In this age of digital engagement, developing more customer-centric business strategies is a crucial goal — and attaining that goal can be a journey riddled with challenges. The road to alignment between marketing and IT has not been easily traveled. But big data may be changing all that. Already a tool for improving customer experience and brand interactions, big data may just be the catalyst for change in corporate culture as well, bringing an end to tensions between marketing and IT and ushering in a new era of cross-collaboration.
“Big data is one of the hottest topics of discussion right now among both marketing and IT executives,” says Forrester Research’s vice president and principal analyst, Sheryl Pattek. “A big reason for that is the shift of IT investment dollars from what was traditionally considered back-office functions, to more front-office consumer-facing functions.”
Which means it will take both CIOs and CMOs to adapt to this new landscape.
“IT and marketing are two divisions within companies that are under big pressure right now,” says Professor Ian Cross, director of the Center for Marketing Technology at Bentley University, located just outside Boston. “IT has to show that it can be customer-facing and business-oriented, rather than back-office-oriented, and marketing has to prove that it can deliver value.”
Indeed, today marketers are being asked to change what they have traditionally done — that is, they are being asked to move away from a focus on creative pursuits toward a more scientific, analytical approach that can provide a solid ROI for every dollar spent.
Fortunately, while both CIOs and CMOs have come to the conclusion that big data is the key to helping their respective departments reach their goals, each side recognizes it can’t get there without the help of the other.
“IT and marketing is like an arranged marriage,” says Marilyn Mersereau, senior vice president of marketing and CMO at audio technology pioneer Plantronics. “Initially they might find they have little in common — marketing tends to be more ‘right-brained,’ and IT tends to be viewed as ‘left-brained.’ But, as in some arranged marriages, there are times when you find more commonalities than you expected and end up liking and appreciating your partner.”
Mersereau says she has a great partnership with the entire Plantronics IT team, from the CIO on down. “Marketing will come up with a technical need or problem, and then we leave buying decisions to IT so we can be sure the tools integrate with our back-end infrastructure,” she says.
Increasingly, Plantronics marketers are looking for tools that can help in understanding customers and their behavior: “I think data analytics has allowed us to predict what customers are going to behave like online — and by being able to predict behavior, we can see cues when people visit our site and then proactively offer them content,” Mersereau says. The IT department at Plantronics played a key role in recent years when the company’s marketing moved aggressively into social media, and needed a way to gather and analyze that data.
“Our IT department was instrumental in helping us evaluate the various social media monitoring tools,” Mersereau says. “We found that one integrated better with our CRM application, enabling us to plug social engagement right into our lead generation and post-sales efforts, including customer support. Knowing these tools are integrated made the purchase decision easier and improved workflows across the organization. Additionally, the integration between social media monitoring and CRM helps us market better because we can now follow the customer journey through the funnel to pre-sales and post-sales.”
This is the big payoff of big data: the analytics that turns a customer’s visits to a mobile landing page or an e-commerce site into actionable insight.
“You can look at the last 12 months, 24 months, or 36 months of what a customer bought from you and see exactly what they’ve done, exactly how much they’ve spent, and then segment them into different behaviors — psychographic, demographic,” Bentley’s Cross says. “From there you can build predictive models on what they’re going to do next.”
Breaking Down the Silos
A recent joint report by the Chief Marketing Officer Council and SAS describes big data as the glue that can permanently cement the relationship between marketing and IT departments. But the study also shows that there is still plenty of work to be done. Less than 20 percent of the CIOs and CMOs surveyed said they had total partnership with the other officer.
While that number doesn’t exactly sound like a cause for optimism, Liz Miller, vice president of marketing at the CMO Council, suggests things have improved since a similar survey done four years ago noted that a contentious relationship often existed between CMO and CIO. “A lot of the debate four years ago was around the ownership of digital marketing platforms — who owns the website, who owns the e-commerce section,” Miller says. With that issue largely settled now, she points out that “both sides have now come to the conclusion that they need to figure out big data or they’re really in for it.”
The new survey also offers plenty of suggestions for ending the silo mentality that often exists in many companies, including bringing both the CIO and CMO to the table as early as possible when formulating new consumer strategies.
“What we’re hearing from CIOs is ‘It’s great that you’re bringing me into the conversation when you’re beginning to identify the technology you’re going to need — now bring me into the conversation when you first begin to look at customer engagement strategies,’ ” Miller says. “That way, you get better information and you enable data to go the right dashboard and into the right channels, and you’re not having to backtrack to fill that in.”
Miller cites the success of companies like Juniper Networks, where the CMO and CIO are not only working together, but also enjoying their partnership and looking for ways to increase the cooperation between the two departments.
The study also highlights the need for clearly defined roles when it comes to big data, with the CIO responsible for identifying where the data is coming from, while the CMO’s focus is on the analytics to turn that data into usable intelligence. “Once they have those definitions and once they knew their roles, you then see this clear progression forward,” Miller says. “You didn’t have functional silos, which was the number one constraint to optimizing the customer experience.”
