IT Leaders Must Assume New Role: Marketers - InformationWeek

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IT Leaders Must Assume New Role: Marketers

Marketing isn't just the CMO's job. Getting directly involved with customer engagement is necessary for your IT career and your company's success, experts at Authority 2014 explained.

When it comes to finding, serving, and retaining customers, it's a scary time. So many of the things that used to work don't anymore. Even with so much information at customers' fingertips -- maybe because of that info overload -- it's hard for them to learn who we are, understand how we're different, and realize why they should stick with us. If our organizations can't create genuine connections with customers, we're in serious trouble.

Content marketing, permission-based marketing, and community building combine conventional marketing practices with content creation and data analytics to help businesses maintain and build connections with customers, boosting sales and producing applicable data. But none of it fits well into the traditional organizational stovepipes. Is it tech? Is it marketing? Is it sales? Is it finance? Is it data science/analytics? Yes on all counts.

As IT executives and managers, we have conversations about how technology creates business value -- not just cutting costs but also driving revenue. Then we worry about CMOs encroaching on CIO turf, as if our two organizations are Venus and Mars. This is stupid. What we should be focusing on is how the world has changed, how customers are pickier than ever, what the business and revenue dangers are, who is dealing with these changes successfully, and what we can learn from those successful approaches.

I can be as guilty as anyone in overlooking new answers to new problems. I just returned from the Authority Copyblogger conference, which I attended as a hobbyist blogger and essayist, not as a marketer or CIO. I thought that what I would learn wouldn't be relevant to my job as a CIO. Boy, was I wrong.

[What makes a great CIO? Hint: It has nothing to do with technology. Read 5 Skills CEOs Prize In CIOs.]

At Authority, I learned more about a new model of customer engagement. Whether you call it permission-based marketing, content marketing, community marketing, or something else, it doesn't pit the CMO against the CIO. This new model requires us to cooperate, think differently about the scope of our big-org jobs, and not worry so much about who's in charge. It requires us to reshape and even redefine how we do business. Scary, yes, but absolutely necessary.

Ann Handley, chief content officer of MarketingProfs, declared: "We are all publishers and we are all media companies." The corollary and first scary truth? We are all marketers. Why is your company creating online content? To get people to pay attention and take action, hopefully to buy your product. Why does your IT organization send out change notifications or provide intranet training? To get people to pay attention to your messages and take action. We call that marketing.

There's a second, related scary truth: IT must become more integral to the revenue equation by building customer trust and positioning the company as an authority. Seth Godin, one of the world's best known marketers, discussed at the conference what it takes to become an authority -- someone customers listen to.

Big organizations have tended to create marketing "factories," he said, using templates or maps that succeeded before. "I can't work with a map, because if I do someone else will use it and polish and perfect it." Those organizations that stick to the map end up in a "race to the bottom," where everyone is doing the same thing and competing on price. "The problem with a race to the bottom,” he said, "is that you might win."

The alternative? Create something new, something that people participate in. He compared travel site TripAdvisor to American Airlines. "You'll easily switch from AA to something else. It's just a big bus company in the sky," Godin said. But the community -- the authority, the relationships, the trust -- that TripAdvisor has built aren't easily replicable.

Building and marshaling new techniques and technologies is what IT is stellar at, and we must push more of that expertise

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Jonathan Feldman is Chief Information Officer for the City of Asheville, North Carolina, where his business background and work as an InformationWeek columnist have helped him to innovate in government through better practices in business technology, process, and human ... View Full Bio
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5/27/2014 | 1:09:24 PM
CIO As Marketing Pro
This topic came up several times at the MIT CIO Symposium last week. Forrester analyst Peter Burris noted how many technology company CIOs now tag along to customer sales pitches. The CIO of the potential customer wants to hear from the tech company CIO more than he or she wants to hear from the sales/marketing folks making the pitch.

Have you got the close-the-deal cred required for such interactions? Same is true for CIOs with security concerns regarding new projects or services. They want to hear it right from the CIO of the partner, the potential vendor...
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