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Marketing and IT: Two Solitudes

by Stephen Shaw  |  
December 14, 2004

The meeting was only a few minutes old when it erupted into a shouting match. At one end of the table, the IT staff in charge of selecting an analytical tool for the Marketing group; at the other, the end-user sponsors of the project.

At issue was whether the needs of Marketing were being compromised in the interests of expediency.

Mutual animosity had been building up ever since Marketing had first won approval for a multimillion-dollar customer database six months earlier. During that period, the IT department had furtively transformed the project into the start of an enterprise data warehouse, effectively hijacking the budget.

When it dawned on the Marketing group what had happened, it felt swindled. Even more galling, IT was now insisting on acceptance of an analytical tool, already in use, simply because spare seat licenses existed—despite the fact it was clearly inferior (in the opinion of Marketing) to alternative products on the market.

No wonder the exchange was so acrimonious. All trust and credibility had been lost between the two groups. But the rancor they felt was not unusual: it pretty much characterizes the everyday state of relations between Marketing and IT. In fact, according to a recent Forrester Research survey, more than half of marketing executives who responded "see IT as having little understanding of how technology can support marketing."

One explanation for the bad blood is that Marketing and IT are culturally distinct: two solitudes divided by opposing agendas. The disposition of IT is shaped by its prime directive to rule over the deployment of all technology; therefore, cost containment and risk reduction are natural concerns on every project. The job of Marketing, by contrast, is to generate business growth; any obstructions to that goal, no matter how warranted, are fiercely resisted.

Each group speaks a different idiom, and neither side is willing to gain familiarity with the other. Marketing gets annoyed at what it views as obfuscation, usually in the form of slippery excuses for project delays, while IT invariably complains of wooly job specifications. Both perspectives are valid: Marketing has an aversion to technology (unless it makes it job easier) and is often guilty of equivocation, while IT habitually retreats behind an impenetrable wall of jargon.

At a time when Marketing is in desperate need of a sharply-toned IT infrastructure, mainly to cope with a rising swell of consumer data, these petty squabbles are a major barrier to improving the customer experience. Marketing and IT must stop nursing old grudges and form a united front to pursue those high-impact changes that will create value for customers. Without a common vision for the role of technology in customer management, and agreement on a path to get there, progress will continue to be thwarted by needless bickering.

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Stephen Shaw is vice-president of strategic services with The Kenna Group, a full-service customer relationship management company. He can be reached at 905-361-4046 or via email:

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  • by Janet Park Tue Mar 18, 2008 via web

    I'm reading this almost 4 years after its initial publication. The topic is timeless and often ignored. IT is critically important to marketing, but the communication between the two groups is always strained.

    Great job Stephen, for highlighting the vital issues. You "get" it. Many thanks.

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