The Marketing (Business)-IT divide

January 3, 2008 at 6:50 pm Leave a comment

Today I’m going to spend some time talking about an area that I’ve always had an interest in – marketing. Why marketing? Well, one of my interests is in entrepreneurship, and one cannot succeed as an entrepreneur without honing their marketing skills. As an entrepreneur, I am constantly intrigued by the various ways in which I can market my business, which channels to use, how to create campaigns, how to track them, what metrics to track, how the consumer (the boss) is driving trends such as social media and Web 2.0 and how one can leverage these technologies and concepts to do what matters most in the end – provide the customer with a unique experience, because at the end of the day, that is what keeps the customer coming back.So I was talking to my friend on the phone yesterday who happens to work for a marketing firm and we were discussing some of the latest happenings in the marketing world and somehow the conversation came down to his frustrations with IT in his firm and how he wished that IT could be more agile and realize that marketing/creative cannot wait for months for them to implement the ideas that they come up with. He asked me if I’ve encountered this in other companies that I’ve consulted with, and if so, my thoughts on what I did to improve the process.

The marketing-IT divide is akin to the business-IT divide that I see in many companies. The primary causes of the rift are three fold in my opinion:

  • Vision – Sometimes, it is a matter of interpreting company priorities differently. Marketing/Creative are focused on creating brands and acquiring new customers, whereas IT is focused on what technologies, how to build, test and deploy. Each thinks that their division is the one impacting the top and bottom line. Without marketing/creative generated ideas, the company cannot grow their revenues. Without IT it is hard to execute those high level thoughts that the marketing/creative teams come up with. As a result, each division has their own priorities, road maps and their own funding models. This results in marketing/creative and IT not being equal partners. In addition, some executives see IT as a cost center, although in marketing, this is less prevalent, since most marketing agencies realize that marketing is driven by technology.
  • LanguageI say dynamic user experience, you say ActionScript. This one is a hard one to overcome. Marketing and IT speak different languages. Marketing and creative folks are focused on building a brand, multi-channel marketing, social networks, widget marketing, personas, word of mouth marketing, target markets and demographics. IT hears all that and immediately translates that to Flash, bandwidth, servers, CSS, databases, AJAX and scalability. Marketing/creative goes huh?! All that matters to us is what needs to be done. Who cares how you do it?
  • Collaboration – Often times, geographically dispersed marketing and IT teams are working on different projects, but need to leverage the same artifacts or best practices, yet, due to a lack of communication and collaboration, different teams are doing the same thing in different ways, leading to duplicated efforts, increased costs and increased project time lines, not to mention back and forth emails and phone calls. Not much is captured and shared on what worked in the past, what did not work, why it did not work, how we can do it better, reusable artifacts and best practices. Often times, there are missed opportunities to streamline common processes, resulting in inefficiencies and manual errors. All of this just aids in surfacing the notion that IT and marketing/creative are just not cohesive and that one does not understand how to work with the other.

I’m never one to dwell on a problem without thinking of how to solve it. So how does one start tackling the marketing (business)-IT divide? Here are my $0.02:

  • Create multi-disciplinary teams – A Ferrari is built by a team that is focused on the end goal of producing a high performance sports car. They know that it needs an extraordinary engine, extremely tight suspension, great brakes and a ton of other things, and each person working on those things brings their own expertise to the table, but their end goal is not what am I doing but what are we building (which is a vehicle that will bring a smile to a driver’s face, i.e: provide a breathtaking experience). Of course, what each one of them does is extremely important, but the focus should be how it all comes together. To do that effectively, companies need to build teams with diverse backgrounds and bring them all to the table to have a meaningful exchange. Teams consisting of creative, IT and business minded folks, each with their own expertise in different verticals will bring different perspectives and encourage different trains of thought. It then becomes a learning experience for both marketing and IT. IT sees the business from a different angle and can better align themselves to support marketing/creative. But alignment is not just a one way street. In my opinion, just as it is important for IT to think in more business terms, it is just as important for the business to be more technically savvy and think in somewhat technical terms. Marketing/creative and IT are business partners. IT should not have the burden of conforming alone.
  • Communication – I talked about having a meaningful exchange earlier. Getting the best team together is half the battle. If that team comes into a room and glosses over a bunch of Power Point slides and calls it a day, then the battle is lost. The idea behind having these minds from diverse backgrounds in one room is to get people to introspect, analyze, enhance, enact and measure.
    • Introspect – Ask the tough questions. What is broken? What can be done to fix it? How do we fix it? The idea is not to point fingers. Nothing ever gets resolved that way. The way I like to tackle conflict is by tackling the problem, not the person.
    • Analyze – Once you know where you want to be and where you are now, you can do a gap analysis and identify action items and time lines on improving the process.
    • Enhance – This builds off of the previous point – how do we make the current situation/process better? Is there a way to automate it?
    • Enact – Put the thoughts and ideas into practice.
    • Measure – You cannot gauge improvement if you don’t measure. Track your changes, see if it improves/fixes something that was broken, provide feedback to participants.

