Decoupling: How IT and marketing can work better together

22nd Aug 2016
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Is marketing getting back to marketing and IT getting back control of technology solutions? What is decoupling and why is it occurring?

Over the past 20 years or so we’ve seen many changes in the marketing world but the biggest has been the rise of digital technology. This has opened new ways to market, new channels and new ways to build business through convergence and disintermediation.

One of the consequences has been the challenges this has created for IT and marketing departments – not just how to deliver but how to work together successfully. Until the mid 90s, when email and websites really got going, there was little overlap apart from advanced businesses using database marketing. Marketing did marketing – product development, proposition development, pricing, and communication strategies - whilst IT ran the network and machinery.

The growth of digital changed this so marketing teams were developing – and procuring -  technology solutions, and frequently using existing suppliers they felt comfortable with – predominantly advertising agencies and then the digital shops which were springing up everywhere.

Marketing teams frequently made successful land grabs from IT budgets to fund their programmes, and this created conflict as marketers and IT teams wrestled over the responsibilities of choosing, developing, managing and paying for technology solutions.

In many cases, CMOs (and CDOs) grabbed from mainstream IT projects in the rush to go digital.

IT directors have seethed in frustration at the new roles in marketing – chief digital officers, website directors and so on with minimal IT experience taking over decision-making and budget control on large technology development projects. I’ve had many meetings as a supplier where I’ve had to facilitate the two client teams to communicate and work together, and to make things work.

Politics and egos apart, the main issue has always been one of clarity. Too often businesses drifted into digital marketing, with marketing teams making on the hoof decisions in the same way they might in terms of promotions, PR or other communication programmes. People were hired as digital ‘gurus’, and lots of money was spent with different agencies who built campaign websites, landing pages, social media campaigns all on different platforms and technologies. Many agencies work with a largely freelance or transient workforce - and also outsource work elsewhere, even overseas without clients knowing.

This model can work for creative but it is hardly the right way to handle technology and this has been one of the great frustrations of IT directors for the past few years.

So, without a clear strategy, we see confusion around objectives and technology solutions - and real overlap around responsibilities and accountability between the teams and individual. This impacts projects -  causing them to stall or even totally fail with major cost and business implications.

Fear not.

Things are changing as we’re seeing things move full circle with marketing getting back to marketing and IT getting back control of technology solutions - the reason we’re seeing this is ‘decoupling’.

What’s decoupling?

Basically it’s unbundling digital development and production from the jack-of-all-trades full service agencies who grabbed so much of this work over the past 10 years or so. The issue is that whilst they are experts at advertising, creative and media strategies they are not always experts at software development, or at running a software house which is a very different business and business model from an advertising agency.

This approach allows the experts to get back to doing what they’re experts at – marketing do marketing, IT do IT, and the decoupled IT supplier is an expert software development house focussed and with the skills to support marketing technology not a creative agency making a grab for revenues.

This is a trend starting with CRM, where we have seen specialists such as Salesforce build robust technical platforms for client needs transcending the dozens of ‘home made’ solutions agencies were making in the 90s and early 2000s. Alongside this, we’re now seeing specialist software houses and consultancies offering tech solutions completely separated from creative and marketing work. Their specialism enables the marketing team to develop more innovative marketing strategies and campaigns - using specialist creative agencies, whilst the IT team work with a team that will be peers in terms of technology knowledge and expertise.

The seven reasons to decouple:

  1. Expertise

These businesses are set up by people that have technology backgrounds so their expertise is technology – not making ads. They focus hiring best development talent, know how to keep them, know how to motivate them. It’s a very different business from an agency business. Importantly, it also allows a company’s experts to focus and concentrate on their areas of expertise.

  1. Innovation

Specialists will build better platforms and ones that enable marketers to be more creative and innovative about their strategies. They’ll also have a wider view of new technologies so they will be able to advise on what can and can’t be done – and what new technologies are worth testing or using, rather than just the latest fad.

  1. Consistency and centralisation

Rather than using multiple suppliers developing different sites and solutions using one specialist will give greater consistency giving efficiencies and effectiveness. A decoupled development business will also offer greater ongoing QA control through one set of processes, approach and longer staff tenure.

  1. Security

Creative agencies aren’t always the experts at knowing about data and security legislation, specialise tech businesses lose sleep over getting these things right rather than your CEO.

  1. Best advice

Having a technology house work with you is more likely to give you best advice. They tend to have bigger tech teams which means they can a broader mix of skills rather than sell you the solution an agency wants to sell.

  1. Creative choice

It stops marketing teams getting locked into a relationship with a creative agency who own the technology they supplied and manage. It allows the team to use the best creative and strategists they want for each project. It also stops the frustration the IT team have with being stuck with a technology which is fairly inaccessible to them and so reduces the conflict between teams.

  1. Value

Using one supplier will inevitably give savings as there are fewer suppliers involved. Moreover, their expertise and experience will bring more savings over several years and once they understand the business fully. Consistency will also create savings as a ‘template’ approach can be used often enabling smaller campaigns and pilots to be tried with much smaller set-up costs.

Decoupling isn’t the only solution for businesses that want to get marketing and IT to work together better but it certainly offers many solid, tangible benefits other solutions don’t. More importantly when it’s done well it will take away the friction between the IT and marketing teams allowing them to focus on their day jobs.

Steve Grout is a director at Clarendon Consulting Group. 


Replies (3)

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By Blessed25
25th Aug 2016 10:42

Thanks for posting this Steve. This article, and the series as a whole, have provided some really different views to the status quo, which should be that businesses should just become one big department trading ideas in circles like Zappos.
Playing devils advocate - why is hiring a specialist IT team likely to be any different to a creative agency 'revenue grab' as you mentioned? How can we avoid the same outcome?

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By Steve Grout
25th Aug 2016 13:25

The issue is that creative agencies are experts at being creative agencies - their focus is on developing and delivering creative solutions for clients. Many dabble with tech and don't have the breadth of expertise, commitment, processes or mindset to build robust technology.
Frankly they don't have the right people to deliver -many agency staff are transient and with increasingly stringent Security legislation there are potentially big risks

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By Blessed25
26th Aug 2016 12:01

Thanks Steve. I guess security is a tougher sell to marketers in the face of being offered lots of shiny new creative tools at a cheap rate.

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