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The Privacy Advisor | CMO vs. CPO: How to turn conflict into cooperation Related reading: Target CMO Shares Breach Lessons, Brand Reassessment

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Ever since Gartner predicted that chief marketing officers would surpass chief information officers on tech spending in 2017, a lot of attention has been given to the interplay between these two executive roles. But these days, it’s actually the relationship between CMOs and chief privacy officers that deserves the real scrutiny. Marketing today is more data-driven than ever, and — not coincidentally — reported data and consumer privacy breaches are now at an all-time high.

It would seem that conflict between the CMO and CPO roles would be inevitable and intractable, given the deep need for the CMO’s department to collect and leverage customer data and the CPO’s deeper need to protect such data. But that doesn’t have to be the case. As with many C-suite relationships, the strongest and most effective organizations are the ones that can bring these two roles into alignment. Doing so requires an understanding of where the real threats lurk when it comes to a company’s customer data.

The nature of the conflict 

Today’s CMOs and their departments are fundamentally data-driven, and that’s no surprise. These days, precise audience targeting and customer experience personalization aren’t just marketing aspirations; they’re customer expectations. 

CMOs and their teams are tasked with ingesting copious amounts of data and leveraging it to not only generate new leads for the company, but also to ensure that every touchpoint with a company is tailored according to the individual’s customer journey. Achieving these dual goals requires access to a lot of internal systems, from CRM to company websites, as well as the help of a wide variety of external partners. It is in these third-party relationships that we see a number of the CPO’s greatest concerns manifest.

Third-party vendors serve a wide variety of functions for marketing departments, and many of these functions tie directly into a company’s core systems via a company’s website or apps. These third-party technologies often enable features like customer login, chat capabilities, payment processing, registration services, social media functionality, and a wide array of customer tracking for advertising purposes.

These technologies — many of which require snippets of code to be placed on a company’s website for data-collection purposes — are necessary to ensure good customer experiences, but they also introduce significant vulnerabilities into a company’s consumer data security. Via a third-party tag on a website, unauthorized parties (known as piggybacked tags) can also gain access to a company’s customer data, often without the company’s knowledge.

In addition, companies often must pass customer data to their third-party vendors in order for them to fulfill their purpose, be it customer service or a specified marketing function. The expectation — and, indeed, requirement — is that this data be properly anonymized before being transmitted. In many cases, a data breach occurs when this data is passed to a third party before proper anonymization has taken place.

Enabling privacy, aligning interests

Given the vulnerabilities that marketing technologies can introduce to an organization, CPOs need to be kept in the loop on any marketing vendors that might gain access to a company’s customer data. But this doesn’t mean that the goals of the CMO and CPO are at odds. Both roles seek to ensure pleasant consumer experiences with a brand, and that includes maintaining the privacy of the consumer’s data.

The important thing for both CMOs and CPOs to recognize is that no amount of vendor screening, internal communication and manual processes can fully eliminate the risks associated with third-party vendor relationships. If organizations want to better align the interests of their CMOs and CPOs, they need to be implementing technology that removes the risks of data leakage and privacy breaches by default — not on a vendor-by-vendor basis. Only by implementing proper marketing security and data privacy systems can CMOs and CPOs step back from a possible tug of war over customer data and third-party technologies and align their activities for the greater good of the organization.

Ultimately, CMOs and CPOs have more in common than they think. Within an organization, they are perhaps the two individuals who best understand the power of customer data and a good customer experience. With the right systems, companies can ensure these two leaders are spending their time on the projects that matter most to the future of their organizations, rather than negotiating over data privacy protocols.

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