Would This Help Avoid Marketing/IT Collisions?

The following post presents a bit of a dilemma and shows the conflicts that can arise in posting on two sites. I wrote the post to be published on the Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG) Blend site on November 11. As happy as I am for you to be able to find the post here---and think it's germane to the work you do---there are some good comments, including from Scott Brinker, on the MENG blog that I recommend you check out, too. One idea, two sites to go to---sorry about that.

The MENG Blend is a blogging initiative featuring bloggers from multiple marketing disciplines and industries. I blog on online marketing and social media topics.

You’re a marketing executive in 2010. How satisfied are you with Marketing’s performance in leading and managing initiatives that are technology-based? Could your organization benefit from a Chief Marketing Technologist (CMT)?

The role of Chief Marketing Technologist has been suggested by Scott Brinker, president and CTO of ion interactive, developer of a landing page software platform. Brinker argues that Marketing’s collaboration with IT would be enhanced by the establishment of a CMT.

“This is a senior management position, reporting to the CMO, with three key responsibilities,” wrote Brinker in “The Case for a Chief Marketing Technologist” on AdAge.com.

“First: Choreograph all the disparate technologies under marketing’s umbrella. Second: Nurture a growing technology subculture within marketing, raising the department’s overall technical proficiency. And third: Collaborate with the CMO on strategy, translating the CMO’s vision into technology with high fidelity—while also inspiring the shape of that vision by advocating for what new technology can enable.”

There’s even more about the proposal on Brinker’s ChiefMartec.com site and the idea has gotten lots of attention in the last few weeks, from Mashable.com to Information Week to Six Pixels of Separation’s site.

I encourage you to step through the presentation below and read Brinker’s related post, the coverage and also the comments. I’ve been thinking about the proposal off and on since I bookmarked Brinker’s March 2008 post.

The Case for a Chief Marketing Technologist

View more presentations from Scott Brinker.

Who’s ‘Got It’?

Can this role truly deliver as promised? It’s intriguing. As a digital marketer and now consultant to digital marketers, I have seen many instances where communication between Marketing and IT didn’t happen. Not all resulted in tragedies, but most involved time and cost setbacks, which were unfortunate because they could have been avoided.

The scenarios remind me of what happens when a baseball is hit into the outfield. Unless two fielders call it, there’s the risk of nobody catching the ball and it falling to the ground. By screaming some derivative of “I’ve got it!” and waving his colleague away, a fielder can typically make the catch. Where this analogy breaks down is that neither a Marketing nor an IT fielder knows everything that’s needed to make sure that a technology-based Marketing initiative doesn’t crash and burn. Brinker’s suggestion is that we need another player who’s at ease going to both his/her left or right.

But that’s what I have my doubts about. When Marketing projects stumble, Marketing alleges that IT didn’t provide adequate support. IT claims that the requirements were incomplete or fuzzy. Can a new layer—“a hybrid of the two worlds”—be expected to provide the coverage to make sure not just that nothing falls through the cracks but that Marketing’s initiatives are optimized?

In visualizing how the CMT would work, I bounce it against use cases of Marketing/IT conflict issues I’ve seen. For example:

  • Investing in and implementing a content management system (CMS) that uses dynamically generated URLs that are a combination of letters, numbers and symbols—the opposite of SEO-friendly
  • Web pages with missing or sloppy metadata—and read this article entitled, “Who’s in Charge of Your Invisible Metadata?” to get an idea of the trouble that developer inattention to metadata can cause
  • CRM system implementations that don’t take into account, let alone provide for, Marketing current and future tracking, reporting and customer intelligence needs
  • Web analytics implementations lacking the necessary linkages to correlate traffic and traffic sources with content with campaigns, etc. 

A Shifting Or A Shirking Of Responsibilities?

To provide true benefit in the above examples of significant enterprise undertakings, the CMT office would have to be involved not just at the project start but throughout. How will it find time to pay sufficient attention to Marketing strategies and execution while remaining current with IT issues and marketing technology advances?

The chief marketing technologist “is more than a liaison to IT,” Brinker wrote on AdAge.com. “Because increasingly, IT isn’t necessarily a participant. With many marketing technologies now delivered over the web via software-as-a-service—and with sufficient technical savvy under marketing’s own roof—new solutions can be implemented with minimal or zero IT involvement.”

In other words, the CMT would have the discretionary power to evaluate and commit to marketing technologies without involving IT? Hmmm. I see the potential for the CMT function to serve both as a scapegoat and an empire-builder, posing new challenges for a CMO to manage.

I have to wonder whether the creation of this additional infrastructure could be avoided by mandated respectful collaboration between the CMO and Chief Information Officer (CIO) and staffs.

Finally, is it realistic to think the CMT will nurture and develop Marketing’s technical proficiency? I can envision that objective going by the wayside in a production environment, where the expedient move might be to hire from the outside.

I’m inclined to cheer any idea that streamlines communications and results in better work. I’m not opposed to Brinker’s suggestion. But my skepticism about the practical application has kept me from pursuing it.

What would help is to hear from you–-what are your thoughts about the concept of a Chief Marketing Technologist? Can/does such a function and configuration work? Please share your thoughts and insights in the comments.