Digital Marketing: IT and the Future

Marketing has become a digital process, blurring the lines between IT and marketing and making IT a more essential ingredient.

Romi Mahajan

Marketing is increasingly a digital process, and marketers increasingly have to be technologists. That’s the common wisdom bandied about in myriad marketing conferences and publications that are ostensibly the “voice” of the industry. For once they have it right, although the analyses put forth would be greatly enhanced if they were more nuanced and formed with active input from the unsung heroes of digital marketing—IT professionals.

Is this an outlandish idea? Perhaps. Is it heresy? Perhaps. Is it the truth? Absolutely.

So what is digital marketing and what does this all really mean for the IT profession? Digital marketing is a catchall moniker for a set of marketing pieces and campaigns that incorporate some or all of the following characteristics:

  • Based largely on the Web and/or mobile applications
  • Offer “experiences” and “immersion” versus simple impressions
  • Create dialogue and “conversation” between company and customer
  • Measurable as to outcomes
  • Potentially quick revolution and can be changed quickly and on the fly

Each of these factors implies heavy involvement of Web and mobile technologies. It also means translating business desires into technology-mediated realities. The core purveyors of these experiences are a set of companies calling themselves “digital agencies,” “interactive agencies,” “experience agencies,” “marketing-services agencies” and “advertising agencies.”

There are still some agencies that stick to “traditional marketing,” which is to say direct mail; billboard, radio and TV advertising; merchandising and so on. It’s worth mentioning that in all media, technology plays a more dominant role than ever before.

In digital agencies, though, technology is the fundamental essence. There are few instances in which the creative thrust of these companies is even remotely divorced from technology. Digital agencies hire teams of technologists: developers, testers, designers, site managers and usability engineers. In many cases, they style themselves as development shops with the coding application being marketing campaigns: Web sites, games, mobile applications and the like.

In the structure and processes of these types of agencies, business strategists, account directors, operations folks, marketers and sales people are hand-in-glove with developers, testers, designers and usability engineers. Most projects are conceived of, sold and delivered with team members from all disciplines working in harmony as to process and outcome.

One Empty Chair

In my experience, however, one member of the team rarely has a seat at the table: the IT guy. Representatives of the IT departments of the customers for whom these digital experiences are being built are rarely, if ever, included. Therein lies one of the major problems at the foundation of the entire digital marketing edifice: the lack of real and meaningful creative interaction with IT.

Ultimately, the product of most of digital marketing agencies is a set of online or mobile experiences designed to promote a brand, product or behavior to a base of consumers. These potential customers “consume” these experiences via a software-driven device. That may be a desktop or laptop computer, a mobile phone, a music player, a tablet or a television. These experiences must be rendered, maintained, changed and stabilized. They must also be delivered quickly and on-demand. You see where I’m going here.

Let me put a fine point on this: All of these experiences have IT as the foundation and have the IT professional—in the background as always—quietly making them happen. The IT professional is the unsung hero of digital marketing.

Corporate America continues to deal with the problems of occupational silos: too little collaboration and cross-pollination. In most cases, the notion of “customer centricity”—a relentless focus only on what the customer needs—helps collapse these silos and focus the abundant energies of today’s knowledge workers.

However, this doesn’t go far enough. Digital marketing is fundamentally based on consumer experiences. It could be at the forefront of changing the culture of sequestering IT that prevails in today’s enterprise. Digital marketing could be the future. It may already be here, but I think not.

The future is IT, and digital marketers are too busy dreaming up new experiences to talk to those who make those experiences happen on a daily basis.

Don Jones

Romi Mahajan* is president of KKM Group. Prior to joining KKM, Mahajan was chief marketing officer of Ascentium Corp. A well-known speaker on the technology and media circuit, he serves on a variety of advisory boards and speaks at more than a dozen industry events per year.*