The Marketing Technology Culture Clash Prevention Guide

Marketing becomes an information problem as computers augment humans in the execution of online marketing. It was bound to happen, but it leaves CMOs with a question about exactly how to incorporate information skills into their organizations.

HBR projects that by the end of this year 89% of large companies will have a chief marketing technology officer. According to the same article, over 1,000 commercial software platforms are available to help.

Technology impacts how numbers are derived, what they mean, how they are delivered, and how we get insight from them. Spreadsheets still help, but the underlying number crunching required for marketing decisions today is vastly deeper than adding up rows and columns, and involves a working knowledge of where numbers come from, what they mean, software, and data technology.

Scientist, Marketer, Tinker, Politician: not exactly a typical skill mix.



It’s hard to find people that can respect the old and imagine the new, but that’s what it takes. Making it harder, the emerging data opportunity is breakthrough, not incremental, and might impact all aspects of an enterprise.

You will need a big thinker to help identify the new opportunities, a diplomat to calm the waters, and a pilot to turn the ship. With luck, that triumvirate plays well together.   

The good news is that digital stuff can be fun and challenging. But the culture of information will bump into the culture of marketing. In an effort to help, I present the following incomplete dos and don’ts for handling the cultural divide.

1)    Do ban buzzwords. “Analytics” is a way to describe any activity that might involve math. It does not describe a business outcome or process. “We need analytics” is a poorly formed request, and “We have analytics” is equally lame. Sharpen your vocabulary and insist that others do the same.

2)    Do focus on the “so what.” The most useful information feeds the processes closest to the place where decisions are made. Does IT know how communications planning or media buying decisions are made? Each side can guide the other. Be gentle.

3)    Do calibrate risk to reality. The IT world is filled with Sarbanes-Oxley-driven horrors -- go-to-jail stuff. But I’m not aware of anyone who went to jail for a bad marketing decision, or sending an ad to the wrong person.

4)    Do know the size of the prize. Is a claimed 20% efficiency improvement for an item that’s 10% of your budget worth falling on your sword for?  

5)    Don’t dismiss agency capability. Brands often look to their agencies to make the right decisions regarding creative and media. Most agencies have measurement people and analytic teams. Advertisers might need the internal IT people and the agency to collaborate -- which doesn't seem to happen very often.

6)    Do invest in talent. Top talent might come from either marketing or IT, or both, or from the outside. Require toptalent, enable them with tools, and constrain them to solving your most important problems. Find practitioners. Take them under your wing. They come in all shapes and sizes.

7)    Don’t boil the ocean. Systems thinking often leads to the urge to design the perfect machine. That’s dangerous. Get real-world experience with people, platforms, and agencies that already do this before designing your own thing. Plan to evolve.

8)    Don’t nod as though you understand if you don’t. The current level of misunderstanding (both ways) is significant.  Worse, the risks of getting a market wrong are significant.

9)    Apply startup rules. Fail early and often. Use “minimum viable product” thinking. Be market-aware. Favor real world over Power Point.

The people who can bridge the cultural divide are curious, eclectic, articulate, humble, and thoughtful. They might not speak up. They might not come in the package you are used to, but that’s a risk you can live with.

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