IT Must Be Marketing’s Ally, Not Its Adversary

By Rob Burkart

The role of the CIO has progressed significantly within the last few years. IT leaders are beginning to focus on more strategic objectives for the business and are making an effort to align with other departments throughout the enterprise—especially marketing.

According to Gartner Group’s 2015-2016 CMO spend survey, 71 percent of marketers have allocated funding for innovation, which averages about 10 percent of their budget. Forward-thinking CMOs are investing heavily in analytics and are looking to CIOs to implement intuitive technology that provides more visibility into marketing performance.

This is a great opportunity for CIOs to showcase their expertise, data insights and unique perspective to help marketers and the business as a whole succeed.

Historically, IT didn’t play much of a strategic role in business operations. Instead of focusing on innovation, most IT professionals gravitated toward day-to-day tasks where stability, careful planning and deliberate execution were prized.

However, that hindered IT’s responsiveness and the alignment of projects across departments. These factors tended to make IT a behind-the-scenes facilitator, at best, without a core specialization in the organization. IT simply executed on discrete requests from the business.

As a result of growing enterprise demand for consumerized, secure technology and insights from data, IT may have graduated from the help desk to earning a seat at the strategic table. In fact, according to a recent study conducted by Harvey Nash in association with KPMG, 68 percent of IT leaders believe the role of CIO/IT director is becoming more strategic in the enterprise.

The Marketers’ Challenges

While IT seems to be overcoming these hurdles, marketers are grappling with challenges of their own—specifically in the realm of execution and measurement. Going from idea creation to driving successful results takes a lot of work and time—especially when marketers don’t have, or don’t use, the right enabling technologies.  

Most marketers still execute campaigns by following disparate processes across formats, geographies and markets. Concepts are developed in silos using corporate-available software tools. Collaboration is not well measured and occurs via spreadsheets, Word documents and PowerPoint slides.

Visibility into marketing execution results, such as spend and performance, is blurred, and extracting meaningful value is cumbersome. This severely limits the marketer’s ability to leverage logistics, scale and commonalities to make data-driven decisions.

Historically, marketing and IT have been somewhat opposed: Marketers care about speed to market and the top line, whereas IT leaders are concerned with cost control and stability. The IT professional’s access to—and understanding of—data and the technology that generates it has helped the departments meet in the middle and align their objectives. We can expect to see that trend accelerate.

The IT organization can help marketers, and ultimately the marketing supply chain, by being flexible and offering technology solutions that are easy to use, secure and insightful in terms of performance, visibility and campaign execution. While it’s important to let CMOs and their teams drive marketing strategy and decisions, IT can further differentiate the firm by translating data into analyses to provide strategic recommendations based on findings.

Say, for example, that you’re the CIO of a global retailer when the marketing department tells you that the new product packaging isn’t moving as quickly as had been anticipated. The CMO doesn’t know why this is happening since the packaging had tested well.

In such a situation, CIOs can analyze customer behavior data using powerful machine-learning models in the successful markets. That will provide guidance to marketing on which designs and messaging resonate best with customers. Marketers can then use the information to make refinements that should boost sales.

IT is often an underutilized treasure trove of analytical acumen. Although IT and marketing have operated differently at times, when the two work well together, it has a positive impact on the enterprise as a whole.

As CMOs adopt more data and technology into their strategies this year and beyond, CIOs should become their allies rather than being roadblocks in their organizations.

Rob Burkart is CIO at InnerWorkings, where he has led the business technology group since 2013. He previously led sales, operations and forecasting groups there. Before joining InnerWorkings in 2009, he worked in the aerospace, building materials and electronics industries.