathison, curator of the CDO summit, say the number of CDOs was expected to more than double in 2014 -- from 488 to 1,000. Gartner predicts that by 2015, 25% of businesses will have embraced the role. The good news for CIOs? Gartner also believes CIOs are "better qualified than most" to take on the position.
Adding a CDO to the mix could be a blessing for CIOs. According to the speakers at the conference, CDOs tend to know code, understand the importance of clean data and get technology. Because CDOs want to create a seamless, user-friendly customer experience, they're natural partners for CMOs. They're also a natural ally for CIOs. They understand, for example, that CMOs are powerful, necessary and "don't understand the first thing about technology," said Jonathan Sackett, CEO of the marketing and advertisement firm MashburnSackett in Chicago.
But CDOs could also be a curse for the CIO: CDOs may know IT but their work isn't about keeping the lights on, obsessing over data governance or finding ways to cut costs. Chivers said he'll spend 2014 focused on mobile commerce and mobilizing the digital customer experience. Shing, who believes everyone in a digital business should learn to code, does everything from "ad innovation to architecture to schemas."
The digitization of business requires innovation, disruption and products aimed at growing the business. It is, as Forbes contributor and CTO for CITO Research Dan Woods pointed out, the best part of the CIO's job. "Most CIOs and CTOs didn’t intend to be the mechanic in overalls who deals with the complex stuff nobody wants to pay attention to," he wrote in a recent article. "But too often, for many reasons, that is what happened."
Woods urges CIOs and CTOs to get in front of the digitization trend now, for while the CDO might be a passing trend -- even several of the CDOs at the conference said they believe their title is temporary -- digitization changes businesses, permanently.
From big data to neuroscience
CDOs are up against their own set of challenges. As anyone who owns a TV knows, watching television is no longer a passive event. Viewers are using "second screens" to tweet and chat about what they're watching -- while they're watching it. Make that a lot of viewers -- 36 million in the last year, according to Greg Daniel, CDO at The Nielsen Company in New York.
Businesses seeking to command the attention of the multiscreen watcher must redefine customer engagement. That includes what Dr. Carl Marci, chairman and chief science officer of Innerscope Research in Boston, refers to as the "snap back" or when a viewer is enticed to look back at the screen he has just abandoned for another screen. Marci, who has an M.D., is combining big data and "integrated consumer neuroscience" by measuring heart rate, facial expressions and eye tracking to determine where and when viewers connect with content on an emotional level.
One unambiguous finding? The world in which televisions were used for entertainment, computers for productivity and telephones for communication is gone. "Now they're all screens," Marci said.
"I have a 12-year-old daughter and one of the ways she judges a moment is whether or not it's 'instagrammable.'" -- Chan Suh, CDO and senior partner, Prophet
"Have you ever heard the saying that you can lead a horse to water, but you're an idiot? That's not directed at anybody. What happens is if people don't have [digital] in their DNA and don't have the desire and hunger to learn it, there's little you can do. One CDO does not make you a digital organization by a long shot." -- Jonathan Sackett, president and CEO, MashburnSackett
"The competition isn't Coke versus Pepsi. The competition is Angry Birds, it's Candy Crush, it's media properties, it's Hollywood, it's Bollywood. It's broad." -- Steve Rubel, chief content strategist, Edelman
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