Fighting for the digital future

Much has been written about the supposedly awkward relationship between marketing and IT.

The digital nature of modern marketing is forcing the two together and it’s easy to caricature this pairing as a mismatch of right-brain creatives with left-brain rationalists.

In truth, says Anthony Mullen of Forrester Research, the two departments had a perfectly healthy relationship in the days before social media.

'Historically, marketing and IT worked pretty close together,' he says. 'They would set up an [outbound] email server together, they may have done print runs, and they would work on the company website.'

'Social media is what really blew things out of the water.'

As social media took off in the latter years of the last decade, marketing professionals knew they had to participate. At first, they didn't need any technological help to set up a Facebook page or Twitter account. But as competition heated up and social media platforms became more complicated, they needed a helping hand.

The assistance they needed was way out of IT's remit, however, so many marketers sought the aid of specialist digital media agencies. Roughly akin to advertising agencies, these firms would provide consultancy on branding, messaging and demographics, as well as whatever technological help their clients required.

This pulled digital marketing away from the enterprise. Over time, businesses were building detailed profiles of customers and rich social data sets about their products and services in systems that were entirely divorced from their CRM or ERP applications.

The same thing happened with mobile, Mullen says. When everybody and his dog wanted to have a customer-facing mobile app, few IT departments had the necessary skills. 'Mobile was a headache for IT, so marketers outsourced that as well,' he says.

The current convergence of IT and marketing is perhaps best understood as a correction of that trend. Social media and mobile are now both critical channels for customer interaction, and as such must be integrated with enterprise data if they are to fulfill their potential.

'We're moving into stage two of digital marketing, where businesses want to leverage their enterprise capabilities, whether its stock management, delivery processes or CRM data,' Mullen says.

IT suppliers are watering at the mouth at the prospect of a new wave of integration., Oracle, IBM and Adobe have made scores of acquisitions to add digital marketing capabilities to their software suites.

According to Gerry Brown, senior marketing technology analyst at Ovum, no one software company has a complete suite, despite their efforts. Most have accumulated different parts of the complex digital marketing puzzle, and integration is mostly a work in progress.

At Oracle's OpenWorld conference in September, for example, the company unveiled a number of new integrations to its 'Marketing Cloud' that it said constituted the 'only fully integrated digital and social marketing solution to manage all digital interactions from a single platform'.

This is a 'directional and aspirational statement,' says Ovum's Brown. 'Oracle’s claim is certainly true if you define digital marketing as ‘sales lead management’.'

'However, every leading vendor is moving in roughly the same social integration direction, so any advantage is likely to be short-lived.'

>See also: Not one IT giant has a complete digital marketing platform: Ovum

For Forrester's Mullen, Adobe and have the most complete suites. 'If you were starting a business tomorrow, and had no legacy systems to integrate, Adobe or would get you up and running,' he says. 'They'll let you generate dynamic websites, integrate social, deploy content onto mobile and have a half-decent content management system.'

But as acquisitive as the established IT giants have been, digital marketing is a hot bed of innovation, with new features and functions unfolding all the time, from context-aware mobile development kits to social TV applications. 'It's a zoo out there,' says Mullen.

As far as digital marketing software is concerned, it will be a long time before the big vendors monopolise the market.

Digital marketing services:

IT services companies are equally tantalised by the second wave of digital marketing, as it promises to generate years-worth of integration work.

IBM and Accenture, for example, have both added digital marketing practices to their services portfolios. In order to woo marketing directors, they have fashioned these practices as digital agencies in their own right.

This is only serves to prove that the agencies have the zeitgeist on their side, however. The likes of AKQA (a division of UK advertising giant WPP), Razorfish (a division of French rival Publicis), and Sapient Nitro know the language of marketing, says Mullen.

'They understand brand curation and the vernacular they use is better suited to the marketer,' he says. 'They'll talk about customer needs in a way that rings true.'

Not only that, they can commission the content to go alongside the platform. Plus, it is the marketing budget that is likely to pay for the required integration work.

'The IT guys would go to Accenture and IBM, but the marketing guys will go to the agencies, and they tend to be further up the food chain in terms of spending,' Mullen says.

It is a bit of simplification to portray the digital marketing outsourcing market as 'agencies versus systems integrators', says Ovum's Brown, as there is plenty of opportunity for partnerships. 'Many SIs and agencies are collaborating,'  he says. 'A good example is Infosys BrandEdge, which is a joint collaboration with WPP’s Fabric agency.'

That said, more is at stake than market share. The leading agencies, Mullen claims, are moving beyond marketing to become their clients’ innovation partners for all things digital, including product development.

For example, AKQA, which describes itself as 'an ideas and innovation company' worked with carmaker Fiat to develop eco:Drive, an app that lets customers analyse their driving performance. Based on telematics data from the car, the app tells the user how they could drive more efficiently and gives them a detail breakdown of their driving history.

>See also: BMW hires Accenture to manage digital marketing

This is the kind of innovative work that IT services companies clamour for. In reality, even for the likes of IBM and Accenture, more straightforward outsourcing represents a growing proportion of sales.

A lot of IT companies will make a lot of money from enterprise digital marketing initiatives in the coming years.

However, if they fail to refashion themselves convincingly as digital innovation partners, they may find that they are no longer the architects of the future of technology – if indeed they still are today.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...