How to successfully combine marketing and IT

Acquiring new customers, increasing conversion rates, driving customer loyalty -- these are all classic examples of the goals of a marketing professional. But as companies try to capitalize on the promises of big data -- the ability to glean insights from terabytes and petabytes of data to better target your customer -- IT departments play a crucial role in helping marketing achieve these goals.

Gartner predicts that by 2017, the CMO will actually have greater power over IT budgets than the CIO, while some pundits think both roles will be collapsed into a single chief digital officer role in the future. This analysis assumes a zero-sum game where IT and marketing can't effectively work together to create better customer experiences.

I think there is an alternative way for IT and marketing to collaborate to achieve even greater personalized experiences with measurable results. Before I get to that solution, however, let's take a look at the marketing department.

What the marketing-IT relationship looks like today

Let's say you work as a product marketer at a travel company, and you're redesigning your e-commerce website to facilitate the trend towards online research and purchasing. You're on the line for increasing conversions (AKA ticket purchases) by next quarter. How can you make the digital experience more compelling than your competitor's website?

You might start by trying to learn who comes to your website, so you pull up traffic reports from a couple of analytics tools you use. The data you get varies somewhat, but that's OK. You log into your CRM to create buyer personas so you can better personalize your website. You talk to your IT team to query reams of customer behavior data to be able to predict purchasing behaviors, which you work into the shopping cart. Finally, you use another tool to segment your audience and A/B test different designs and different web copy.

Depending on the size of your company, this sort of cross-functional planning could take months. Execution could take even longer. This common scenario forces even the most tech-savvy marketer to rely on overworked IT teams to implement changes. Worst of all, this method often fails because marketers don't have good customer data to work with.

Times have changed, and marketers are now in a position where they're trying to be more sophisticated with customer experiences. Some marketers are finding that their budgets are being consumed by disconnected technologies which are, ironically, building increasingly complex, fragmented customer pictures.

What it could look like

Now you work for a travel company where marketers and IT play nice. Same job -- to redesign your e-commerce website. Only now, you're not using a bag of applications, you're using an integrated customer experience platform that centralizes customer interaction data and marketing tools (from marketing automation to search engine optimization) in a single digital marketing environment. Instead of having to rely on other departments to provide you with customer insights, you can dig into customer data yourself. IT can serve more as a consultant and spend time querying big data, which, let's face it, is still better off done by humans.

Everyone is happy in this scenario. As marketers you can proactively make data-driven decisions, and your IT colleagues are happier knowing all they have to support is a single, managed application. But your customers are happier too, because finally, you're looking at, and speaking to, a single customer view that gives you genuine insight into what your customer needs and wants.

Some companies are already seeing the benefits of a strategic marketing-IT partnership. Amazon is a clear leader in this space, having long chosen to invest in big data-driven marketing rather than traditional advertising tactics.

Starbucks is another great example of a successful marketing and IT partnership. Starbucks has embraced technology like web-based coffee builders and mobile apps, to expand and improve the entire Starbucks experience. It's no surprise that Starbucks has seen steady growth for the last four years.

A customer we work with is Carnival Cruise Lines, where IT and marketing work hand in hand to optimize the entire user experience, from pre-purchase to the voyage itself. At Carnival, you no longer have to worry about packing bottles of shampoo into your already oversized carry-ons. Carnival lets you order toiletries online before you board and have them waiting for you in your cabin. On the cruises themselves Carnival has installed several customer-facing intranet services, which are easily managed in the cloud using Sitecore.

Invite IT to brainstorm with you

A lot of companies make a lot of promises with their marketing products. As a customer, you'd be wise to ask your IT department to look at what is going on in the backend.

The ideal customer experience application combines web content management, marketing automation, email marketing, social media, e-commerce, optimization, and analytics into a unified platform. But does it truly integrate disparate data sources? Is it easy to manage and secure? Does it operate well within the existing IT environment? These are all questions that even the most tech-savvy marketer should talk over with their IT counterparts early on.

The opportunity is ripe for the analytical left-brained IT side to collaborate with the creative right-brained marketing side of your business to create more intelligent and thoughtful customer experiences. Position IT as a strategic partner rather than the more traditional function of executors. This means bringing IT into the conversation from the beginning, understanding their technical concerns and coming up with a mutual set of goals and project timeline.

James Smith is the VP of marketing, North America at Sitecore.

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Comments

Neil Chaudhari
Neil Chaudhari August 15, 2014 at 4:11 PM

Thanks for the great article, James. As more IT services move to the cloud, and marketing begins to capture the value of existing customer data the value of marketing will shift within most organizations. They will certainly need to play nicely to evolve both roles' worth—and I agree, collaboration between teams is key. In a digital agency setting, all of our initiatives bring both creative marketing and tech solutions to the table for the best functional experience. I've written further about digital agencies here: http://www.imediaconnection.com/content/37162.asp

Thanks again!
Neil