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Constructing a Marketing IT Collaboration

By Jenny Williams, Chief Marketing Officer, HCF Health Insurance

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Jenny Williams, Chief Marketing Officer, HCF Health Insurance

Innovation and disruption are the new buzzwords of business, and have replaced integration as the Holy Grail of marketing and technology.

Disruption occurs when something completely challenges the way we think, behave and do business. As Clayton Christensen, Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School put it, “Disruption is at once destructive and creative.” 

Innovation is typically about creating more effective processes, products and ideas that increase the likelihood of a business succeeding. Meanwhile, evolution is a much more gradual transformation, building on the core capabilities of a business and allowing it to adapt for survival in a changing environment.

We can think about these states as a continuum with disruption at the most extreme end, evolution at the most passive end and innovation somewhere in between

Not all organisations or industries are ready for disruption but most are certainly on some path of change, usually brought about by external forces beyond their control.

The most disruptive force in marketing and IT is the consumer. Shifts in consumer media consumption, device usage and service expectations are well documented and have a profound impact on marketing and IT functions.

Customer Centricity is now widely recognised as a key differentiator for organisations. Achieving it requires businesses to rethink how they deliver everything from frontline services through to backend operations and supply chain.

For many organisations, the marketing front-end is the spearhead of change but collaboration with IT departments is often a key factor in achieving that change.

Historically, a big brand ad would do most of the heavy lifting. Marketers could access a wide range of people with the same message and potentially generate a response. 

The problem with this ‘spray and pray’ approach in today’s ever more quantifiable world is that the overall cost of acquisition is simply not profitable. Some would even say it’s irresponsible.

The man considered to be one of the pioneers of advertising, John Wanamaker, once said: “Half my advertising money is wasted; I just don’t know which half.”  While this may still hold true across some mediums, it’s no longer a reasonable position to take in today’s digital marketing environment.

Theoretically, new marketing technologies enable us to track every response, every action that occurs and the resulting ROI of every lead generated. With the right marketing analytics, organisations can measure the relative effectiveness of different creative messages, segment audiences based on first-, second- and third-party data and manage budgetary spend for each audience member based on the likelihood they will convert and the projected profitability of their acquisition.

We can access key customer insights and optimise the outcome of each and every interaction. However, achieving this level of insight in real time and applying it dynamically to creative and media decisions requires a significant technology and data analytics capability, neither of which are the core skill of either traditional marketers or even traditional IT professionals.

Technology tools alone will not enable this to happen; the skill sets within both teams need to evolve. 

Successful execution of marketing technologies requires a hybrid skill that draws on both disciplines and a new breed of capability born out of the fast paced world of digital tech. These individuals are accustomed to constantly changing tools, APIs and integrations. They also have the ability to understand the what, why and how of data-driven marketing and the pitfalls involved.

Once you have developed skill sets with hybrid capability there are other challenges that must be faced.

Organisational constraints can be a barrier to disruption. Trends in privacy concerns need to be considered in our ever-expanding use of data for targeting and segmentation, there are almost always trade-offs between risks to the business and barriers to user experience and lastly, managing competing considerations, particularly internal funding approval processes create additional challenges to speed and responsiveness.

Overcoming these restrictions can be very challenging, especially in large organisations. Clearly, the pace of digital innovation requires flexibility in internal structures. Success may be more likely if the digital innovation function is moved outside the traditional business infrastructure allowing the team to develop rapid prototypes.

The collaboration of marketing and IT across these developments is perhaps the most fundamental ingredient of success. Even if new ideas and approaches are developed in incubators, they eventually have to migrate their way back into the wider organisation if any substantial change is to occur. Both teams need to own these innovations or they will fail.

Key factors underpinning success in this integration are:

  • Sharing of KPIs between the marketing and IT functions and, in the case of customer centricity, the wider organisation as a whole.
  • The support of the CEO and Board
  • Agreement on a common language of communication (which requires both teams to learn new terminology)
  • Acceptance at all levels that change is inevitable, constant  and accelerating
  • An attitude of shared excitement about the opportunities that change will bring both organisationally and individually.

Whether or not an organisation is limited to evolution or is capable of accelerating to a disruptive pace of change, what is clear is that sitting still is no longer an option. The winners of the technology marketing race will be those enterprises that embrace the ability to change and align the motivations of their staff towards a purpose, and who accept that every day brings new challenges and opportunities.

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