In his 1953 essay "The Hedgehog and the Fox," Isaiah Berlin described two types of people: hedgehogs and foxes. Hedgehogs view the world through a single defining lens. Foxes draw instead on a spectrum of experiences. Or, as Greek poet Archilochus wrote, "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."

The popular analogy finds conflicting play in business books today. Jim Collins trumpets the hedgehog in his bestselling Good to Great. Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise, on the other hand, urges people to be more "foxy."

Regardless, it's likely we surround ourselves with like-minded critters—foxes or hedgehogs. In enterprises, you have a perfect example in Marketing and IT.

Marketing and IT are comfortable working as hedgehogs—experts in their fields. But as the emergence of Big Data and analytics increasingly elevates multidisciplinary foxes, a new partnership between CMOs and CIOs is no longer a novelty. It's a matter of survival.

Increasingly, IT must turn Marketing's data into something more valuable and measurable for the enterprise. At the same time, in this age of the customer, Marketing is directing more technology. So, although the hedgehog's characteristics (specialization, singular focus, and domain expertise) are critical, it's the foxy skills (systems thinking, cross-collaboration, etc.) that will enable CMOs and CIOs to secure the future of their businesses.

Viewing Each Other as 'Other'

Big Data and analytics are the unifying factor between Marketing and IT. Misconstrued perceptions of each other's departments are the opposite—the dividing factor. Exploding these obsolete misperceptions is the first step in building a solid partnership and sparking greater insight on business decisions.

  • Perception: Marketers are uninterested in technology integration and data platforms. CIOs view marketing as a "softer" science that favors creativity and instinct over data and analytics, and, moreover, that marketers care only about immediate campaign performance, to the detriment of long-term integration of data into customer intelligence systems.

    Big Data and advanced analytics are exerting tremendous pressure on marketers to be data-driven and analytical. The August 2013 CMO Survey found that marketers are planning to up spend on marketing analytics by 40% over the next three years.
  • Perception: IT is disconnected with the real customer. CMOs think IT is near-sighted, because it prioritizes internal customers—users of IT services within the organization—even though the customers that matter are the external consumers of the organization's products and services: the ones paying the bills.

    The Reality: CIOs are pushing IT to become more customer-oriented, to shift focus to delivering outstanding customer service. For IT, that shift has been transformative, completely changing IT's outlook and reputation. Once thought of as the "support guys," IT is becoming a valuable partner in improving customer experience.

A Foxy View: Four Imperatives

Despite perceived barriers, CIOs and CMOs have common goals and similar challenges. Marketing needs to exploit the full extent of Big Data and analytics to guide its decision-making. And IT must emphasize the external customer, employing agile technology options and platforms.

The following imperatives will help CMOs and CIOs think like a fox, using varied skill sets and inputs to make linkages and to draw from each other's expertise.

1. Support sustained business growth

Both the CIO and the CMO are accountable for the singular "hedgehog" objective of increasing profitable revenue. So although the CMO measures success through customer growth and loyalty, the CIO must show how technology investments affect profits. By aiming at boosting customer value, CIOs will move IT toward contributing to the bottom line directly, rather than indirectly via cost reduction.

An expansive view of analytics and technology connects marketing operations with multichannel customer interactions via customer insights. CMOs and CIOs can jointly calibrate the financial, operational, and customer impacts of every single marketing activity. The result: businesses don't merely create better customer experiences, they do so more efficiently and cost-effectively.

2. Establish a single customer view

Successful organizations rely on a centralized data- and information-management system for a single view of the customer. Marketing and IT must enable different parts of the organization to gather customer interaction data—from all internal and external customer channels—in a consistent way.

But data is typically scattered in warehouses throughout the organization. There are customer records from the contact center; Web analytics data from the website; and social media analytics from Facebook and Twitter. When Marketing and IT unify that data and apply smart, robust analytics, they will inform marketing activities, uncover new opportunities, and even influence the business beyond marketing.

3. Automate predictive data analysis

To support specific customer-centered outcomes—increased loyalty, higher lifetime value, reduced abandonment, higher margins—Marketing and IT need to ensure timely, accurate customer analytics. Those analytics will need to run in real time for an ever-increasing number of customer segments, including more intricate micro-segments by audience attitude, location, channel, and more.

4. Distribute contextualized customer insight to support specific marketing actions

Marketing and IT must create output from customer data for other employees who may interact with customers. Beyond providing information, they need to agree on the most relevant answers and actions at specific touchpoints, and design interactions that adapt to different skill levels.

Deliver Outstanding Customer Experience Based on Insight, Not Just Data

The external customer must be the primary driver of technology strategy. And as IT puts the customer at the locus of IT planning, deployment, and support, marketing analytics will redirect its traditional focus from delivering value to internal clients to align with marketing's external customer emphasis. At the same time, frontline agents and customer-facing systems will deliver consistent answers to customer needs at specific touchpoints to create a compelling and customized brand experience.

Today's empowered "new buyer" is capitalizing on numerous social and digital channels and exerting tremendous pressure on the technology needs of marketing organizations. The real opportunity lies in CMOs' and CIOs' jointly responding to this new boss.

Organizations that capture an increasing share of each customer's share of wallet by enhancing the value in every customer interaction will and flourish. To do that, CMOs and CIOs will need to the heart of a hedgehog and the mind of a fox.

Key Takeaways

  • The emergence of Big Data and analytics requires marketing and IT professionals to become more multidisciplinary and collaborative.
  • Though it is comfortable to surround ourselves with like-minded people and stick to what we know, doing so isn't practical. Marketers must become more analytics-driven, and IT must become more customer-oriented.
  • The key is to eradicate obsolete misconceptions that Marketing and IT have about each other; that is the first step in building a solid partnership.

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image of Wilson Raj

Wilson Raj is the global director of customer intelligence at SAS, provider of analytics software and solutions. He has 25+ years' experience building brand value, engagement, and loyalty.

LinkedIn: Wilson Raj

Twitter: @wilsonraj