As of a few weeks ago, there was an organization on the cusp of doing something it had not done in more than a century. No, I’m not talking about the Chicago Cubs winning its first world series since 1908 – which for a die-hard Cubs fan would be a welcome development.

Earlier this month, IBM appointed Michelle Peluso as its Chief Marketing Officer. A global technology powerhouse adding a marketing executive is typically a news item that causes ripples rather than waves. But this case is different – Ms. Peluso is IBM’s first CMO…ever.

That’s 105 years, folks, without a CMO. While the company has cycled through a handful of logos during that time, the CMO role has remained vacant. Yes, it has had marketing leaders for various business lines, but never someone in this role at the C-suite management team level. As some coverage of the hire has indicated, one motivation for IBM has been a tangible transformation of the CMO role. Marketing budgets are larger, and the expanse of business areas that CMOs touch extend far beyond what they did even just a few years ago.

Rather than routing through IT departments for digital tools, CMOs are owning the acquisition of digital services and software, which has become core to nimble technology brands. In IBM’s statement on the hire, the company indicated that it reflects the, “transformation of marketing – investing in digital skills, using data to deeply understand clients…and build consumer-grade experiences.”

Who IBM hired is as significant as the newly-created role. Peluso formerly served as CEO of Gilt (in addition to a global chief marketing and internet officer position at Citigroup), reinforcing the fact that she will have a seat at the C-Suite table. One reason that CMOs are gaining more respect is that marketing has shifted from a hard-to-measure line item in the budget to a data-driven operation where success can be evaluated with precision. The desire for industry leaders to bring aboard marketing professionals skilled in data analytics explains why 41% of marketing and advertising executives find it “somewhat challenging” or “very challenging” to find skilled professional talent in today’s marketplace, according to a 2016 survey by The Creative Group.

As Spider-Man’s uncle Ben wisely observed, “With great power comes great responsibility.” For CMOs, more power means more responsibility – and accountability.  James Thomas, Chief Marketing Officer at Allocadia, noted earlier this year in IBM Commerce’s own blog that nearly 6 in 10 CMOs say they feel increased pressure from their CEO or board of directors to prove the value of their marketing. Thomas went on to say that as marketers spend more time on digital, analytics and analysis, there is a danger of short-changing creative. Striking the right balance between data-driven marketing operations and strong creative will prove to be a challenge for CMOs in the coming months and years, one we will be monitoring as we deliver digital and traditional marketing campaigns and creative services to our clients.

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