Marketing’s Need for Direct Digital Culture

Josh GordonOf the many themes that manifested throughout last week's IRCE 2010 in Chicago, one persistent theme that found its way in to virtually every presentation was the need to address the culture of the marketing organization in order to effect positive change for customers.
The first keynote to speak specifically to the need for organizational change was from Whitney Automotive Group's eCommerce VP Geoffrey Robertson. He spoke in high level terms about transitioning from a company that used the catalog as the primary form of marketing to a more mature organization that shifted focus from catalog to online. While the numbers necessary to measure the transformation are impressive (like shifting sales share from five percent online in 2000 to 80 percent in 2009), it was his persistent leadership regarding changing the organization that made it all possible.

Whitney said that the right type of technology and partnerships – especially direct digital marketing technology – should fundamentally address the need to maximize the marketing spend. That type of focus requires the right type of people to be in place. For Whitney Automotive Group, that meant creating what he called “an Internet culture,” and also transforming some operational aspects of the marketing group.

For starters, Robertson became “the guy” – the person who is responsible for making marketing decisions for the entire group. No longer was it going to be a company divided between the catalog group and the Internet group. In short, more cliché terminology – break down the silos. Have one person handle the decision-making and the overall value proposition will no longer be fractured between groups. It also cuts down on competitiveness.

The second major change Robertson instituted – and this is a subject that is written about a great deal on sites like The Lunch Pail and Marketing Profs – was moving the focus from the channel to the customer. Many marketing groups have a team for the catalog and a different team for the Internet. Some even try to build in some flexibility by having one group work on both, but in different parts of their day. Success happens when technology spend is driven by a fundamental, organizing belief about marketing – that the sweat and the cost should be founded on the belief that all marketing efforts must focus squarely on the customer.

The most interesting takeaway from Robertson’s keynote was that marketing organizations of any size and style can fall victim to an overall lack of sophistication. It does not matter if better, more customer-centric marketing is prevented because the catalog is the primary marketing focus, or the safety of deeply ingrained vendor relationships, or the misguided desire to spend huge resources to built every solution in-house.

Robertson mentioned that a recent Goldman Sachs IT spend report indicated that retailers spend between 2-2.5 percent of budget on technology. For perspective, spends 19 percent. While spend does demonstrate focus, making the right investments is just as important.

The solution is to build efforts around a fundamental marketplace truth – that all spend and sweat equity should be focused on the customer – and then back up that belief with the right technology to both organize and execute every aspect of the marketing.

How much of your budget is technology? Is it the right technology?

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