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In a data-driven world, marketing and IT must come together

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Like oil and vinegar, marketing and IT just don’t mix well. Never have. Since the two industries first met way back in 1994 — when a digital magazine called HotWire (an offshoot of Wired) played host to the world’s first display ad — these bedfellows soon set up shop in different corners of the Internet.

Today, they remain mostly segregated within the corporate offices and advertising budgets of the world’s biggest brands. Even as folks embrace data for everything from customer relationship management to testing the best news headlines,the traditional advertising industry is still happiest storyboarding sexy, high-concept campaigns featuring supermodels racing German cars against jungle cats in exotic locals (shot on location in Bora Bora, of course).

Creativity, expression and artistic license drive the industry. Data and analytics … not so much.

But as social media flourishes and marketers try to use it to their advantage, it’s really time to bridge the gap and get these departments speaking the same language, said Peter Kim, chief strategy officer at Dachis Group: an enterprise-focused, social-media consultant firm. During an interview Wednesday, Kim said the relationship between the creative and the IT side is the “same as it ever was,” but that needs to change, especially as consumers live more digital lives.

Big data, cheap processing and social media are changing the advertising and marketing landscape. IT has been quietly hammering away on advanced analytics systems and platforms to aggregate and filter data, while sites like Facebook, LinkedIn (s lnkd) and Twitter can provide exactly the detailed demographic data that marketers say they need. Put it all together, and you have technology that can spit out almost personalized advertising on one side and deliver quantitative measurements to gauge the effect every little marketing decision has on the bottom line.

Kim says there are three major issues keeping IT and marketers apart:

  1. Budget cycles. While IT budgets follow a three- or five-year cycle, marketing budgets are allocated on a quarterly basis. But getting processing power or software to process big data or manage business intelligence isn’t a cheap quarterly expense (unless you use the cloud). The two need to get more in sync if the departments are to work together to create campaigns and projects.
  2. And to justify what might be larger spending plans for more gear or technology, marketing has to have a means of showing executives how that will pay off. But to do that, the industry needs accepted metrics to determine the impact of social media. While we can measure display ads and click-throughs, there is no clear way to measure return on investment in the social sphere, something Kim believes is a big opportunity. Without metrics, brands can’t understand the actual value of social media and the best ways to implement social strategies.
  3. Finally, among some of the creative types, there is an aversion to big data. Getting marketers to understand the world of big data is a challenge, Kim said. And while platforms like Facebook and Twitter are giant storehouses of consumer information, information overload is a huge problem. Plus, “it’s boring, and on the back end,” Kim said.

Alas, identifying the barriers standing in the way is the easy part. Breaking them down is tricky. Can companies bridge the gap between marketing and IT? Should they?

7 Responses to “In a data-driven world, marketing and IT must come together”

  1. Maya Grinberg

    Cortney, great article. Oil and Vinegar is a good analogy, given that social media is very “sexy” right now and IT usually…isn’t? You hit the nail on the head, though, in insisting on the need for businesses to make the transition to unified social media and IT business activity given the need for tracking social media ROI. A unified approach is the easiest approach to benchmark, and proper benchmarking is the foundation of a REAL ROI assessment.

  2. Great post and valid points all around. However, I have to point out that social media analytics is much more than just technology. It requires application of business knowledge and analytic skills to get any intelligence out of even the most advanced systems. So, it’s a fallacy to think that social analytics is the domain of IT department, only because it needs a technology backbone.
    Moreover, social intelligence is not just valuable for marketing and sales, it also has tremendous potential for customer support and product development. IT’s role is to provide underlying technology infrastructure but it cannot define the business question or need. That has to come from the different functional groups who are the end users.
    This is not just an organizational silo issue but rather a practical issue. The key challenge is what Kim astutely pointed out, marketers don’t get social data and think it’s “boring” so they stick to what they know best, which is spammy social media campaigns.
    As end users, the marketers should be pushing their IT departments to provide the technology they need to support their social intelligence needs. Once the business need is defined, then it’s time to wear down the age-old silos and set up a common intelligence infrastructure making data available to everyone across the company that needs it…now that’s what I call progress.

  3. Unquestionably, marketing and IT need to come together. Our level of access to big data is unprecedented – so why would anyone develop marketing divorced from that data? The only part I disagree with is this notion that we’re still trying to figure out how to measure ROI in social. The hindrance isn’t that we don’t know how to measure ROI in social – it’s that doing so is difficult and time consuming. The data coming out of Facebook in particular is quite poor (a fact they acknowledge) – but that doesn’t mean that we can’t build custom solutions that are better than what Facebook provides. If I were a brand and my agency said to me “remember that measuring ROI in social isn’t possible yet” – or some other version of that statement – I’d kick them out of my office and ask for my money back. You should too.

  4. With conventional tech, data integration can be a huge expense that the two end up arguing about. The data itself is no big deal, even with lots of it. Combining different data sets for analysis is hard to do “performantly” with things like Oracle and MySQL. Marketing just wants the data it wants and doesn’t give a fig about the SQL that must be written to get it. IT doesn’t want to burn time doing and redoing queries as Marketing iterates its analysis. If Excel could handle a billion rows and a thousand columns, marketing would stop asking.

  5. Tony Camilli

    I think there are two other key hindrances as well:

    IT departments tend to be protectionist and don’t allow access to systems and data. In many cases in my career, a company’s IT department has built an excellent system and accumulated rich, robust data. Ultimately though, the marketers, strategists, and planners that needed this data to guide their decisions didn’t have access. In other cases, the data was spread across disparate systems and users may have access to one system but not others, resulting in an incomplete view of the data.

    The other challenge is that IT is designing and building the systems to collect and expose data without the input of the end users (marketing, et al). It makes assumptions that, in the end, result in important data being missed, functionality excluded, etc. Typical examples are when SAP implementations are overly tedious or overly simplistic to the point where they don’t allow the level of granularity required.


    My answer is based on my experience in enterprise software sales. From a sales perspective marketing has two major deliverables: (1) leads (2) collateral. How the marketing department delivers those (e.g., what tools and processes marketing uses) is upto marketing to figure out.

    Social media is just a tool, and while it is a sexy tool to look at, it is not yet a business tool. Instead, it is a consumer tool (e.g., Facebook) and a media tool (e.g., Twitter). One huge benefit to using social media is to enable transparency and communication. However, I do not think companies are ready to be transparent. By transparency I mean things like open, unmoderated communication between employees and outsiders, open access to customer acquisition activity, open access to finances etc. These are DISRUPTIVE changes that companies are not ready for, yet.

    The way to get IT to endorse social media is to appeal to the sales department. So, if you are trying to sell social media tools to a company I would call on the VP of Sales, instead of on the VP of Marketing. As for Big Data, if you can provide the two deliverables – (1) leads (2) collateral – using Big Data, then you will get the attention of the VP of Sales.

  7. With analytics capabilities and data sources increasingly moving from traditional IT into the cloud, marketers are less reliant on IT departments for these services. Now, marketers can analyze the combination of social media together with enterprise data with lower budgets and independently of IT departments / budgets. Look at what was put together for Old Navy to analyze their Booty Appreciation Social Media Campaign without involving their IT department: No IT department involved with that.