Global CIO: Building A Brand Takes IT Flexibility - InformationWeek
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Brian Gillooly
Brian Gillooly

Global CIO: Building A Brand Takes IT Flexibility

There are fundamental differences in how marketing and IT see their roles, and the world. And it's bad for a company's brand when the CIO and marketing execs don't get along.

When my colleague Chris Murphy recently raised the issue of IT's impact on brand, and specifically the role the CIO plays in brand development, a reader responded by calling Chris' thoughts "blindingly obvious." The reader later added, "I can't believe that there's a CIO on the planet who doesn't understand this."

Sadly, it's most enterprises that don't understand this, or at least don't pay heed to it to the extent it deserves in the rapidly unfolding collaborative IT environment. It's an environment in which customers, who ultimately determine what a brand means and what value it has, are increasingly taking control of their own buying experiences through the use of collaborative technologies and social media.

Chris' column prompted a call from Bruce Rogow, a good friend of mine who speaks with more CIOs than anyone I know through his "IT Odyssey," a trek Bruce makes each year across the country and during which he visits with an average of 120 CIOs and other executives. His mission is simply to better understand the role of the CIO and the impact of IT and to track changes in how IT is used and valued in the organization. Bruce told me that recently he's been making an effort to meet with both the CIO and top marketing folks at some of the firms he visits to better understand the impact of IT on the brand. It's part of a project he’s working on for Don Tapscott’s nGenera Insights program called "Marketing 2.0."

Bruce says that, by and large, marketing people and IT people just don't get along. That might not surprise some (especially those who think that IT people don't get along with anybody!) The reason is that there's a fundamental difference in how each group thinks about its role: While this is admittedly a generalization, IT people tend to look at things linearly and in absolutes; marketing people tend to look at things conceptually and more fluidly. The problem is, both are responsible for building, protecting, and projecting the brand, so they’ve got to figure out a way to communicate and work together better.

In most of Rogow’s Odyssey visits, he says IT and marketing--and specifically many CIOs and CMOs struggle to get along. In one visit, he sat with the CIO awaiting someone from marketing who never showed. In a conversation that Rogow says typifies the relationship between the two officers at many companies, the CIO told Rogow he wasn't surprised by the no-show and that he "considers having to deal with the CMO as one of the most painful parts of the job." According to Rogow, a staggering 10% or less of the 150 or so CIOs he's met with in the past year described the relationship with marketing in a robust, positive way.

But the problem doesn't lie just with marketing, or with a perception (accurate or not) that IT is a weird science that few others can hope to grasp. One part of the problem, and a very correctable one, is the need for IT to become more flexible, says Rogow. IT has to figure out a way to work differently--become more agile, assign the right people to a project, worry about nuances that they may have dismissed before, and understand they're dealing with people who sometimes don't quite know what they're asking for. As I said earlier, marketing tends to focus on a concept--unlike, say, manufacturing, which generally knows what it wants from IT.

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This need for flexibility in a collaborative world as a means of building the brand is most apparent when you consider that, in their research on the Marketing 2.0 project, the nGenera Insight folks discovered that there are at least 81 distinct IT customer touch points. These include some of the obvious like order status systems, Facebook, and Twitter, as well as things like kiosks, mobile applets, and online simulations.

Rogow says there are three primary reasons that IT has begun influencing the marketing experience, and therefore the brand, so much over the past three to five years.

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