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Field NotesMark{IT}ing: Synergy in the Shadows

Romi Mahajan

Marketers and IT folks fundamentally need each other. At the surface this might seem far-fetched, flying in the face of canonical wisdom. In attempts to counter this proposition, skeptics will no doubt trot out evidence of "different cultures" and "different goals." Downright naysayers will point to antagonism between these two groups and will certainly have testimonial evidence to buoy their arguments. More benignly, many will simply argue that the concept is too abstract and, as such, holds no particular promise for further analysis.

I am willing to concede 25% of each of these arguments as long as their proponents concede that the cultural differences and perceived antagonism can at least theoretically be rendered irrelevant if the groups find common cause. I will argue, further, that whatever differences might exist can continue but will be seen as surface phenomena and not reflective of structural or innate divisions.

The argument has three planks. First, that IT and marketing have common goals. Second, that the "external perceptions" of both groups are very similar. Third, that companies that strive to align the two will enjoy comparative advantage as untapped potential turns into kinetic success.

Common Goals

The last 10 years has seen a fundamental shift in the discussion of the "goals" of both IT and marketing, thereby further aligning them. In each case, both areas of endeavor are support functions enabling the core process of making money that all capitalist institutions elevate to the position of primacy. Each "department" is called upon to create value against the backdrop of an elusive ROI calculus. Each is measured by the perception of what "renders" to the process of production and sales. The fundamental "architecture" of IT and marketing is governed through a flow of communications that IT largely enables. Marketers are asked to "run campaigns," and their IT brethren are asked to "complete projects," and both sets of people work against the triple constraints of time, people, and financial resources.

It would be disingenuous to overstate the commonality of goals. They certainly appear different—that is they are rendered in a different lexicon. The manifest "product" of labor is both tactically and tactilely different. But these are surface attributes that dishonor the fundamental similarity of the core essences of each area.

External Perceptions

I challenge anyone to find either an IT person or a marketer who hasn't been publicly or privately lambasted for being a "cost center." I issue the same needle-in-haystack challenge to find someone from one of these groups who hasn't had to justify his existence in at times demeaning ways.

Neither group has crisply defined native measures of success. As such, both are easy scapegoats for corporate underperformance.

While "marketing" is perceived by some to be glamorous, marketers will be the first to say that they are always in a precarious position, in virtually any corporation. IT, while less glamorous to most, is in the same place. Both, however, enable the potential of success, IT through providing the ability to amplify the processes of communication, production, and measurement and marketing through the ability to provide the narrative that connects companies and their products to those who would buy them.

Need for Alignment

Rapid response to markets, trends, buying patterns, demographic shifts, and a whole host of "dynamic events" is a sine qua non for success in any environment of "creative destruction." Only marketing—the central vector for input and the central purveyor of output—can anticipate (or acknowledge) these trends, and only IT can facilitate and scale a company's response to them.

Comparative advantage is rendered through this alignment insofar as the ability to execute without direction is just as useless as deep nuanced knowledge with no edifice for action.

In my experience, IT folks sanctimoniously bristle at the perceived "extravagance" of marketers and marketers project disdain for IT folks' perceived lack of communication skills. Both positions are unfortunate. Both groups of people have to make a common cause, to align even where alignment seems unnatural or might, frankly, take a lot of work.

Corporate executives need to enable this alignment with appropriate incentives. In the absence of this, the potential that could be will go unrealized and the synergies will stay in the shadows.

Romi Mahajan is Chief Marketing Officer of Ascentium Corporation. Before joining Ascentium, he spent more than seven years at Microsoft, where his last role was as Director of Technical Audience and Platform Marketing. Romi is widely published in the areas of technology, politics, economics, and sociology.