Forget the usual stereotypes of IT and marketing. Start with the assumption that all marketers and all IT people are smart, talented, enthusiastic, and dedicated to the success of the company, above personal preferences or departmental jockeying. They’re each very good at what they do.
So why is there such legendary frustration at the intersection of the two?
The gap that is the marketing/IT divide is, in my opinion, not a matter of personality — as often humorously portrayed — but rather the result of structural differences in their organizational missions.
For most IT managers, their top priorities are:
- stability, reliability (redundancy, disaster recovery)
- security — don’t be the dolt who left the barn door open
- ongoing support, maintenance — who takes care of it?
- standardization — the key to interoperability
- data integrity
- strategic management of infrastructure
- capital cost efficiency
IT has a relatively conservative agenda. Indeed, these are legitimate priorities for IT — the issues they should be concerned about — for which they have significant expertise. Rapidly tinkering with new and potentially unstable ideas, on a let’s-see-what-happens basis, is generally not encouraged. For most of its projects (and budget), IT favors solid architecture over loose experimentation.
That’s not to say that innovation isn’t also important to IT — it is. It’s just often not as important as these other responsibilities.
Marketing, on the other hand, particularly digital marketing, has a very different agenda:
- acquiring more customers quickly, cost-effectively
- differentiation in the marketplace
- speed to market of new ideas
- agility to change course quickly based on feedback
- brand and brand experience (user experience)
- embracing disruptive innovation
For most marketers, what worked yesterday as the status quo is not good enough tomorrow. Markets are in constant flux, and there is an insatiable demand for more: more prospects, more customers, more sales, more brand recognition, more channels, etc.
It creates a culture of chasing the leading edge, the next new thing, and that’s inherently unstable. Marketing certainly respects stability, security, standardization, etc., but those ideals are often abstract and distant compared to — and sometimes in opposition to — their primary mission of reaching more people more quickly.
Gabriel Bitran, a professor at MIT Sloan, summed it up: structure dictates behavior. The incentives and priorities that people are given will be reflected in their actions. IT and marketing are each pursuing their mandated objectives — unfortunately, those objectives easily conflict.
The explosion of digital marketing has, unfortunately, only exacerbated this problem, as marketing is increasingly dependent on a continuously evolving stream of leading edge technologies to realize its objectives. This is widening the gap.
To a certain degree, IT and marketing should conflict. Businesses as a whole succeed by balancing competing priorities. You need to have both IT infrastructure stability and innovative marketing experimentation, in some reasonable proportion to each other. The ideal point of that fulcrum depends on your particular firm and its strategy.
The first part of balance is knowing where to put your weight. IT and marketing should evaluate projects by their relative need for each other’s structural emphasis. Compromise often requires leaning to one side or the other. For instance, your core CRM database is probably a better match for IT architecture than, say, social media marketing tools.
When initiatives are more suited to marketing’s agenda, a growing array of software-as-a-service (SaaS) products for marketing is enabling those technology solutions to be more easily sourced from external vendors, with minimal dependence on IT. It’s now feasible for marketing to have its own technology sandboxes, making it more of a strategic question — in that balance between IT and marketing — as to where particular components live.
For example, in the case of my SaaS company, ion interactive, we believe that landing pages and other campaign-specific post-click marketing initiatives are better suited to rapid experimentation — with minimal or no IT involvement. This is in contrast to a firm’s primary web site, which often has deep connections into IT back-office systems. The line is drawn between what is more advertising-centric versus what is more internal operations-centric.
But software is only a part of the solution. The process of choosing the right software, making sure that the technical details are compatible with the business objectives, and weaving multiple solutions together so that they “integrate” with each other and the touchpoints with a company’s internal IT infrastructure still requires technical leadership.
This is the role that I see a for a chief marketing technologist (or director of marketing technology, if you prefer): providing technical leadership for marketing technology that is not primarily owned by the company’s IT department. The incentives for this role should emphasize marketing’s agenda of experimentation and innovation at the edge, but with enough respect for stability, security, and long-term architecture to assure that aggressive ideas aren’t reckless.
A chief marketing technologist should also serve as the primary liaison between marketing and IT, helping to negotiate the balance point for different projects and seeking ways to maximize synergy and hybrid solutions.
There may always be some tension between marketing and IT, simply because of their different positions in the spectrum of a company’s overall structural needs. But understanding the root of this dynamic, and minimizing its friction by facilitating a smart and responsible division of responsibilities in marketing technology — including independence for marketing’s own technology sandboxes — can make everyone happier and more successful.