by Tom Kaneshige

How Marketing Picks Tech Vendors (and Who Decides)

News Analysis
Aug 06, 20143 mins

The head of digital architecture at MasterCard says marketing should bring in IT at the beginning of technology vendor discussions. The director of customer engagement at Cox Media Group agrees, but she adds, ‘There's a time and place for rogue.’

You can almost hear the hint of desperation in Matt Holton’s voice.

Holton, senior vice president and group head for digital architecture at MasterCard, is speaking to a roomful of marketers at GrowthBeat, a tech marketing conference in San Francisco this week. He’s on a breakout panel entitled, “1,400 marketing tech vendors! How to select technology without dying trying.”

“It’s better if you bring [IT] in early, at the beginning,” Holton says.

Holton’s words bespeak a power shift in the executive suite, from the CIO to the CMO. Today, CMOs are next in line for the CEO post. A Forrester survey shows companies going all out driving revenue and improving the customer experience, and the CMO is the tip of the spear. Marketing has never been closer to the revenue pipeline or product development.

If marketing needs some cutting-edge technology, the CMO will probably get it.

[ More on the CMO Role ]

[ More on the CIO Role ]

And there won’t be a lack of marketing tech vendors to choose from, either. As the title of the panel says, there are 1,400 marketing tech vendors. Anywhere from 300 to 500 marketing tech startups jump on the scene every year, says Travis Wright, a business journalist at Technorati and the panel moderator. The handful of acquisitions and annual die-offs pale in comparison to the number of new marketing tech vendors.

Vendors Sidestepping the CIO

Taking advantage of the CMO’s tech buying power, most of these vendors pitch marketing pros directly. Only a few years ago, tech vendors would have been blackballed for doing an end-run around the CIO. Now IT executives like Holton are in the unenviable position of pleading with vendors and marketers to involve them in the sales process.

Yet marketers would be wise to involve IT when purchasing and using tech, says Rebekhah King, director of customer engagement at Cox Media Group and a panel speaker.

King’s opinions carry exceptional weight. She spent many years in marketing and admits marketing is where her heart lies. Only recently has King joined the techie ranks, at one point joking that she watches Star Trek: The Next Generation reruns to up her tech cred.

[ Related: CIOs and CMOs Suffer From Failure to Communicate ]

A technology architect like Holton can be a marketer’s best friend, King says. An architect will know how new technology will impact other parts of the company and can warn of impending disasters. Tech brought on without IT’s stamp of approval can cause huge problems later, in the form of rip-out-and-replace migrations, integration headaches and wasted dollars.

“Both sides of the conference table burn on that,” King says.

Sometimes Rogue Works

On the other hand, King understands that marketing and IT often operate under different timetables. Marketers must seize opportunities in a constantly shifting market landscape and need new technology to do it, while IT is more conservative and takes a long-term approach to tech projects. This has led to marketers making tech purchases behind IT’s back, known as rogue or stealth tech.

[ Slideshow: 10 Biggest CIO-CMO Relationship Hurdles ]

“There’s a time and place for rogue,” King says.

But King quickly points out that “rogue” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. CIOs can foster innovation by giving a rogue a place to live, she says. The middle ground just might be traditional pilot projects that IT uses to test technology before rolling it out en masse. Marketers can use the pilot project model to get their new marketing tech up and running quickly.

While the CIO and CMO tend to operate with different speeds, King says, “It doesn’t always have to be that way.”