The Best Way To Stop Marketing From Getting Around IT: Teach 'Em

Franchisee Columnist Todd Michaud has spent the last 16 years trying to fight IT issues, with the last six years focused on franchisee IT issues. He is currently responsible for IT at Focus Brands (Cinnabon, Carvel, Schlotzsky’s and Moe’s Southwestern Grill).

In the past, the relationship between marketing and IT was often strained by marketers' seemingly innate attraction to the “shiny new toy” and IT’s needs to follow structure, process and sometimes even a project plan (Gasp!).

This tension was only made worse as marketing vendors averted the perceived IT roadblock by providing completely outsourced platforms. “Don’t worry, you don’t even need to tell your IT guy that you are doing this.” But the world of marketing is changing at a rapid pace. Social media technologies, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, are disruptively becoming the new marketing platform. Marketers who have been used to “talking to their customers” are now finding that success means “engaging their customers in an active dialogue." Listening is now more important than talking, and transparency is the new currency of brand image.

Historically, many franchisees have not been allowed to launch their own Web sites, have a Twitter feed or do a blog about their stores. I used to believe that it was extremely dangerous to let franchisees have their own voice on the Internet. I was alarmed by the idea of a franchisee putting out questionable content or choosing platforms that would not represent the brand’s quality in IT (“Two Guys In A Garage Hosting”). But I have come to understand that everyone has the ability to provide a message about the brand to hundreds, thousands or even millions of people. Why would you stop the people who have committed a significant amount of their time and money to your brand from having a voice? Once you come to understand that you no longer own the message, the biggest advantage will be having a bunch of people on your side of the dialogue supporting the brand.

The good news is that we're getting to the point where IT is going to be much less of an implementor and much more of a technology coach. IT will no longer need to control the project, but instead become a subject matter expert in the new platforms. This will cause less friction between the groups and less need for marketers to attempt to end-around of the IT department. And this “teaching and guidance” role should get more strategic. Indeed, the times when IT is seen as an interfering unit rather than a helpful one may even come to a close.

This dramatic change in IT's reality will bring a marked change to the relationship between IT and marketing. Given that many business partners do not understand how IT works, for IT leaders to truly be effective, they must have a detailed understanding of how the business works. This understanding allows both sides to have a productive dialogue about technologies that meet the business’ needs because the IT person has taken the time to understand the “why” behind those needs.

Such an understanding is a responsibility that I personally take very seriously. I am constantly seeking to know more about how marketing, operations and supply chain operate so that I can better serve the organization. My latest topic is social media. I recently read three books on the topic: Inbound Marketing by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith and Crush It by Gary Vaynerchuk. Until reading these books, I thought I understood what social media was. What I came to know is that, while I was very familiar with the tools of social media--blogs, YouTube, Twitter, etc.--I did not understand the impact these tools have on the world of marketing. The two biggest changes that marketers are facing:

  • Brands losing the capability to directly control their message more each day. That message is now owned by the consumer.
  • Brands now having the capability to engage in a dialogue with consumers on a personal, more detailed level much more easily than ever before.

For marketing teams that have been used to controlling the message and the communication format, these changes are more than a little disruptive. Although million-dollar TV commercials are not dead, a YouTube video on the front page of Digg might have more impact.

So what should IT do to help their marketing counterparts succeed in this new marketing era? It’s simple: Help.

Step 1: Make Sure Marketing Has A Basic Understanding Of Social Media Tools. Make sure that they understand the basic functions of each tool and the differences between them. Note: If you aren’t familiar with these tools below, become very familiar. In fact, become an expert. That knowledge is a big part of your “new” job.

For example:

  • Blogs: Wordpress, Tumblr, Blogger, etc.
  • Social networks: Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc.
  • Video: YouTube, Google, Viddler, UStream.tv, etc.
  • Twitter
  • Flickr
  • Bookmarking: Delicious, Digg, StumbleUpon, etc.

Step 2: Teach Marketing About Netiquette. Remember that they may not understand the Internet the way an IT person does. Explain some of the dos and don’ts about these online tools.:

  • Treat your “friends” with respect, as members of the community, not as leads.
  • Offer insight/advice, not sales pitches.
  • Ask questions such as “What can I do for you?”
  • Listen/read much more than you talk/write.
  • Explain “lurking” and why it is not a bad thing, especially when they are new.
  • Treat social networks like a cocktail party. Don’t just pass out business cards, talk to people about their interests.

Step 3: Be Available To Answer Questions. As your marketing partners learn and as the tools evolve, questions will obviously come up (Which video quality should I use?). Make sure you are available to offer your expertise both now and in the future. If it makes sense, set up regular meetings with the marketing team to discuss the latest and greatest tools and developments.

I should point out that my opinion on social media has changed 180 degrees in the last two months. I had previously been in the camp that said IT needs to “control” social media activities. How could we possibly let marketing work with an outside technology vendor without IT being involved!?!?! This old way of thinking doesn’t work in today’s world. For marketers to be successful in this space, they are going to need our help, and that help should not include our structure.

This attitude change may be scary for some IT shops. Letting go of control is very difficult to do. But the world is changing, and IT must adapt to these changes like any other organization or risk being left behind.

What do you think? Love it or hate it, I’d love to gain some additional perspectives. Leave a comment, or E-mail me at [email protected].

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