News & Views

Opinion / The Rise of the CTO

by Nick Parish

If modern branding has taught us one thing, it's very simply this: everything communicates. 

Who, then, within a company, controls this communication? Traditionally, it's been the CMO, aided by advertising agencies. That collaboration has had the most clout in influencing public opinion via mass advertising, guiding the course of a brand and spending money to impress those traits on people it wants to influence. 

Does it follow that the CMO then controls communications? Now, no. Because just outside the CMO's range are hundreds of things constantly defining a brand, things that people who are interacting with a brand are touching and experiencing. Technology platforms. Policies around data and privacy. 

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman wrote 'What I cannot create, I do not understand' on his blackboard just before dying. A corollary sat below it: 'Know how to solve every problem that has been solved.' A quest to develop a full working knowledge of deep problem solving through understanding isn't in a marketer's toolbox. Measured guesses, gut feelings, rules of thumb, yes, but not the sort of reverse engineering Feynman suggests. But it is very much in a technologist's array of powers. 

That's why, long-term, we'd imagine the prescient CTO will have just as much of a role in the image-shaping aspects of a big brand as the CMO. People are increasingly motivated by servies and utilities developed by brands to respond or develop emotional connections, say through MyFordTouch controlling the inside of your Ford vehicle, orDelta's baggage tracking app suite becoming useful in picking up your luggage. 

These experiences are happening in deeper, more active ways than the passive absorption (or, many times, evasion) of mass advertising. The choices made far outside a media plan or an agency review can contribute to the perception of a brand way that's just as persistent. You see a message, but you live with a service.  

So where will the two meet? It'll be closer to the one who follows Feynman, and understands by building and structuring, and by using first principles to move toward complex solutions. Understanding customers' rational and irrational desires is key, but creating the structure for them in services is impossible to ignore. 

Nick Parish is Contagious' Editorial Director, Americas, based in New York