We all know that marketing has become more techno-centric. On a day-to-day basis, that means the business world is looking for managers who are just as proficient with technology as they are with marketing. The logical source for these new marketing technologists would be the marketing and IT departments. But many people in marketing and IT are not responding to the challenge.
Too many marketers still think of marketing as branding and broadcasting. That was then. Today, a successful brand comes from intelligent management of information and technology-supported interactions.
Many technologists think that marketing is for airheads. Technologists think that they could do it in their sleep. In truth, successful marketing includes an intimate knowledge of customer behavior, realistic business goals, sophisticated data acquisition, strategic analytics, breakthrough creativity and interactive technology. It is a difficult, process-oriented discipline that takes years to master.
The new economy is forcing marketers and IT managers to work together more closely. Many of them are not enjoying the experience.
Marketing Frustrated with IT
One marketer, who didn't want to be identified, is so frustrated with his IT department that he has taken projects away from them. This executive, who we'll call Bill, complains, "working with IT people can be very difficult."
For example, Bill got excited about HTML e-mails and sent out the first one with the help of his IT people. "They messed up," he says, sadly. "They blasted a test message to our entire user base and prospect list with a text attachment. The message said something like, 'Hey, did you get this, Dave?' We looked like idiots. We're a technology company. We should know better."
Now Bill outsources his e-mails. "The IT people are still mad at me. But I don't trust them to touch our customers." Bill has even outsourced his Web hosting, because he doesn't feel he can trust IT to take it seriously. "Our Web site currently has 15,000 unique visitors a month," he says. "If it goes down for a day, there's hell to pay. If I hosted it here, and our site went down at 5:01 on a Friday evening, it wouldn't get back up again until 8 o'clock on Monday morning. Our internal IT people don't even wear pagers. My hosting service, on the other hand, is 24/7."
He cautions: "The Web isn't something you can do in your spare time. It has to be monitored and measured, 24 hours a day. And it has to be impeccable, because it's your brand."
Ralph Fascitelli is president of Imagio, a new-age marketing agency that's grown 700 percent over the last five years. Fascitelli's agency just finished conducting more than two dozen focus groups of IT people. "They're incredibly overwhelmed," he says. "The industry is changing too quickly. We found what I would call high levels of shocking ignorance."
But he thinks the biggest problem is risk aversion. "IT managers have a unique relationship with their boss, usually the CEO," he says. "The CEO doesn't know what's going on inside the IT department, and he really doesn't want to know. He just doesn't want them to screw up. He doesn't want to spend $10 million for a new system that doesn't work. So the IT guy has a lot of power, as long as he doesn't fail. Short of that, he's golden, because nobody knows what he's doing." But this keep-them-in-the-dark attitude isn't working in the new economy.
IT Frustrated with Marketing
Marketers are often accused of avoiding the mental heavy lifting, leading to bad decisions. David Fowler, senior vice president, worldwide marketing for Kana, a provider of enterprise relationship management (eRM) solutions, says that some marketers "are buying solutions based on how good the screens look, even if the analytics are lousy underneath."
Bask Iyer, vice president of e-business for Honeywell's global business services, is one of those rare people who started out in marketing and moved into technology. Iyer is concerned when he sees marketers who think surfing the Web qualifies them to manage e-marketing. "It's not enough," Iyer cautions. "You have to understand the fundamentals of e-business; how the sites are put together. You don't have to be a programmer, but you have to know how a good Web site is designed. Otherwise, you will not be able to provide direction to Web designers."
He believes that marketing people don't understand the Web. "There are still a lot of people who believe that television is the only real medium, in spite of all that's been written about the Web. They do not consider the Internet as another medium. But it is--and it's here to stay."
Marketing people also tend to be naïve about the real work involved in Web marketing. Iyer thinks that non-technical managers have been deceived by the fact that "their kids can create home pages in two days." The ease with which Web pages can be created is in direct conflict with the reality of back office integration. "While the development environment is rapid, it's still not simple. You can't just wave a magic wand. You must understand databases and transactional systems. You must be able to define requirements. And you must test. It's real work, a real application, not just a toy or a cool thing to do."
The Power Baton
Every company has what I call a Power Baton. It confers both a high status and a huge responsibility, assigned by the CEO to a certain individual in the company. The person who has the Power Baton is the company's anointed leader, someone who is expected to turn the company into a powerhouse.
Right now, the Power Baton is being given to anyone who can successfully combine marketing and technology. As Iyer says, "Even board members are requesting updates on e-business and e-strategies. It's a big leadership vacuum that you can step in and fill. But to do so, you can't just be technical or business-smart. You have to be both."
It's a perfect opportunity for a smart marketing person or a smart IT person--or two such people working together--to move up in the organization. It is possible for marketers and technologists to work together harmoniously, as confirmed by Anne Holland, publisher of MarketingSherpa.com. "In the old days my printing rep and graphic designer were my partners. Now I'm practically joined at the hip with my IT guy. I know his birthday, how he feels about kids, his every mood. He can tell just from my voice on the phone when I'm having a bad hair day. I think I'm closer to him than I am to my boyfriend," she says, tongue in cheek.
It's not every day that you get a chance to possess the Power Baton. This is your moment. You don't want to blow it. The first place to start is to seek common ground with your counterpart in IT or marketing. In my experience, marketers and technologists can work in harmony when they focus on two areas: processes and customers.
They can build diagrams of all the interactive marketing processes and interactions with customers. The diagrams should include online and offline marketing solutions. These diagrams should be used to drive all of their internal and external marketing activities. Before any of this can happen, however, the walls have to be torn down. If you're in IT, you have to get used to the idea that customers are truly in charge, and you must stop treating marketers as brainless airheads. If you're in marketing, you have to start learning the technology and stop thinking of IT people as clueless geeks.
