Accenture’s CMO call to arms – the devil is in the detail


Accenture provides us with useful insights into digital transformation in the office of the CMO. But there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. We need to slice and dice the data to get a deeper appreciation of what’s going on.

Accenture’s CMO Insight 2014 report makes for interesting if somewhat frustrating reading.

The bad news: while the report talks about a tying of success metrics to best practices among the top performers, we don’t know who they are or whether the claimed success can be methodologically isolated to CMOs digital activities.

The good news: Accenture very helpfully provides access to a public Tableau living document that allows visitors to interact with the information it provides. This is where the ‘devil in the detail’ reference comes from. I encourage all who read this to dig into the report and decide for themselves where they are on the performance spectrum.

Before getting to that detail, it is worth spending a few moments looking at the top line conclusions. None of these should be surprising since the report is really a lead into Accenture offering its services to help CMOs improve or develop their digital transformation strategies. Nevertheless, here goes:

CMOs are selling themselves short. The question isn’t whether CMOs can effectively take advantage of digital channels – they are proving they can – but whether they can be more visible change agents for digital transformation across the organization.

As every business becomes a digital business, C-suite executives will need to collaborate to drive successful digital transformation. No CMO wants to be left on the sidelines.

There’s a smack in the eye then. But what does Accenture mean? Making the comparison between mature and emerging market examples, Accenture says that only ‘one in five’ CMOs in mature markets believe they will be ‘known as a digital business in five years time’ while CMOs in emerging markets have leapfrogged.

key findings Accenture

The graphic above suggests that CMOs have certainly bought into the Kool-Aid around their importance and that of digital transformation, but the analysis is frustratingly elusive on why for example there is a 69/49 split between mature-market CMOs and those in emerging markets on the question of transformational importance.

Numerous reasons could be cited but if these trends are typical of others I’ve seen then the follow on results Accenture identify that emphasize the impact of age make sense for mature markets but may not do so in emerging markets where the leapfrog effect of going from none to modern technologies and strategies is profound. I saw that first hand in South Africa in both 2012 and 2013 and I regularly hear similar stories from other African states. The fact is that going from zero has significant benefits, not least the lack of past investment baggage.

But is this really a generational thing? Ray Wang at Constellation Research thinks not. He says when talking digital transformation:

We serve 5 generations of customers & workers, by digital proficiency, not by age. Forget millennials, Gen-X, Gen-Y, baby boomers and others.  How we communicate, the values we share, and how we interact with technology stem from our digital proficiency, not our age.

I think we have to be very careful with these conflicting metrics because I do believe that generations matter but not 100% of the time. For example, among my network, I’d argue that most, if not all of us, would be moderately comfortable in aligning ourselves to being highly digitally proficient. But we are outliers. Being digitally proficient is a big part of what we ‘do.’ And then how do you define ‘digitally proficient?’

Wang has helpfully designed a matrix of proficiency types that can readily transcend age.

  1. Digital natives – people who grew up with the internet, comfortable in engaging in all digital channels.
  2. Digital immigrants – people who have crossed the chasm to the digital world, forced into engagement in digital channels.
  3. Digital voyeurs – people who recognize the shift to digital, observing from an arms length distance.
  4. Digital holdouts – people who resist the shift to digital, ignoring the impact.
  5. Digital disengaged – people who give up on digital, obsessed with erasing digital exhaust.

I also believe that we ignore at our peril the country and cultural differences that exist across and between nation states. This is where Accenture’s Tableau document is so useful. Here is an example about how CMOs see channel effectiveness. The first selects only the USA, the second selects only China and only shows the top four answers:

effectiveness USA


effectiveness China


As you can see, the differences are startling both in terms of preferred channel and the degree to which respondents believe they are effective.


  1. Accenture provides us with a useful lens into the early findings around digital transformation. The Tableau document is especially revealing and well worth poring over.
  2. Accenture’s call to arms may be premature. The comparisons between mature and emerging markets may be a false one because we’re not provided with the context of individual conclusions.
  3. We need to be careful about making broad generalizations and comparisons without understanding the impact of past efforts, the cultural dimension and the markets each respondent serves.
  4. Understanding the notion of digital proficiency helps us better think about how CMOs might direct their transformational efforts but this is not a one size fits all discussion.
  5. There is a lot we simply don’t know. I believe that is because we have yet to understand ways of parsing diversity among different study cohorts such that the generalization of multiple strategies makes a great deal of sense when guaged against outcomes.
  6. Digital transformation is much more than having a good handle on digital techniques. As we are starting to see and as Wang confirms, this is about business transformation. That’s a much more nuanced topic.

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    1. NeilRaden says:

      Nah. This statement “We serve 5 generations of customers & workers, by digital proficiency, not by age. Forget millennials, Gen-X, Gen-Y, baby boomers and others.  How we communicate, the values we share, and how we interact with technology stem from our, not our age,” logically sets up age and digital proficiency as independent variables. There is no research to support this. And frankly, digital proficiency should fade as an issue entirely. What does it really mean? The average person only uses a few apps online, and they get better and better. I don’t have to manage my hard drive, reset my network, upgrade my O/S. This reminds me of a jingle from decades ago that didn’t quite make it on TV: “Carnation milk’s the best in the land/I have a can right here in my hand./ No teat to pull, no dung to pitch/Just punch a hole in the sonofabitch.”That’s where we are.