The Great Divide

Smart brands realize that to succeed they need to bridge the gap between marketing and IT.

North of the Arctic Circle, a top priority for fishermen is to catch and dry enough char to last the winter. Fishermen near the equator race to market before insects and bacteria spoil their catch. Climate is the driving factor shaping these vastly different fishing practices. In many corporations, the same is true for marketing and IT departments.

Previously, marketing and IT departments worked independently of one another. However, the digital revolution has forced these departments to become so interdependent that CMOs and CTOs are practically in the same line of work. From retail to Web to mobile, marketing is responsible for how brand strategy affects technical infrastructure, and IT is on the hook for how technology decisions alter brand experience.

While both kinds of executives share high-level goals, their priorities differ. Marketers find flexibility and agility most important, while IT execs value stability and continuity. For decades, this difference was insignificant because, like arctic and equatorial fishermen, both groups worked half a world apart. Now, marketing and IT leaders are in the same boat, forced to work hand-in-hand on a wide range of digital strategies and tactics.

Unfortunately, that boat is rocking. More than 20% of marketing executives describe the relationship between marketing and IT as “poor” or “very poor,” according to a survey by Forrester Research. In the same survey, not a single marketing or IT exec described the relationship as “very strong.” Top frustrations from marketers include delays in getting to market and speed in completing projects; rigid processes and aversion or inability to change; low prioritization of marketing projects; and language and communication barriers. IT frustrations include unrealistic deadlines; lack of lead time; frequency of changes; a need for clear prioritization by marketing; and failure to involve IT early in strategic discussions.

The solution is climate control. Differences in budgeting (operating and capital), goal setting (defensive and offensive inclinations), and success metrics (reciprocal campaign success targets) create a fractured relationship between IT and marketing departments. Climate control adjusts this relationship, allowing organizations to heal themselves without expensive coping strategies and extra layers of management.

Here are four simple steps that CEOs can take to control climate.

1. Allow IT to experiment. Chief executives need to tolerate small IT mistakes. Downtime is expensive, but so is uptime if it prevents companies from taking reasonable risks. ThomsonReuters understands this tradeoff well. It operates a 23-story outdoor digital display in the heart of Times Square and encourages its IT team to innovate and experiment. The team routinely integrates cutting-edge mobile, social, wireless and gesture-recognition technologies into live campaigns on the digital sign (not just demos and prototypes). A decade after the digital out-of-home platform launched, ThomsonReuters’ technology is redrawing branding boundaries, and its installation is still the most advanced in the world.

2. Give IT a stake in marketing. Nike routinely leverages the power of programmer creativity. Branding technology developed by interactive agency R/GA is the foundation for Kicks Creator, a digital brand experience that invites people to create their own Nike Dunks by mixing patterns, graphics and color combos. A partnership between R/GA programmers, Nike IT and Michael Tchao of Nike’s “Tech Lab” sparked the digital running platform Nike+. These tech-driven platforms are marketing channels for the Nike brand. However, they wouldn’t exist without programming insight.

3. Let marketers tinker with technology. Chief executives should give marketers the chance to experiment with and select technologies. The key to ROI is finding the duds as quickly and inexpensively as possible. Fortunately, there are lots of ways that marketers can experiment without risking valuable corporate networks, data and infrastructure. Low-cost platforms like Amazon S3, Google App Engine, Google Maps and YouTube, plus a host of inexpensive hosted LAMP offerings, make it possible to quickly build scalable, secure applications and test key assumptions without breaking the bank.

4. Mix things up. Systems work better when IT and Marketing work in the same room and share responsibility for uptime. Nike understands this well, and it’s the reason many senior developers and technical architects report into the marketing organization. Other companies, like oil and gas services company Baker Hughes and resort operator Gaylord Entertainment, went a step further and combined CTO and CMO roles to make sure marketing objectives are met without sacrificing technical performance.

The digital revolution is blurring the line between IT and marketing. Smart brands realize climate control is the key to creating a single integrated digital branding team. Like fishermen from different parts of the world meeting for a tournament, IT and its marketing counterparts can adjust and adapt to a unified environment if given the chance.

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