If there was any proof needed that digital marketing has been undergoing a data-led renaissance in the last couple of years, it’s encapsulated in the less than concrete definition of the chief marketing officer.

At the end of 2015, why is a conclusion around this one person’s accountabilities and responsibilities still seemingly far from over? What does it reflect of the state of digital marketing as a whole?

To get to the bottom of where we’re at on the CMO debate, PerformanceIN spoke to Andrea Ward, VP of marketing for Oracle Marketing Cloud, to gauge her views on the matter.

“Part artist, part scientist, part politician” is how you described the CMO in a recent report. How did your background prepare you for the position of VP marketing at Oracle Marketing Cloud?

Andrea Ward: My personal education is an undergraduate degree in history (so a born storyteller), and then I have a business degree in international finance which really talks to the quantitative side. That’s part of the reason why I’ve enjoyed being a marketer so much.

I’ve also been in healthcare – a technical and high-technology field – for over 20 years, and have touched many varying roles within the marketing profession; from marketing communications to product marketing, to more sales-aligned marketing professions. Having a broader experience in a number of marketing roles has definitely helped me in becoming a leader of a marketing team.

Recently my role has been in the mergers and acquisition side of Oracle where it’s been very important to understand how to build technology platforms and how different technologies come together to create enterprise-level solutions, so that’s also been very helpful in determining how to build out the next-step marketing suite.

What is it about the current state of digital marketing that’s leading us to pick apart the role of the chief marketing officer?

AW: Competitive strategy and agility are two of the things that make a company survive and compete. Of the Fortune 500 companies first listed in 1955, only 12% now remain, and that’s because a lot of them fail to adapt quickly enough.

Right now we’re in the phase of digital Darwinism; survival of the fittest in digital is what’s driving the most change right now. The CMO is really in the driver’s seat because they own so many of those little touch points to the customer. I think that’s the main dynamic that is really changing the role of marketing and requiring marketers to step up and become leaders in their organisation.

How has the ‘CMO debate’ developed in the last six months?

AW: What’s becoming increasingly discussed is the role of the CMO in data management and owning some of the data strategy. When you talk about marketers getting technical, that’s where it starts to get really interesting.

Within the marketing organisation, data has become siloed and it’s limited to marketing function, so marketers involved with social are concerned with social marketing data; marketers responsible for the website, email or any other digital engagement are really focused on the data limited to their area, leading it to be siloed.

We did a survey which found that 55% of CMOs believe the siloing of data is what’s preventing them from providing that great digital experience across all touchpoints. When you start to hear CMOs talk about data you know they’re really getting interested in technology, and understanding it.

The role of ‘collaboration’ is a consistently recurring theme when talking about this role. It’s almost become a buzzword. How do you go about implementing it?

AW: You have to go back to the traditional idea of putting the customer at the forefront of everything you’re doing, and understanding that customer experience is no longer just their experience with your product, but their experience with the brand – independent of which channel they’re engaging with you on. Marketers need to really be taking that customer-first approach and understanding where they live, how they’re influenced, how they want to engage with you etc.

We recently talked to a number of consumer packaged goods IT professionals, and even there, where their customers are buying through traditional brick-and-mortar stores, the average consumer touches that brand in almost three different channels before they’re making a buying decision. Putting the customer first, understanding their journey across all those channels and how all those are connected is job number one.

Then I think the second thing is really around bringing the IT skills and knowledge into the marketing organisation, whether that is hiring it into the team, or partnering more with your IT counterparts. You should not only leverage that partnership to learn more about their skill but also help them to understand what the marketing function is – how it needs IT – to help them do their jobs.

And then, when you talk about customer experience I think that almost every organisation – no matter which leader you talk to – are all going to say they ‘own’ the customer; customer service owns the customer; sales owns the customer; marketing owns the customer. I think really for the CMO to not only focus on the marketing itself, but build better relationships across the organisation, collaboration is absolutely key.

What have you learned from Oracle’s clients?

AW: We’re having conversations with both CMOs and CIOs. A lot of Oracle’s heritage is in working with the heads of IT. We’re having a number of IT companies come and talk to us to help them better understand what marketers need.

Just a few weeks ago we were at our conference Oracle OpenWorld, and we have seen the number of IT managers interested in sessions based around marketing topics quadruple in just the past year, so we’re seeing a huge interest from this group in what the marketing functions are doing.

We’re now also partnering with more organisations that are focused on the marketer, helping to bring an understanding of how the CMO should be thinking when building a digital architecture. It’s not just about: ‘I need an event registration system’, or ‘I need to be able to connect email to social listening’, but it’s really a more holistic conversation around how we create better engagement with our customers; how we think about the skillsets that we bring into our organisations; how we build a strategy over multiple years rather than thinking about how to enable one ‘bit’ of technology. It’s much more holistic and foundational to our strategies.

Now we’re coming to the end of 2015, is there a concrete definition emerging on the role of the CMO, or is there still some way to go?

AW: I think it’s still evolving… I do think that there was a period where new roles were being created because the CMO, or the CIO, might not have been stepping up. ‘Chief customer officer’ and ‘chief digital officer’ to me are both roles that are about IT and marketing collaboration. I think for the marketer and the head of IT to take their places at the head of this strategy they’ll need to collaborate. If they don’t, the risk is this new kind of role will be developed by the organisation.

What’s likely to develop within the role in the next 12 months?

AW: We are starting to see the role gain more of a career path toward the CEO, or on the board. When you talk to a head of marketing, or a head of digital strategy in a marketing role, they do view their longer term role as a CEO, not just a CMO.

I think we’ll see more of a trend in that direction. I was on a call earlier with an [Oracle] advisor for a number of different clients across Europe as well as North America, and he’s currently working for a client that has three former CMOs on the board. They’re a company who are hyper digitally-sensitive…

As CMOs begin delivering real results to the bottom line and customer loyalty, we’ll start to see a trend of them becoming not only leaders in their profession, but leaders of companies.