    As part of communicating better, both teams learn to speak a common language. One way to do that is for both teams to make a cognizant effort to learn the vocabulary of the other, at least at a high level. Engaging in 30 minute real or virtual meetings on a weekly basis to apprise the other team of what certain things mean, how we like to do a project from start to finish, high level, yet focused business and technical seminars on where marketing is headed, what new IT trends might be of interest, examining internal processes and adjusting/enhancing them to accommodate the outcomes from these meetings, all display an initiative that says let’s work together. Make no mistake – I am well aware that in a typical marketing agency (just like with most businesses), the pressure is on to deliver and you might be reading this and asking – Yeah, these are all great ideas, but who has the time to do that? The truth is that time is always short, people are always stressed and deadlines are always looming. This is where senior management needs to step in. Without buy-in from senior management that this is a problem and that we need to find ways to solve it, these issues will go on forever, and your marketing/creative and IT teams will still be at each other’s throats 2 years from now.

  • Focus on Customer Experience – As I mentioned earlier, every contributor, whether from the marketing/creative or IT team has an important role to play. But it is important not to focus only on what each team is contributing, but starting from a common theme and higher level goal of designing and delivering an exceptional customer experience and then figuring out how to carve out a message that targets the relevant audience and working on an IT strategy that becomes an enabler to quickly deliver on that promise.
  • Integrated Blueprint – One of the steps that helps an integrated marketing/IT organization is an integrated marketing/IT blueprint. It has similarities to an enterprise architecture blueprint, in that it should clearly state the business maxims and show how IT is geared towards partnering with marketing to deliver on the business needs. However, most enterprise wide blueprints are extensive documents discussing technical architectures, detailed delivery models based on RUP or XP or a hybrid model, iterative cycles and time lines, etc. In the marketing world, the focus is different. There is very little time for elaborate iterations and creating fancy documentation and other architectural artifacts. IT needs to be much more agile and nimble, geared towards rapid turnaround. So the delivery model needs to be streamlined, lean and mean. Get the job done quickly, but along the way, focus on reusability and harnessing components and ideas that speed up delivery. The blueprint should also state infrastructure needs that will aid rapid development, deployment and easy discovery and reuse of marketing/IT assets. It should also highlight maturity models, indicating where the company is today, where it needs to go and what steps it needs to take along the way to get there. The idea is not to boil the ocean. Start small, scale rapidly – that’s the idea. The blueprint is just that – a detailed plan which is modified to suit the rapid delivery needs of the agency.
  • Improved Collaboration – To improve efficiency, agencies must focus on, and drive collaborative efforts within geographically dispersed teams. It is ironic that marketing agencies leverage Web 2.0 to build collaborative applications for their customers, but often, they themselves are the victims of poor collaboration. Different timezones, dispersed teams and hard dead lines mandate that people in different locations collaborate in the most efficient ways to get the job done on time. Again, there are 2 aspects to this – executive buy-in and tools of the trade. All the tools in your box are worthless if upper management does not drive the initiative from above. Once the expectations are set, then it is time to analyze the different styles of collaboration and which tools are a good fit. Collaboration can happen either asynchronously or synchronously (real time). Asynchronous collaboration can happen via file sharing, emails, blogs, wikis, online calendars, etc. On the other hand, when there is a need to have real time conversations, Web and video conferences, presence aware applications, IMs and live chat are mediums of choice. But in my opinion, it is not enough to use these mediums as separate mechanisms to enhance collaboration. That might get things started and be ok for the short term. What is more important for the long term is to either buy applications or build them in-house (on open, extensible standards) that will ingrain these processes into the daily lives of the people that use them, so much so, that it becomes an extension of doing your job. It has to be baked into the processes for it to really make an impact. In addition, other features/functions need to be addressed, such as:
    • Visual Workflows – Tools that allow marketing/creative folks to come up with a concept and then use a visual tool to lay it out, annotate it and then pass it on to the IT folks and allows IT to use the same artifacts generated by marketing to further build on it to devise their IT strategy will go a long way in bridging the gap. Often times the business generates artifacts, but these cannot be used as is by IT. The business throws it over the wall to IT and IT goes ahead and generates their own assets and therein lies the disconnect.
    • Repository for Asset Management – A common repository that not only houses digital assets, but also best practices, project information, what worked, what did not, process information, reusable components and documentation will go a long way in improving collaboration, speeding up delivery and meeting deadlines. The key is to constantly maintain this repository and making sure that is it always relevant and not outdated.
    • Task assignment, reviews and approvals – Allowing on-the-fly task assignment, tracking, re-assigment due to vacations, sick leave, etc will help keep track of progress and bring red flags up sooner rather than later.

This article is turning out to be quite long, but hopefully it conveys the idea that I set out to discuss with my friend over the phone. As always, I’m open to suggestions for improvement, so feel free to comment.

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Entry filed under: Marketing.

IT Focus for 2008 Multi-facets of the Multi-Tenant Architecture

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