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Big Data push drives marketing and IT closer

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They're two small words that have dominated the talk in marketing circles over the past year. Big Data. It's a term that can cause vertigo in marketers whose careerlong focus has been on the creative side of the marketing equation. It's a concept so enormous that editors of marketing publications quickly granted it upper-case status, even when the case for capitals wasn't clear. Now that Big Data has moved to the forefront, full of challenges and promises, marketers are exploring ways to realign their operations to harness it. Fundamentally, this means drawing marketing and IT ever closer. This trend was the focus last month of the joint Marketing+Technology Summit produced by Advertising Age and BtoB, and it also received much attention during the Business Marketing Association's recent global conference in Chicago. In advance of the BMA conference, we put this question to several marketers: What are the keys to CMO-CIO alignment? The respondents represented a wide swath of industries, both tech and nontech. A common theme in many of the responses was, start with the customer. “The key to CMO-CIO alignment is having a more customercentric business strategy,” said Brian Krause, VP-marketing and communications at Molex Inc. “Ninety percent of IT investments are about improving customer relationships—and more specifically, the user experience. In today's hyper-connected world, someone can experience your brand long before they buy your products. In this way, investments that power digital marketing—CMO-led initiatives—go hand in hand with CIO projects that power customer service.” Lauren Flaherty, CMO of Juniper Networks, said: “It's really all about the customer and striking the right balance. Together, the CMO and CIO need to keep one eye on the right tools and processes that allow us to sell today, while keeping the other eye on the tech trends that are shaping the customer and their buying habits tomorrow.” Eduardo Conrado of Motorola Solutions is an expert on the topic—in January he was promoted from CMO to senior VP-marketing and IT. “One of the forces that drives alignment between IT and marketing,” he said, “is looking at the processes a company runs in the front office for customer engagement—from websites, portals and all interactions a company has with customers around the digital front, across multiple touch points. When you look at an organization that is centered around the customer, this drives marketing and IT to create a joint strategy for developing systems of customer engagement.” Kathy Button Bell, CMO of Emerson Electric Co. and Conrado's successor as BMA chairman, addressed the internal challenges of aligning marketing and IT. “The No. 1 thing is to not be defensive in the face of that relationship,” she said. “The hardest part is not between the CMO and the CIO, but between the staffs. “Marketing people generally don't have as much technical background as IT people, and IT people don't necessarily understand what the marketing guys are trying to achieve. So try not to be defensive when these groups are put together. Make sure each group is trying to solve the business problem and not going to their corner.” John Obrecht is editor of BtoB and Media Business. He can be reached at jobrecht@crain.com.
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