Creative Differences

Creative Differences

Just because marketing departments and IS departments traditionally behave like oil and water doesn't mean that the two functions can't coexist . . . in a perfect world.

Way back in the mists of time, The IT shop discovered the Internet and, realizing developing Web sites took next-to-no effort, began doing so with gusto. All was rosy until, some time down the track, the marketing people caught on to what IT was up to. Horrified to learn the IT folk had been representing the company to the world, marketing then seized control of the Web site and - brooking no argument - began issuing memos and directives insistently asserting ownership.

An uneasy peace reigned until the marketing folk began to realize savvy Internet users would not stand for Web pages that merely mirrored printed brochures. Forced to accept they could not turn the Web into an interactive medium on their lonesome, marketing turned to IT for help.

Thus the Internet forced a meeting of the minds between two arms of the organization whose paths previously had rarely crossed. The CIO, who back then most often reported up the chain through operations or finance, and the marketing director, who typically reported to the president or CEO, suddenly found reasons to work together.

They have been uneasily and sporadically trying to walk in each other's shoes ever since.

Marketing and IS have not always seen eye to eye. In many companies they still face each other across a considerable divide forged by mutual misunderstanding, ignorance of each other's goals and mind-sets, and the fact that IT and its priorities remain a mystery to many in the marketing discipline. Marketers tend to see the IT department as obstructive, inflexible and clueless about customers, while technologists claim marketing folk do a lousy job of expressing their needs.

But in this modern world, the two groups need to bridge that chasm and work together. Mark Crowe, CEO at Australian Marketing Institute, is one who believes there is a great need for the marketing and IT departments to work together.

"We've seen very much in the last few years that marketing tactics or strategies are based on technical platforms, whether it be Web sites or use of databases and CRM," Crowe says. "What that has highlighted is that there is always a need that the technical applications - in regard to CRM or Web sites - be understood within the context of what marketers need from that technology, and how those technical applications can be used in terms of understanding and servicing the customer better."

The trouble is, in all too many organizations, IT and marketing still have a dysfunctional relationship. A study conducted by Aelera Corporation last year found that only 61 percent of marketing projects succeed. It's a record that the IT services firm says could be improved by an average of 15 percent through a better relationship between marketing and IT.

Forrester Research's Elana Anderson points out that technology has never been more critical to marketers as they labour to integrate vast sources of data, present targeted messages to customers, and increase the measurability of marketing. Companies with the most productive marketing-IT partnerships tend to be those where the two directors have an executive-level business relationship, where there is dedicated IT support, and where they share decision making and accountability.

Yet more than half of marketers see IT as having little understanding of how technology can support their efforts. Forrester says marketing executives do not believe IT treats marketing as mission-critical. Only 30 percent of marketers report that their relationship with IT is based on strong processes with ongoing communication and coordination.

"Marketing is sitting at a crossroads. It is a critical external interface with customers and prospects, but it is struggling to change in today's environment as the effectiveness of traditional tactics decline. IT, as well as executive management, must understand the urgency and seek to exploit ways in which technology can enable that change," Anderson says.

The problems are compounded by the fact that marketing and IT focus on different financial goals. Most companies see IT is a cost centre where technology business cases often drive towards cost reduction, while marketing technology initiatives frequently focus on revenue generation. The result: a mismatch between the two groups.

To make matters worse, while 74 percent of respondents in the Aelera survey claim to have a generally healthy relationship between the marketing and IT groups, more than half say IT has little understanding of how technology can support marketing and less than half in consumer-rich sectors, such as retail and utilities, think IT has the end customer in mind.

"As technology becomes more and more central to the operation of many companies, it is increasingly imperative that IT and marketing heal this longstanding rift. And don't expect the other party to do all the work. Understanding what makes your marketing colleagues tick is essential for any CIO," Anderson says.

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