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Dan Neff believes marketing is the next great technology frontier.
Neff is president of Moline, Ill.-based Aquent IT Solutions, a division of Aquent, the world’s largest marketing staffing firm.
“When you think about big technology initiatives, you think about the supply chain, improved inventory management or a streamlined back office,” says Neff. “When people think about marketing, they think about the creative, not the technology that makes great marketing possible. Yet, almost every product is discovered online, explored online and even purchased online.”
When you add “communities of interest, Web sites, customer service portals, social networks, user-generated content, click-stream tracking, customer relationship management, data mining and multichannel advertising data, it is hard to separate a brand from the technology that enables it,” says Neff. “That means getting the IT department and the marketing department on the same page should be a huge priority for every company.”
But getting everyone on the same page is difficult.
One challenge is culture, says John McCrickard, director of information technology for Paladin, a Cedar Rapids, Iowa, manufacturer and distributor of construction attachment products.
“IT has a culture of control,” he says. “That’s because the focus of IT is generally operations, finance, supply chain and security. Marketing and sales are mavericks. They are quicker to adopt new technologies, and they are quicker to push the envelope. We don’t always give marketing the freedom they need, and marketing doesn’t always respect the standards we’ve established. It is important to find a way to meet in the middle.”
Paladin Brands is comprised of 12 market-leading companies in the heavy and light mobile-construction market, under the names of Badger, Bradco, C&P, FFC, Genesis, Harley, JRB, Jewell, McMillen, Pengo, Sweepster and The Major. The company employs about 1,500 people in 19 manufacturing locations throughout the United States and Mexico and has a global sourcing office in Shanghai, China.
“In the past few years, we made many acquisitions and it was essential to quickly align multiple sales cultures and enforce data integrity standards for our ERP implementation. We had to work closely with sales and marketing to ensure that the ERP system worked for everyone and also to make sure that sales understood the impact their usage of the system would have on the entire organization’s ability to forecast demand,” says McCrickard.
David Burdakin, president and CEO of Paladin Brands, believes the impact that sales has on IT cannot be understated. The company is now deep in the process of building a business-intelligence cube to get a better handle on ordering cycles, historical sales performance and other product-centric and customer-centric metrics.
“Throughout all our acquisitions, we’ve been focused on IT-improving processes, data transparency and turning data into information,” says Burdakin. “Now, that we have one version of the truth, as marketers, we can leverage this data to better serve our customers.”
According to Edward Malthouse, a professor in the Master of Science in Communication program at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., improving communication between IT and marketing boils down to language and alignment.
“If you can’t speak the other’s language, it’s hard to articulate what you need,” says Malthouse. “In general, IT tends to focus on solutions and technology while sales and marketing are focused on customers. Where many companies get in trouble is when marketing expects IT to do their job, and IT expects marketing to define exactly what they want, and neither side comes to grips with what is needed.”
Jeff Tietz, CIO of Fellowes, a global manufacturer and marketer of shredders, records-storage solutions and technology accessories, experienced first-hand the divide between marketing and technology during the development of a digital-asset vault to hold all product-related marketing information.
“We had product-related data, such as photos, spreadsheets and copy, scattered throughout our organization, and we needed a meaningful way to organize it in a central location,” says Tietz. “This seems like a simple task, but building a centralized location for all these assets begs the question: ‘Who owns the data and how is it managed?’ This caused a minor clash between IT and marketing because IT was focused on securing the information and keeping an eye on who had access to it, while marketing wanted to put the information out to the world.”
When all stakeholders have a vested interest in the project, potential misunderstandings are minimized, says Maureen Moore, director of corporate marketing for Fellowes. Moore worked with Tietz on the data-vault project.
“We put all the stakeholder viewpoints on the table,” says Moore. “From the marketing side, we put our expectations for ease of navigation and usability on the table.” The critical success factor, however, was partnering at the onset, she says. “We got IT involved at the beginning to help define how we would secure these assets. Doing our homework made the entire project smoother.”
For Andrew Field, president of Printingforless.com, a 190 -employee online commercial printing service located in Livingston, Mont., measurement has been a key contributor to the success of his marketing programs.
“The hardest part of measuring marketing is getting the right data. Sometimes, we can’t get the exact data we need. So we’ve settled on a consistent method of collecting data that moves information to various dashboards within the company,” says Field. “From there, we benchmark and try to improve our numbers month over month. You can’t worry whether or not your numbers are 100 percent accurate. But if you are focused on continuous improvement, your measurement method will improve over time.”
With more fragmentation of markets and traditional marketing models on the decline, it makes sense that marketers are under tremendous pressure to justify spending, says Neff. Marketing dashboard projects that tie a sophisticated set of performance measures, such as leads generated, require a true executive commitment for aligning marketing with technology.
"Marketing ROI is tough to measure because getting everyone to agree on the performance measures is half the job,” says Neff. “And the performance measures change as new marketing approaches and tactics are tried. But the companies that do it right use marketing measurement as a competitive advantage.
At the same time, warns Malthouse, too much effort to bring science to a discipline that is mostly art can be dangerous. “Fundamentally, marketing is about creating meaning. And that is not an easy task. There is a lot of art in that,” he says. “But when it comes to execution, great execution depends on science and measurement. No matter what, your technology should serve and improve your marketing.”