When Did Marketing Become A Dirty Word?

Nigel Fenwick
Vice President, Principal Analyst
May 13, 2011

I'm going to date myself here, but in the early 90's when I was working in IT, I created a new role: "IT Marketing and Services." In defining the role, I was quite deliberate about my choice of words — especially in the use of "marketing." This role was responsible for all customer-facing aspects of IT — that included IT business relationship managers (yes we had them back in the early 90's), help desk, training, communications (of the PR kind), demand management and planning. I chose the word "marketing" deliberately to reflect the fact that this was a customer-facing responsibility (both internal IT customers and end-customers of the business from a technology perspective).

Twenty years on, and the number of IT professionals who really understand marketing and recognize the importance of marketing as a key component of IT operating strategy has, if anything, declined. Why?

Often when I ask CIOs today about the role of marketing in IT they are overcome with concern about using the term "marketing" in the context of IT. They believe people across the organization will think there is no role for marketing in IT, and that having anyone with a "marketing" title will suggest IT has too much money. Why does this fundamental misunderstanding of marketing perpetuate throughout organizations? So many otherwise knowledgeable executives think marketing is simply advertising or worse "spin." Do "marketing" job titles in IT really suggest that CIOs are trying to "sell" IT to the rest of the business? I wonder if this is a problem for IT or if it is an issue created by the perception of others outside of IT.

Isn't it time for IT professionals to learn what marketing is really about? Marketing has evolved so much from the days of Mad Men — today's marketers focus on creating an effective process to identify changing customer needs and deliver customer value (in most cases at a profit). That's something CIOs have been trying to do since the first data processing groups were established in the 70’s. 

In fact The Chartered Institute Of Marketing defines marketing as:

"The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably."

In today's digital marketing age, it's time we realized that marketing isn't a dirty word — it's a discipline that is fundamental to the success of every organization. Every IT group can learn something from marketing if they can just get past the outdated stereotypes.

It's time IT professionals became savvy about marketing!

Do you agree or do you see the challenge differently? Let me know.

I'll be discussing the intersection of IT and marketing at the Forrester Leadership Boards CIO meeting in Vegas next week and presenting a keynote on the subject at the September CIO forum so I'm interested in your thoughts.

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