None of this is necessarily easy, and Forrester’s Pattek notes that getting marketing and IT on the same page can be a challenge, no matter the size of the company or industry that they’re in. “The CMOs are focused on revenue growth and the customer experience, and CIOs are concerned with controlling costs and risk — and at times it can be hard to align those two,” she says. “But if the CIO and CMO share a common vision, then it become less important as to who owns the project and who owns the budget.” In order to achieve this common vision, Pattek suggests that CMOs must become both tech- and data-savvy.
“Companies now are looking for a 360-degree view of the customer from the data perspective so they can really delve into having a deep level of customer understanding,” she says. “And that really is all about the CMO and how comfortable that person is with technology and how willing they are to establish a vision so they and the CIO can work together.”
Two Departments, One Goal
No one expects the CIO and CMO to be perfectly in tune 24/7 — and they don’t necessarily have to be. But Matt Kaudy, vice president of marketing at NASA Federal Credit Union (NASA FCU), suggests that there does need to be a willingness throughout the company to collaborate.
NASA FCU was founded originally to provide financial services for employees of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, and while it has grown into a full-service financial institution serving consumers and businesses nationwide, Kaudy notes that the spirit of cooperation NASA harnessed to put a man on the moon in 1969 still exists within the company. “The culture itself, beginning with the CEO and going all the way though the organization, is very collaborative,” he says. “We know that our success in marketing is really predicated on our getting support from tech and the relevant data they can provide us, because that enables us to put the right offers in front of the consumer.”
Tim Burch, NASA FCU’s vice president of technology, echoes that. “Fortunately, we haven’t had a lot of major issues between marketing and tech, and one reason for that is each is not trying to build its own kingdom within the company, so we stay focused on a common goal,” Burch says. “We may not always agree on how to reach that goal, but we’re willing to work with the other groups to get it done.” With many of its customers now migrating away from physical bank branches and toward banking via cell phone or other mobile devices, Burch points out that the number of customer interactions has increased — and with that has come an increase in the cooperation between marketing and IT.
“In addition to day-to-day conversations we may have in the hallways, we have a monthly meeting where tech and marketing get together to talk about what’s happening over the next month,” he says. “There are a lot of times where one department may be working on a project that doesn’t have an immediate impact on the other, but at that meeting we can at least bring it to light because it could end up changing something that they do down the line.” Kaudy suggests another key to keeping the departments aligned is taking the time to explain what both marketing and IT are looking to achieve — a simple step that often gets overlooked at many fast-moving companies.
“We try to lay out from a marketing perspective our point of customer arrival and what we’re trying to accomplish with our objectives,” he says. “That way tech can frame out the security aspects from the data side, and then we usually discuss it and find that compromise position, including understanding both their resource restraints and what restraints there may be in terms of security of the data.”
In the end, successful alignment between marketing and IT requires both sides to be enthusiastic about their common goals, even if the collaboration demands the occasional compromise. After all, having a warehouse full of data — and the potential means to figure out ways to predict customers’ behavior with that data — is a thrilling business prospect for all involved.
“IT’s job is to take all that data and make it transparent and adaptable to however the company wants to use it,” Bentley’s Cross says. “And marketing’s role today is centered on recognizing that the glamour in their business is no longer about having a big party or photo shoot or branding event; now the glamour is in an awareness of ‘We have an extra level of confidence that this product is going to hit these goals and reach this audience because we modeled behavior on what we think is going to happen.’”
Best Practices for CMO/CIO Alignment
While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution that ensures a company’s CMO and CIO will be on the same page when it comes to big data, here are some tips that can help align marketing and IT on priority projects.
- Schedule regular meetings to share insights. Remember, IT and marketing don’t just work with each other, they interact with a variety of departments across the organization. Sit-downs offer a great chance for both sides not only to weigh in on the project, but also to reveal how other departments, like customer service, could be impacting the results of marketing initiatives.
- Get the CEO involved. According to the findings of a new study from the CMO Council, in collaboration with SAS, companies that have the best CIO-CMO partnerships are those in which the CEO is perceived as being most responsible for the customer. Getting the CEO involved in discussion around big data helps both marketing and IT understand that their primary roles are to drive a customer-centric experience, not to advance their own agendas.
- Convene early. The time to talk about what kind of IT infrastructure is needed for a big data project is not right before implementation, but at the formulation of any customer engagement strategies.
- Learn the language of the other department. CMOs and marketing departments need to have enough knowledge about IT so as not to be overwhelmed by jargon, as well as to gain an appreciation for constraints such as security and the budget impacting the CIO and the rollout of a big data project.
- Look for new hires who understand both marketing and IT. Marketing technology is one of the hottest new business degrees, especially at the graduate level, so there should be plenty of talented people entering the job pool with an understanding of both the art of marketing and the science that’s driving data.
This article originally appeared in ANA Magazine.