Why Marketing Should Run Its Own Technology

A new breed of 'marketing technologist' is emerging. Here are 3 reasons IT should give them control.

Scott Brinker, Contributor

October 26, 2010

4 Min Read

A recent report by the CMO Council and Accenture, surveying both CMOs and CIOs, reached two conclusions. First, in many organizations, there's growing frustration between the marketing department and IT. Second, the opportunity for leveraging data and technology in marketing is greater than ever.

What should we do to reconcile these two truths?

I actually disagree with the report's recommendations that this conundrum can be solved simply with better communication. (A frequent remark overheard is, "Can't the CIO and the CMO just talk?") Better communication is good, but something is happening here that is bigger than that.

The tectonic shift causing these organizational tremors: marketing is becoming a technology-driven discipline.

My conclusion--and you might not like it--is that marketing must ultimately lead its own marketing technology, from high-level strategy down to in-the-trenches code. It's the only way marketing will be able to succeed as a technology-driven discipline. Already, a new breed of marketing professional--"marketing technologist"--is emerging to address these needs natively inside their department. And they're not technical lightweights, but talented and experienced engineers.

In such an environment, IT cedes responsibility for most marketing applications to marketing. However, IT continues to provide shared infrastructure, coordinate data and technology that crosses multiple departments (such as CRM systems), serve as a trusted consultant and enforce security and regulatory compliance as a checks-and-balances authority.

To appreciate the significance of these conclusions, we have to recognize that marketing has had a largely tangential relationship to technology for pretty much its entire history up to now. Sure, it embraced new channels and media as they emerged. But the practice and management of marketing didn't require much technical prowess. If marketing occasionally needed something technical--a database or a web site--they would turn to IT or an outside vendor.

But the world is changing fast. Marketing is now inundated with new software applications that are suddenly critical to its mission: web analytics, e-mail marketing, bid management, search engine optimization, social media monitoring, marketing automation, conversion optimization, behavioral targeting, and more. How these solutions are selected, configured, operated and connected to each other has a big impact on marketing's performance.

Increasingly, marketing is also pushed to wield technology as a creative medium. This goes way beyond web page content that looks nice. Marketers are building more advanced web applications, widgets, microsites, Facebook apps, iPhone and iPad apps, Android apps, and ever more interactive ads. They're starting to think about APIs and the semantic web to use data as a marketing channel. And the promise of technologies built into products and services from the outset, such as location and community features, opens new creative opportunities for marketing throughout the customer lifecycle.

This explosion of technology within marketing's domain is simultaneously exciting and terrifying--to marketers as much as anyone. IT would like to help, both because everyone wants the overall business to succeed and because, somewhat territorially, such technology management has always been IT's responsibility.

However, while IT can certainly contribute, there are three structural differences in this new era of technology-driven marketing that limit IT's ability to control it.

First, in this new marketing environment, it's hard to separate the marketing from the technology. They're deeply entwined. Analytics software becomes marketing's perception of its audience. Marketing automation software becomes interwoven with marketing's operational processes and flows. Technology-powered creative concepts are conceived at the ever-fluctuating intersection of technical feasibility and human imagination. If you try to split these projects across technical and non-technical boundaries, King Solomon style, much is lost in the gap between.

Second, the velocity at which changes are happening in marketing is dizzying. Not just new technologies, which are appearing every week, but the tempo by which marketing is now expected to react to opportunities and threats. An organization's clockspeed and ability to make good choices quickly are now key to marketing's competitiveness. IDC recently advised CMOs to adapt the agile development methodology for "agile marketing." As marketing accelerates from yearly plans to "sprints" of two to six weeks, it will be harder for people outside the department to keep pace--and marketing will have less patience for anything perceived as drag.

Third, and perhaps most important, is that the CMO is now required to perform on metrics that are significantly impacted by such marketing technology. It's not a far leap to appreciate that once the CMO is fully responsible for the outcome, he or she will insist on having control over the means of achieving it.

This shift to marketing running its own marketing technology won't happen overnight. But a visionary CIO might want to sit down with the CMO, agree on where this is headed and plan a way to get there from here. A first step may be jointly hiring a "chief marketing technologist" to champion the current intersection and guide it toward the future.

Scott Brinker is the president and CTO of ion interactive, a marketing software company. He blogs on marketing technology management here.

Recommended Reading:
Global CIO: IT & Marketing: Can't They Ever Get Along?

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