Are Marketing And IT Finally Having A Go At Working Effectively Together?

With the increasing richness and complexity that digital channels and social media bring to the marketing equation, senior marketers increasingly realize that, to be relevant in shaping their brands’ interaction with customers, their teams need to embrace new technologies with the help of the IT group.

In my latest joint research effort with my fellow analyst Nigel Fenwick from Forrester’s CIO role, I explore how marketing and IT can successfully work together in enabling organizations to master the customer data flow.

Our early findings were not very promising . . . What clearly emerged from our interviews with CMOs and CIOs was how deeply ingrained the stereotypes about the two teams are. We heard that:

  • IT is the department of “no” and does not care about customers or what’s happening in the market.
  • Marketing is having all of the fun and spending money without rhyme or reason.

We did come across organizations that established productive working relationships between marketing and IT, and some of the key findings were:

  • The majority of the interviewees agreed on the need to have a central organizing principle that will help federate the alignment efforts between marketing and IT. They called it different things, like “brand experience,” “delighting customers,” “dealership experience” . . . And what they all meant was that effective alignment is focused on a measurable impact on customers and their experience with the brand. In the words of a marketing leader at a major car manufacturer: “We are not an IT shop; we need help to adopt the right technology that can help us with our customers."
  • Speed-to-market and agility are recognized as potential areas of friction between IT and marketing. Setting up dedicated teams and processes on the IT side is increasingly viewed as the best approach. The CIO at a CPG organization said, “We did realize that marketing lives in a different time frame, and a lot of [its] activities demand agility and fast turnarounds. Setting up a dedicated process staffed with people who understand what marketing is about dramatically changed our effectiveness as a team.”

What are some of the other findings you can read in the report?

  • Agile methodologies are emerging as a key delivery approach for IT to respond to the ever-increasing demand for speed-to-market from marketing.
  • Data ownership is a not just an operational issue but is being elevated to senior management.
  • New professional profiles and backgrounds are emerging in both teams to facilitate alignment.

The good news is that marketing and IT leaders are planning to make big changes over the next 12 months to address many of today's shortcomings. For more insight into how the new rules of engagement apply to marketing and IT, Forrester clients can read our initial findings in two reports released today. And we will further explore this topic at our upcoming CIO-CMO Forum in Boston this September.

What do you think? Is this shift a big opportunity for marketing to gain control of the customer data flow? Will marketing be able to get IT excited about focusing on the customer? Or do you think that the stereotypes are true, that we are too optimistic, and that marketing and IT will always struggle to work effectively together?


Yes, Yes They Are!

Terrific post, Luca. I think the answer to your questions, actually, is "both." There is always going to be a little natural friction between marketing and IT. And I don't think that's bad. It can be a good system of checks and balances.

However, as enabling technologies and a data-focused mindset become more entrenched in marketing, these two "camps" absolutely will need to work more closely together. And it can be done successfully. Looking at our own organization, marketing and IT work closely together on a daily basis. There is just no way to effectively use our marketing automation and CRM platforms if I, as VP of Marketing, am not in synch and marching toward the same goals as our VP of Technology, and vice versa. The CMO and CIO relationship has the potential to be the Justice League of BtoB organizations, and I'm glad to see this research coming out.

Indeed they are!

Hi Amy,
thanks for your comment.

Good to see that our research resonates with the practitioners.
Both Nigel - my fellow analyst on the CIO side of things - and I were positively surprised to find so many good examples of CIOs and CMOs that were very engaged and clearly focussed on jointly delivering programs that have a clear and positive impact on customer relationships.

I guess the next question is: where will we find, and how will we develop, the IT and Marketing talent needed to manage the kind of complex joint projects required to master the 'customer data flow'?

IT and Marketing Alignment

The advent of the Web made alignment between these groups crucial, and yet it remains a problem. I remember having discussions about this very topic with tech people on a BBS before Andreeson brought us the first browser. It persists not only at the enterprise level, but with the development of startup apps.

The book, "The Inmates Are Running the Asylum" by Alan Cooper, tried to make sense of this issue back in 2004.

How to solve? The first step in bringing these groups together is to develop mutual respect -- I still find it amazing that there are tech people who think all we marketing folks do is sit around picking colors and going to lunch. It would be great if people could job-switch for a week or so. Another is to get the leadership on board from the very top; at the CEO level. It seems to me the most successful companies are run by people who understand the real value of both roles and then drive this philosophy down through the organization.

As for people with the right backgrounds to bridge the gap, what about product managers who traditionally have been the ones reaching out to the tech side -- will they remain effective? And who's appropriate, with the right marketing skills, from the tech side?

Goals that bridge the cultural divide

Luca: I can appreciate that there is still a wide gap in the two stereotypes you've uncovered. But in speaking to some of our clients, perhaps IT and Marketing are getting closer in terms of overall expectations. Two topics that are starting to gain traction. One is around communication governance, where organizations can set up mechanisms to manage communications from both a brand and customer perspective via automation and teams. The second is around the concept of "always on" marketing, where organizations find ways to integrate data, predictive analytics and multichannel communication management to move away from a campaign focus to automate responses and interactions based on specific customer needs. Sounds like you will have plenty to talk about at your September forum.