Information is power

Marketing and technology teams need to work together to optimise business success in a digital world but only one in 10 marketing and IT executives believe they have got it right. Those that have successfully collaborated tell how they forge strong links.

Above: The Guardian is one of the few brands to have a chief digital officer role in addition to the chief marketing and IT functions. In its case, the remit is to push its ’digital-first’ policy across departments through training, and promote best practice across the company. 

Predictions of doom loom ominously over marketers when it comes to technology, with most suggesting that they are vastly under-prepared for the future. All marketing is now “inherently digital” according to Forrester Research, which adds that senior marketers risk getting left behind unless they “focus on how digital can deliver the brand experience in a more relevant and richer way”.

Chief marketing officers (CMOs) will begin to outspend chief information officers (CIOs) on buying new technology as early as 2017, Gartner predicts. Although most marketers would claim to be in tune with the latest tech trends and prepared for what the future has in store, new research questions the extent to which they and their IT counterparts are working together effectively on their brands’ digital strategies. 

The study by Accenture highlights “a disconnect” between CMOs and CIOs that “threatens the ability of companies to deliver effective customer experiences”. It shows that only one in 10 marketing and IT executives believe collaboration between CMOs and CIOs is at the right level.

One brand that has been forward thinking enough to tackle this head on two years ago is financial services firm IG Group, which combined the roles of CIO and CMO. 

Chief marketing officer Ali Hine believes the two departments can work together harmoniously – even to the extent that they share personnel. Hine is a rarity in the CMO community given that he previously held the position of CIO at the company (see Q&A here).

After four years in that role, IG decided to combine the positions of CIO and CMO in 2011 so that Hine held both roles. Last year he took on the marketing role exclusively and a new CIO was appointed.

Problematic issues, according to Accenture, include the freedom to use technology, with 45 per cent of CMOs stating that they want to enable their teams to leverage data without IT intervention. Meanwhile, 49 per cent of CIOs complain that marketing uses technology without consideration for IT standards.

There’s a definite blurring of the lines between marketing and IT. Both have to understand the needs of the other, it has to be a meeting of minds

IG’s decision to combine both roles was partly down to a rebrand in which it consolidated its separate foreign exchange and spread-betting businesses under a single brand: a process that required the company to reshape its website and data model to accommodate all products. Hine says the process of combining the roles also facilitated a more integrated marketing operation and better data sharing between the IT and marketing teams.

The thinking was to get technology into our marketing department – in the first instance to ensure that we were able to track our marketing across different channels and look at our tactics, spending and how we could better drive revenue,” he explains.

IG, a FTSE 250 company, this month launched its biggest ever marketing campaign to date to promote its foreign exchange trading services in the UK. This includes out-of-home activity across the rail network, online display ads and in-app mobile advertising that will run during September and October.

Hine says that although he has found it a steep learning curve to develop his creative marketing skills, the company’s marketing function has benefited from his technology background and the smooth collaboration with the IT department that this has helped create.

There’s a definite blurring of the lines now so marketers need to have an in-depth understanding of technology,” he adds. “Both teams need to understand the requirements of the other – it has to be a meeting of minds. We try hard to ensure that both our IT and marketing departments are involved in all projects.”

But of course, most marketers do not have a background in IT to fall back on and instead must develop their own expertise and working practices to ensure they are harnessing technology effectively. For example, Paul Higgins, head of marketing at TalkTalk Business, has overseen a number of major technology projects at the B2B network provider aimed at driving marketing efficiency and new digital services.

This includes the introduction of a self-service customer portal on the company’s website at the end of last year. Higgins notes that while such a project would traditionally have fallen under the remit of his company’s IT department, he was able to lead its development by precisely defining the roles of the two teams.

Starbucks has gone the CDO route, appointing a digital chief to sit between the marketing and IT functions

The outline was that we would be responsible for the ‘what’ and the IT department would be responsible for the ‘how’,” he explains. “So for example we were responsible for the customer research that guided us on the user experience. Once you’re armed with that customer knowledge and you are the voice of the customer, the friction [between departments] kind of goes away.”

In addition to working with an internal IT team, Higgins points to the challenge of buying in marketing technology from a constantly expanding range of providers. He suggests that marketers must work collaboratively with their IT counterparts and make a clear business case in order to justify such purchases.

If you try to bring technology into a business without it having gone through the right processes, then you’ll inevitably get push-back on it,” he says. “Technology adoption works if you can understand what the customer wants and be the person that tells the rest of the business why it’s important and how it will deliver ‘x’ return on investment.”

The Accenture survey shows that when collaborating on a marketing initiative, nearly half of CIOs (46 per cent) believe marketing does not provide an adequate level of detail to achieve a successful outcome. Higgins argues that in order to improve their technical knowledge and cross-department communication, marketers should learn by doing.

You learn about the latest technologies from just being in the game – attending seminars, meeting like-minded people and talking to other people in your company,” he adds. “You’ve got to take responsibility for yourself to listen, learn and understand and then work out, with all the stuff out there, which bits you need to deliver your marketing in the best way.”

Cory Munchbach, an analyst at Forrester Research, believes that the current generation of CMOs has faced a huge challenge in adapting to the rapid pace of digital change. As today’s younger generation of ‘digital natives’ begins to take on senior marketing roles, the issue of technology adoption and implementation will become much less problematic, she suggests.

We’re not at the generation where [CMOs] have learned about this stuff in business school or had formal training,” she says. “Essentially, CMOs have recognised that understanding the role that digital is having and the way their customer engagement is changing is a life or death situation as far as their careers go. That has changed how they approach their work.”

