Marketing and IT Get Together: The Elephants in the Room

Disclaimer: I am (possibly unfairly) generalizing about two general classes of Business Professionals (Marketing and IT). Please don’t get offended; step back a bit and see the elements of truth in my silly little tale.

Disclaimer: I am (possibly unfairly) generalizing about two general classes of Business Professionals (Marketing and IT). Please don’t get offended; step back a bit and see the elements of truth in my silly little tale.

This past week, I was at a dual conference, where members of special-interest-groups from IT and Marketing met at the same venue, and held some common sessions. It was touted as a coming together of different functional areas within the business, folks that are really dependent on each other and – especially in these days of social media and big data – have a great opportunity to work collaboratively. A nice sentiment – but as the groups mingled, it was interesting how classic conflicts readily emerged – especially when the various group members really hadn’t been working closely with their IT or Marketing brethren back home.

During a particularly fiesty “open floor” session, where our hardy moderator started asking broad, fundamental questions to the group – the classic roles and attitudes readily emerged from the assembly …

… Marketing doesn’t know their requirements …
… IT is always saying No …
… Marketing is jumping on the latest buzzword bandwagon …
… IT is overcomplicating things – we just need to get something done fast …

Half depressed, half bemused, I decided to jump in to the conversation with what I thought was a constructive search for some common ground. I think that there is a great potential for Marketing and IT to help each other by matching their unique strengths to their counterparts’ weaknesses.

For example, I noted that IT is typically not very good at communicating complexity.


Wow, I really didn’t expect the reaction I got – the marketing folks roared their approval, while my IT peers vehemently protested. Some pointed discussion followed, with lots of side conversations, including at the cocktail hour leading up to the group dinner that night. I was having more fun then, as I learned the Marketing folks didn’t realize I was from IT and I was throwing non-PC grenades in the middle of our roundtable session.

The following day, as we were wrapping up the meetings in our re-separated groups, the IT folks called me out on my comments. I noted that we were outnumbered 2-1, and so I picked on the minority (ok, they grumbled). However – I could have easily thrown a bomb in the other direction, by noting that Marketing typically does not understand systems thinking, or the concept of long-term cost of ownership. That quickly calmed the IT leaders down; I made it out of there alive.

In fact, there are a number of hard truths – elephants in the room – about how we think and act that Marketing and IT have to realize and come together on. A short list might include:

  • Communicating Complexity is Hard: IT is typically not as strong in the Emotional Intelligence area, but both groups will struggle with the grey areas of new technology. However, Marketing should be able to communicate the ROI (especially when the returns are soft). while IT should be able to bring the deeper understanding of Technical Complexity. The story of the project will go better when the two groups work together.
  • Balancing “Good Enough” and “Built to Last”: Marketing will typically be happy with quick-and-dirty solutions (although they are surprised when ongoing upkeep is more work then they thought). IT will want to ensure the solution never breaks (although they at times seemed to have skipped the lesson on the Law of Diminishing Returns). Both sides are right, and it takes common sense and an open mind to get the right balance.
  • Easy to Use is Hard to Build (and vice versa): Easy / quick to build gets results on the screen fast, but it can be a bear to use / maintain, especially when you are working with something for the first time. If you truly want to implement something where “you won’t have to go to IT to make a change” – be prepared to learn some new technology.
  • Internal Resources are Free (that’s why there is such high demand): In my opinion, this is the biggest and most misunderstood elephant in the room. Why can’t IT do my stuff? Because they are busy working on other projects. But this project is really important, has high value. Well, then you can afford to pay for some backfill resources to free up time for us to work on your project?
    The unspoken truth is that this project / request / bit of technology makes sense when I can get it done for free – but if I have to pay something (like for external resources), well maybe the ROI isn’t all there. And don’t push back about the fact that we are paying these internal resources’ salaries. Fact is, those salaries are probably not coming out of your cost center. If we did a chargeback, would you take on the cost?

As I review this short list of big elephants, I think it may be swayed a bit to IT’s point of view. Any other hard truths out there that IT needs to be aware of? Let me know in the comments …

Jim MacLennan
Jim MacLennan is Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at IDEX Corporation, a Fortune 1000 manufacturer that sells highly engineered products in a variety of markets worldwide. MacLennan has responsibility for Corporate IT services for all IDEX business units, and also drives innovation through initiatives that leverage Information and Technology as growth drivers for the industrial manufacturing space. He regularly publishes his observations and insights on the intersection of business and technology - check out his work at