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The New CIO

Executives specializing in innovation.

The acronym may look familiar, but it's a new position being added to company rosters: chief innovation officer, or CIO. In fact, executive search and leadership consulting firm Heidrick & Struggles International Inc. has witnessed a surge in CIO positions during the past three years.

Today's two-way brand economy--where consumers can talk about your brand to anyone who will listen, via blogs, podcasts and more--has spurred the rise in CIOs, says Robb Hecht, chief innovations consultant for IMC Strategies Lab, a brand strategy consulting firm in New York City. "Marketing used to include one-way media," says Hecht, referring to TV, radio, billboards and the like. "The CIO arose when technology met marketing. A CIO [encourages] consumers to accept marketing messages and become part of the marketing process."

That's great if customers love your product--but if not, your company or brand could get blasted in Web 2.0 applications, potentially reaching thousands or even millions of people. CIOs are skilled at managing this kind of chaos. "CIOs [develop] productive and innovative killer apps that attempt to maintain control of brands in an atomizing economy," says Hecht. "A CIO anticipates where potential customer threats or concerns will arise and heads them off."

Businesses that still market at their customers instead of with them should consider adding a CIO. And while CIOs are a no-brainer for tech businesses, Hecht says that "any nontech firm trying to stay ahead of the curve would benefit from hiring a CIO."

This story appears in the November 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »