10 April 2014

Startup Land, Where Technology and Marketing Work Together

The trade press is filled with articles about how CMOs and CTOs must work together, or how marketing must learn to appreciate tech.  I agree, but there are also a lot of articles stereotyping tech people as numbers-driven geekbots who don’t appreciate how art and science can work together.

Surely you know better than that if you work in Ad Land.  Your colleagues are likely to include technologists, developers, data analysts and more.  In my case it all started in 1996 when we built a new website for one of our clients, and since then it’s been a lot of hardware, software, 1s and 0s all the way.
Third of a series

Working with tech people is important whether you’re in Ad Land or Startup Land, whether you’re a CMO, copywriter or account executive.  You’re in Marketing.  How do you build an effective working relationship with Technology?

How Marketers Can Build an Effective Working Relationship with Technology

The following are my own thoughts, but I also took my CTO to lunch so we could talk them over.
  • Communicate face-to-face.  In fact, lunch with my CTO is an example of my first piece of advice.  Your inner cynic says sure, a tech guy’s idea of face-to-face is Skype.  Actually, Skype is perfectly acceptable if your tech counterpart works in another city.  Think about it, though, don’t you rely too much on email and other electronic communication with your day-to-day colleagues?  Sitting down together gives you the chance to listen patiently.
  • Read and learn.  You’ve got to prepare for those conversations.  Curiosity is a recurring topic of this blog and this five-part series, and it goes double for understanding the role of Technology in your business.  If you hear an unfamiliar technical term, look it up.  If a new social media platform gets traction, try it yourself.  Stay abreast of emerging companies by reading investment news like Term Sheet or Seeking Alpha.  This comes back to those face-to-face conversations.  If you’ve listened well and done your homework, you’ll be able to ask smarter questions and learn even more.  (This also applies to the forming of alliances described in the previous post.)
  • Work together.  All of the above gets applied in the work your company does, but it still doesn’t happen automatically.  My CTO told me of many past experiences where “the business” didn’t articulate their needs nor monitor the outcome.  “Would you send a contractor off to remodel your kitchen and only see the final result four weeks later?” he asked.  Of course not.  For one thing, customer experience depends so much on Technology these days that it’s a moral obligation for Marketing to stay tuned.  Plus, since CMOs will soon spend more on IT than CIOs, we marketers need to be smart shoppers.

The Goal is to Understand How the Business and the Technology Interrelate

In my lunch with the CTO, a constant theme was that the technology only matters in the context of the business.  He went out of his way to point out that the business strategy should dictate the technology strategy.  For marketers, whether in Ad Land or Startup Land, that’s really the point of building an effective working relationship with your technology counterpart:  Understanding how the Business and the Technology interrelate.

Oddly, a couple of hours after our CTO-CMO lunch, a recent hire from Ad Land stopped by my office to ask:  “Are we a media company or a technology company”?  “Both,” I answered.  “Why do you ask?” 

This media planning veteran had seen how much time we spent with the technology, updating the software, discussing how it should be improved, what the impact would be on client transactions, etc., and got the wrong impression.

Actually, she got the right impression:  It’s super important to have those conversations about technology.  A couple of days later she, the CTO and I got together to discuss some business issues and it was a perfect example of how the free flow of thinking between “the business” and “the technology” can make the most of both.

It’s also an example of nimble management, which will be the subject of the next post.

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