For this week’s marketing technologist interview, we move in-house to talk with someone who’s balanced the relationship between marketing and IT on the front-line. In fact, he’s worked for marketing, then IT, and then marketing again — all with the same mission. I’m thrilled to have Eric Long, an experienced online marketer, information architect, and web strategist share his perspective with us.
Eric is the Senior Manager of E-Business for the Decor Global Business Unit of Newell Rubbermaid. Newell Rubbermaid has 13 such business units, each with its own marketing department. Decor’s brands include Levolor and Kirsch (window blinds, shades, draperies, and drapery hardware) and Amerock (cabinet hardware).
Eric also publishes ebusinessblog.org, which has more great ideas on this topic.
Eric Long, Senior Manager of E-Business, Newell Rubbermaid
First, how did you end up at the intersection of marketing and technology? What did your career path look like?
I think it’s important to note that I really got into computers with Bulletin Board Systems (BBSes) before I started working professionally. Networking computers so people in remote locations could carry on conversations fascinated me for some reason.
When it came time to choosing a college major, I knew I didn’t want to “fix computers” but wanted to work in a field related to computers and the conversations they helped facilitate. This was very difficult for college advisers to grasp, and at the time the options were limited because technology was so foreign to many people. Computer science was “too techy” for me and a business degree was not techy enough. Then I stumbled upon management information systems and realized this 50-50 blend of technology and business was the perfect degree for me.
I spent my first 9 years working professionally for a small production and interactive agency doing work as an IT administrator and an interactive project manager. It was there that I learned that the world was not black and white and that I needed to move into the “gray area” — as I was told on numerous occasions by my heavily marketing-oriented colleagues.
It was through my time at this agency that I learned the value of the end-user experience and how, above anything else, this was the single, most important quality to a product.
“It was through my time at [an] agency that I learned the value of the end-user experience.”
5 years ago I began working for the Decor Global Business Unit in Newell Rubbermaid as a web marketing manager and reported to the director of consumer marketing. I was tasked with launching our business into e-commerce on a new platform with a new shopping experience.
Can you tell me more about the relationship between IT and marketing in that e-commerce launch?
At the time, our e-business department was split up in 3 different departments:
- IT infrastructure
This silo’d approach was a result of small teams forming within specific department silos that needed “systems-related” work to be performed for projects.
After 2 years and a successful launch into e-commerce, it made the most sense to bring these 3 silo’d functions together. I was appointed the senior manager of IT Applications and managed the newly-formed team while reporting to the CFO. During this time we handled all IT-related requests that pertained to applications in the business unit (intranets, custom development, customer systems, internal systems, websites, etc.). The project list was long and extremely backlogged.
Another 2 years passed, and the organizational structure changed again—a new executive team was formed as the business was shifting from “fix” to “growth” mode. This time I moved back over to the marketing department with largely the same team members (and approval to expand the team for growth), and I would now report to the VP of Marketing. At the end of the day, each project my team works on has a direct impact on end-user experience, and we used this as a means to justify the move to marketing.
“Each project my team works on has a direct impact on end-user experience, and we used this as a means to justify the move to marketing.”
For the marketing department to not have any managing authority over such an important strategic component (end-user experience) of our business would be a problem. IT should not be responsible for defining how customers or consumers experience our B2C or B2B systems. By realigning our team in marketing, we set up our business unit for long-term project alignment. We then shed our team of the list of internal projects (intranets, custom development, etc.) that were not impacting customers/consumers.
How does the team look today? What’s under your e-busines umbrella?
At our Decor business unit, we break down e-business into the following 5 functions for which my team is responsible for:
- Business Intelligence & Web Analytics
- Content & UX
- Application & Development
- E-Marketing & Interactive Marketing
- Merchandising & Conversion
I report to the VP of Marketing and manage a staff of 17 marketing and technical team members. Our in-house expertise is heavily Application & Development, related with a developing competency in BI & Analytics and Content & UX. We get agency help across all 5 functions depending on workload.
The types of projects vary considerably when the scope can span these 5 functions. Some projects only touch one function, other projects touch all five. Examples of projects we’re currently working on with marketing technology:
Redesigning the online merchandising experience based on web analytics data, voice of consumer data, and segmentation research (executed by our Consumer Insights department).
Leveraging our B2C e-commerce experience for B2B e-commerce. Gone are the days where B2B portals were purely functional and companies could get by on a poor experience. Everybody uses Facebook and Google, therefore everybody expects this type of ease-of-use with their web applications.
“Gone are the days when B2B portals were purely functional. Everybody expects ease-of-use with their web applications.”
Since you’ve worked for both IT and marketing, what suggestions would you give for optimizing the relationship between those two departments?
I honestly believe the marketing department requires a dedicated marketing technology team. This is essentially what we have in our e-business team.
The main problem with IT is that it has so many customers to satisfy in addition to outside customers and consumers: internal stakeholders, internal projects, etc. As a result, a value equation is often used to determine prioritization of IT projects. The fundamental flaw with this is that by always focusing on the biggest ROI projects — which on paper, makes sense — you can easily miss the low hanging fruit that would drastically improve the end user experience for a customer or consumer. Sometimes, it’s the little details that matter most.
Since it probably isn’t an option for many businesses to have a dedicated e-business team, then you need someone who can serve as this bridge between the worlds of marketing and IT. Nothing infuriates an IT team more when a marketing representative can’t “talk the talk” and requirements are so broadly scoped that it leaves the IT team to interpret the intent.
“You need someone who can serve as this bridge between the worlds of marketing and IT.”
Conversely, nothing infuriates a marketing team more than when an IT team under-delivers on the end-product because they didn’t capture the essence of what was needed. In the end, no one is at fault because IT delivered exactly what the marketing department requested.
If you could give 30 seconds of wisdom on marketing technology to the CMO of a Fortune 500 company, what would you say?
The online channel is not a zero-sum game; distribution is still distribution. Consumers buy where it’s convenient for them and they don’t care about your channel conflicts.
Your call center is not the first place a consumer will go to report a problem anymore, so don’t rely on it as your only means of measuring the voice of consumer.
Any advice you would give to up-and-coming marketing technologists?
Spend time working for an agency so you get a healthy cross-section of projects and customers to get a feel for the type of work you like to do. Don’t be afraid to work in IT if there is a rotational program available where you are.
And finally, work in an industry you are passionate about. Your work is much more rewarding and you are infinitely better at it when you are passionate about the topic.
“Your work is much more rewarding and you are infinitely better at it when you are passionate about the topic.”