Technology adoption works if you can understand what the customer wants and tell the business why it’s important and how it will deliver ROI 

Munchbach is the analyst behind Forrester’s paper from earlier this year, which characterised all marketing as “inherently digital” and urged CMOs to work across departments to assess the “digital readiness” of their company. She believes that despite certain incompatibilities between marketing and IT teams, there is a growing resolve to work together for the good of the brand. This includes reforming data practices to ensure marketers are optimising their consumer insight while remaining within legally-set IT standards.

The commitment to overcoming those incompatibilities is there and definitely being acted on more and more because both sides recognise that’s what customers are looking for and need,” she says. “It’s a business imperative more than a department imperative to make those connections and enable the right kind of customer engagement.”

Munchbach’s belief in the ‘inherent’ role of digital technology led her to predict that digital marketing will soon lose the “digital” prefix and become known as just ‘marketing’. For example, she calls on CMOs to move marketing budgets out of channel silos and into new “cross-platform teams” organised around consumer segments, with experts on the relevant media, channels and devices for that particular segment.

While she accepts that the existence of digital marketing specialists can help companies to build up particular capabilities, she argues for a greater focus on customer needs. “It’s not that marketers should be spending all their money now on digital-only experiences or devices, it’s understanding how consumers are using digital to influence traditional experiences and vice-versa,” she says.

So the ideal state is to have an understanding of the customer journey. Then whatever engagement touchpoints along that journey need to happen can happen but they shouldn’t be defined by one person. All the elements – digital and offline – need to work together.”

This picture is complicated further by the emergence of chief digital officers (CDOs): a separate, board-level position created by some brands to sit between the CIO and CMO roles. The intention is to dedicate resources to the development of digital products and expertise, though some commentators have expressed concerns that it is unhelpful to have a separate CDO position given the ubiquitous role of digital within a business (see ’The rise of the chief digital officer’ here).

IG combined its marketing and IT roles two years ago to integrate the teams’ operations and to aid data sharing

However, Tanya Cordrey, chief digital officer at Guardian News & Media (GNM), argues that her department is a vital mechanism in spreading best practice across the company. “It’s very important that businesses don’t try to limit digital to just a small group of people,” she says. “It’s therefore incumbent on people who have a title like myself and their teams to make digital happen across an organisation.”

Cordrey’s responsibilities cover product, engineering, user experience, data and analytics. She claims there is no overlap with the company’s IT department given that her focus is on “growing the Guardian and growing our digital ambitions”, rather than traditional enterprise solutions. In terms of marketing, she says that her department has a separate remit but that both teams complement one another.

They work closely with us to help us launch our products and make sure they attract as big an audience as they can,” she explains. “Meanwhile, my team works closely with them when they have new initiatives that they want to push out. For example, we’ve been working to develop a much more compelling suite of email products. So we work with the marketing team to understand what they want to achieve and how my team can best make that happen.”

Another of Cordrey’s responsibilities is to communicate the Guardian’s ‘digital-first’ policy across the business. She sits on GNM’s executive board to gain a view of activity across the company and organises digital training programmes and talks by expert speakers for staff across departments. This includes Harper Reed, the former chief technology officer of the Obama 2012 election campaign, who recently spent several days at the Guardian.

Even though my role is chief digital officer, that doesn’t mean that I’m the only one that does digital,” she says. “We try very hard to enable digital thinking and digital ambition across the organisation and make those ambitions happen.”

Western Union combines digital marketing with a focus on the physical retail experience

However, despite the apparent benefits of having a separate CDO position, Munchbach at Forrester believes the position will not become a permanent feature of companies’ executive boards in the long-term. She suggests that it is symptomatic of businesses’ efforts to manage the disruption caused by digital change as smoothly as possible and that eventually, such roles will merge with more established business functions.

Right now businesses are going through the self-reflection of what digital is going to mean to them and the designated role [of CDO] is someone who on a strategic level can help shepherd that through,” she says. “But treating it as its own functional silo is reminiscent in some ways of the rise of the chief customer experience officer. Ultimately, it all rolls into a brand or product experience if done right.”

Indeed, despite the relentless growth of digital channels, many brands continue to place huge value in the more ‘traditional’ channels that deliver their brand and product. Money transfer service Western Union says that it is evolving its brand into “a multi-channel, multi-product financial services company”. The changes include a gradual shift of the corporate brand from Western Union to WU and a series of new digital products including mobile payment services and online accounts.

Despite these changes, the majority of WU’s customers still prefer to visit one of its bricks-and-mortar retail outlets at some point in their “customer journey”, according to Umesh Maini, European vice-president of marketing. The company therefore continues to attribute huge importance to the experience provided at its 520,000 global locations.

Because it’s a financial transaction there’s a trust element whereby people like to go into a physical location and have a face-to-face interaction with our staff,” he says. “We’re seeing that people are not sticking to one preferred method – they’re discovering alternative channels like mobile and online at the same time. That’s why having a seamless experience that transplants across all these channels is extremely important.”

Although WU has a dedicated team of digital marketing specialists, the company retains a flexible approach to how it utilises new technology. Maini says this allows it to test the success of new products and services while retaining its focus on consumers. “It’s a constant model of tracking consumer behaviour, piloting, learning and rolling out,” he notes.

Digital is becoming much more relevant to us but there is no one solution that we have cracked. We are always evolving.”


45 per cent of CIOs put marketing IT near or at the top of their priorities

64 per cent of CMOs believe marketing IT is placed at the bottom of the CIO’s priority list

61 per cent of CIOs say their companies are prepared for the digital future

49 per cent of CMOs feel their companies are prepared to leverage digital channels

46 per cent of CIOs believe marketing does not provide an adequate level of detail to achieve a successful outcome

36 per cent of CMOs say that IT deliverables fall short of their expectations

Source: Accenture 



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