And no matter where you're sitting now, you must step out of your comfort zone and go back to school.
To marketers: You can't manage what you can't do yourself. Don't try to fake it. And don't run from technology. Embrace it. Become a human sponge. Read books. Find a mentor. In particular, find someone who can explain technology in plain English, and who will be patient with you. Treat that person very, very well, and learn everything you can from him or her. Ask questions. If you don't understand, don't just nod your head and say, "Uh-huh." Don't move on until you get it.
Hang out in technical sites like TechWeb.com and developer.com. Join discussion lists for databases, data mining, e-mail marketing, servers, Cold Fusion and Java Beans. Spend at least 15 percent of your time learning about technology.
Jim Sterne, president of Target Marketing and author of four Web marketing books, says, "Once the brand strategy has been identified, marketing execution can be outsourced just as easily as technology execution. That means marketers must know enough about the technology to stay in the game."
If you're a marketer, you must also become obsessive about process. Marketing has become very process-oriented. Every activity should be diagrammed, charted and analyzed. Do this, and you'll be able to apply technology in the right places, track and measure your success and make improvements.
And to technologists: The IT managers who are succeeding in the new economy are playing the role of system analysts, bridging the gap between business development goals and the realities of technology. But business development goals cannot be met if customer needs aren't met.
Just as marketers can't fake their knowledge of IT, you can't correctly guess what's going on in customers' minds. Anyone in business who guesses what customers are thinking is going to fail. Customers have their own ideas about what they want. These ideas often include something totally unexpected. If you don't give it to them, they will find someone who will. This is one of the main dynamics driving Web success. You simply can't fake it. You must understand what they want and where their boundaries are. For example, they'll be perfectly willing to give you their e-mail address, but only after you have given them a valid reason to do it and an ironclad promise about how you will protect their personal information.
No matter how fast the Web changes, the basic rules of human interaction--involving trust, value, courtesy and honesty--haven't changed. You'll also need to understand what customers find valuable and helpful.
The easiest way to find out is to ask them. Prepare yourself by getting into a humble, open frame of mind. Get on the phone and ask open-ended questions. Ask them about their frustrations and desires, the two driving forces behind every purchase. Ask them to surf some sites while you're on the phone and take note of their observations and preferences. Ask them what they'd do if they were in your shoes tomorrow. Listen non-defensively. Don't argue or explain. If you do, you'll never learn the truth. They'll clam up and find a way to hang up politely.
There is no better expert on what customers want than customers themselves. Accept no substitutes. Once you understand what they want, figure out how to give it to them. If you don't, a competitor will. That's the reality of the new economy.
Rules to Live By
Every business model has its own rules. The new economy is no exception. "The rules about branding strategy are quite different on the Web," Iyer cautions. "There is an interactive element that people haven't encountered on television. On the Web, no matter how pretty it is, people still have to click and interact." Everything you do must be usable. Remember, your Web site isn't a place. It's a process.
You also have to pay close attention to your databases. Pineda finds that organizations have too many unconnected databases. "If your databases aren't talking to each other, you can't manage your marketing. You must drive your company to create one giant database," she says. "The trend now is toward customers getting information and products exactly how, when and where they want them. You can't do this with paper systems or old, non-integrated databases."
Another lesson: Find the line between intimacy and irritation. "How do you get intimate with a customer, without turning them off?" Iyer asks. He thinks the key is in consistently providing valuable information. He's right. People are coming to Web sites to learn something or buy something. The more information you provide--as long as it's easy to navigate--the more they'll appreciate who you are and what you're doing for them.
Be gentle. As Iyer says, "You should whisper on the Web." In fact, pushy tactics simply don't work. Don't think you can deceive, cajole, trick or push someone into an online sale. Even if it works once, it will never work twice.
It's also important to note that many of the most successful sites are text-intensive and graphics-poor. You may be able to put up a Flash page, but if your Web site visitors would find it intrusive and irritating, skip it. Stick to the basics. Give them great information and make it easy to navigate.
As for e-mail marketing, a little goes a long way. Make it short, with a link to deeper information. Be careful about how often you send out messages. In fact, ask your customers what they want and how often they want it. As Pineda advises, "Think long and hard about what you want to do. Mass communications should be very controlled, very limited and very carefully crafted."
Your "Native" Craft
Marketers who learn more about technology must also continue learning about marketing. One person, who would rather not be quoted, said, "I don't mean to sound arrogant, but there is no marketing talent out there. They simply haven't been trained in the basic rules of marketing." Those managing marketing without knowledge simply become gatekeepers. "You could come to them with the 'Mona Lisa,'" he complains, "And they'd say, 'That's nice. But you're an hour late.'"
Iyer agrees. "In spite of the tendency to make CRM into rocket science, at some point we're going to come back to fundamentals. The old-fashioned values will come back. The only way you're going to get intimate with customers is if you understand what they want, what their needs are and keep your site up-to-date with that."
IT managers must also keep up with technical advancements. It's possible to become too much of a generalist. Iyer explains: "Customers are looking for solutions. They don't want mission statements or vision. They want a partner who can come and deliver workable solutions, quickly.
There is no substitute for endless learning. It's the only job security you can count on.
You do not want to be left behind. You don't want to wake up some morning and realize that you are no longer needed, no longer respected and no longer valuable. And don't think that youth will save you. Irrelevance happens as easily to thirty-year-olds as fifty-year-olds. It's not a matter of age. It's a matter of attitude.