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Bridging the gap between marketing and the broad table through it

I started my career in Marketing and with my natural curiosity, type-A personality, retailer-blood stream and desire to climb the corporate ladder, my progression saw my development overlap into areas and projects very operationally and/ or merchandising linked.

I got my hands dirty in property trying to ensure that the investment in the location strategy was going to get us the strongest ROI. By developing strong supplier relationships through our merchandise teams, I was able to ensure the positioning we needed to gain market-share was deliverable through category leadership and strong profitable returns. Leading projects that ultimately relied on operational excellence, meant our labour spend was managed and simultaneously we developed the skills, experience and knowledge to convert shoppers into buyers.

Perhaps I was different but rarely was the Marketing department referred to as the Colouring-In department. We did the time, got to know the people and empathised with their challenges. We tried hard to get everyone on the same road path to success.

Recently I have met some pretty mediocre Marketers which has shaken me. If I asked them a question on the product strategy they glazed over and said “Product looks after that you should ask Bill.” When I asked how the new deployment of an integral backbone IT project was going, they looked bewildered as to why on earth would or should they care? And when I asked about how the progress of a new system instore was going, they said “I’m not sure but hey look at this cool new TV ad we just made.”

If Marketers wish to be included in more C-suite conversations and have a credible seat at the Board table they need to lead business transformation not just their part of the project. They need to cultivate a focus on organisational transformation that is strategic, cross-functions and bottom-lined oriented – only this will enable marketing to move beyond being perceived as “the colouring-in department” or the “at the agency” tactically focused mob.

CMO’s often come cap in hand asking for more money to spend or moaning about how much money they don’t have to spend. With large percentages of this spend being difficult to measure as an “investment” rather than merely perceived as a cost centre (let’s be frank – it’s how the majority of retailers and Board think) it’s understandable why CMO’s are overlooked to seriously lead businesses.

Step into the shoes of the COO for a minute. Marketers are the advocate for the customers. They are constantly striving to position the business in a way that ensures the customer is served better; is delivered more services and products, and that price positioning remains competitive. It feels like a “suck the money out of the business” role rather than “generating profit to bank” player.

Now don’t for a minute think I believe this point of view; quite the contrary, but I can see why Marketers are perceived in that light - unfortunately scores of marketers before you have not helped the cause.

Perhaps digital provides the opportunity for this change?

The digital ecosystem and the “anywhere, anytime, on my terms” shopper has created the need for every retailer to be a technology business in some way. I know I use to dread having to work with the guard dogs who always simply created barriers to success. AKA the IT department. But IT has had to evolve to collaborate and drive enterprise solutions across the business. And deliver.

The first really joyous relationship I recall working cohesively with IT was 12 years ago to develop the oncecard programme. They were an incredibly savvy team determined to get win/win outcomes. They got to play with new tech solutions that would deliver results to the bottom line at the same time. How convenient. We just needed to find a way to talk the same language and my IT equivalent (a guy by the name of Alan Hesketh) worked very hard with me on the front.

Technology is powering aspects of marketing more than it ever has in the past and it will continue to. Therefore Marketing teams are tasked to improve the customer path to purchase , enhance the customer experience and drive core KPIs in a way that was never as visible and directly attributable to results previously. Business intelligence derived through customer data is more relevant than ever.

In order for you to make the most out of this serendipitous opportunity, Marketers need to be the glue and the bridge in getting on the same page and speaking a language IT and Marketing understands. There are three key components to making this happen:

  1. Align you vision and roadmap from the beginning – don’t wait until it is too late to bring IT into the tent. This is about win/win so you need to do this together.

  2. Over communicate – you know what is like when two people talk different languages. The common interpretation can leave massive gaps in the middle. Be clear, touch base often, monitor progress, make decisions and battle roadblocks together.

  3. Try hard to “understand” each other – empathy and recognition of your differences is critical to success. What does marketing need to deliver and how is IT expertise going to enable this mission.

I found this list of questions to consider which was developed by Harvard Business for each side to think about before embarking on working together. Something that should kick start the process much easier.

From the IT side:

  • Is the technology actually available to help marketing achieve their vision?

  • How will it fit into our existing architecture? Does it break anything? Does it impact our information security?

  • Do we have the skill set and resource capacity to deliver and sustain it?

  • How much will it cost?

From the Marketing side:

  • How are client experiences in general driving expectations of our company’s digital experience?

  • Why is IT saying no and is there a different route to yes?

  • How can IT help us get this up and running quickly?

  • Can IT help us integrate different tools to deliver a more seamless experience?

  • How can we not only keep pace but innovate and lead?


  • What is the cost benefit to the organisation, and how quickly can we show ROI?

  • Where does it pay to take a calculated risk?

  • And…where is that not possible?

Marketers have spent their lives trying to find ways to have their voice better heard at the Board table and to get old-school retailers to understand the opportunities (and threats) on the horizon. The have battled to get to the top position and have not won the war. Who would have ever thought that business unit you avoided most often (well actually it’s finance) would be the likely heroes in the path to the top table?

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