I’ve been really heartened by the organisations we work with who are making huge leaps in delivering exceptional customer experiences with the aim of ultimately improving — or transforming — their business. I’ve noticed that these organisations have similar attributes – collaborative, agile and outcome-focused, which allows them to be responsive in every sense of the word.

These organisations are embracing the digital age: the age of the consumer, a connected and sophisticated individual that has increasingly high and evolving expectations. And to meet these consumer expectations, now and in the future, organisations need to be responsive.

As a result, a number of organisations we work with have formally added the CMO title to their org charts, which is no big surprise given they are being touted as the next big spender in IT. We’ve all heard the Gartner prediction that by 2017 CMOs will spend more money on information technology and analytics than CIOs.

Individuals are making career shifts in line with these predictions. At the Data Strategy Symposium that I attended last year, one of my favourite talks was by Scott Thomson who works for a large Telco. He reminisced about how he used to work for an IT team but then decided to ‘jump ship’ because he realised that Marketing was in desperate need of technical expertise (and they also had much deeper pockets than IT!).

But there’s also been a lot of chatter about the disconnect between Business and IT and how this can hold organisations back. Last year’s Accenture survey of CIOs and CMOs highlighted the lack of alignment that can exist between Marketing and IT, and the need for them to work together to use technology, data, analytics and design to take advantage of the massive digital opportunity we see before us.

Last year I attended a CIO Summit and there was an open-floor discussion on the topic of Big Data. It got quite heated, and I felt like I was on a merry-go-round of opinion, confusion and indecision about who should lead the Big Data charge. In a huff, one person put up their hand and stated “So what on earth does the ‘I’ in our titles stand for! Shouldn’t it be OUR responsibility?”

So, what’s stopping from a whole business working on these issues together?

I see examples of this divide in the work we do for our clients and through conversations with individuals from both ‘arts’. To help find ways to close the rift, I listen, learn and also try and get an outside perspective so I can help the two functions work better together.

One of the event series I try and get to is Business Chicks [1] because they attract such great speakers. Casting an eye over the 2014 event lineup, one stood out for me – Brian Solis.

A globally recognised author and speaker, Brian has the most slashes in a title that I have seen for some time. But having attended his two hour presentation a few weeks ago, I quickly understood why he tags himself a digital analyst / author / blogger / speaker / anthropologist / futurist.

For context, Brian’s aim is to “..help executives, and also everyday people better understand the evolution of technology and its impact on society and business and also the role we each play in it.”

Brian’s presentation was so insightful and I learned a lot. I know the other people in the room did too, but I’m not sure they got the same things out of it that I did.

Before beginning his presentation, Brian asked for a show of hands. He asked for all of the Marketeers to make themselves known. At least 90% of hands hit the sky.

So what types of roles made up the remaining 10% of the audience? Brian didn’t ask any further questions to uncover the answer, but I hope they were like me. That is, some type of technology-focussed person. Because if some of ‘my folk’ were present in the room, we could infer that we are slowly getting closer to bridging the gap that exists between the ‘Business and IT’, ‘Marketing and Technology’ or the ‘CIO/CTO vs CMO’.

With that in mind, I wanted to share a number of Brian’s key ideas that I felt have specific relevance to how Marketing and Technology folk can work together to achieve greatness.

The Audience at Brian Solis's Business Chicks Sydney event

  • Have a sense of humour. Brian first donned the stage and made a gag about how nothing screams ‘innovation’ and ‘digital awesomeness’ like a set of PowerPoint slides. I take his point, but aside from a glorified powerpoint pack like Prezi, are there any other options out there when trying to convey a message to large audiences?
  • It’s really hard to keep up with technology. “Disruptive technology is a catalyst for change, not the reason”. It excites me to see emerging technology being applied to business, so this statement presents a bitter pill for me to swallow. But Brian is right. We cannot jerk our knee each time a new social media platform arises (I heard that there are 52 active ones out there right now) or a shiny device or app is released into the wild. “It is reinvention, constant relevance and perpetual value that become the pillars for an adaptive business”. Check out ‘Digital Darwinism’ in Brian’s blog.
  • Think digital-first.After referring to this video clip that shows the comparison between a baby playing with a magazine and an iPad, Brian recalls how this clip changed him. It made him realise that we all need to think “Digital-first”, not “Analog-first”. This is important because the generation that follows us won’t know what a floppy disk, a record player or a tape cassette is. Gen Y will form 75% of the workforce by 2025 and are actively shaping corporate culture and expectations. This needs to be a consideration when designing products and services. He posed the question “On someone’s first day at work, they may get issued a laptop, phone, wifi password and login details. So why shouldn’t they get issued a company twitter account?”
  • Welcome, Generation-C. The newly defined generation of customers that is always connected and united by lifestyle. It is the first customer demographic that is not based on age but purely on behavioural attributes. Regardless of whether you are a 16 or a 65 year old, if you have a social media account and have Type n Walk downloaded on your smartphone, you are a part of Generation-C. And you will be most probably be found on a CMO’s desk (who is madly trying to re-define his/her User Personas). Brian believes that we need to “stop looking at people through a lens of demographics and instead start designing experiences and outcomes based on interests and behaviour.”
  • Keyword searches are things of the past. Brian talked a bit about how Generation-C don’t like keywords, and therefore do not use keywords when looking for information. People are now asking questions rather than typing in keywords. This changes everything and in turn, we need to make sure we are keeping that in mind when trying to capture audiences’ attention. A great follow up article can be read here.
  • Henry Ford never said that. When discussing innovation, creativity and the role that customers have in the way we design products, I’m sure we have all been guilty of trotting out the “faster horses” quote. Brian confirms that he in fact never said that. It is believed that it was more along the lines of “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from our own.”
  • Big Data is not someone else’s job. I could talk about Big Data all day. About the endless possibilities of insights. About how important data science and statisticians are to your business. About how technologies like Elastic Map Reduce and Hadoop are here today to make all of this possible. About how you can crunch big data in your lunch break. But maybe this is because I have a love for technology and geekiness. As Brian explained so succinctly to the audience, we should try to think of Big Data more simply as information about people. Let it inform your decisions, and inspire you. Let the information uncovered through Big Data exploration give you that “aha” moment. Marketers and Technologists could have endless hours of fun playing with Big Data together.
  • Mobiles mean that you are mobile. Brian walked us through the path to purchase for a customer and was very clear in showing the many devices that were commonly used to transact. That is, an eventual customer could transfer from a PC, to a laptop, to a tablet, and then to a mobile phone. Our job (as marketers and technologists) is to ensure that the customer has a seamless and consistent experience through the journey and that the technology choice is relevant to fit the desired outcomes. Thinking outside the square, we need to consider ideas such as responsive and adaptive web applications. Or perhaps we could think more broadly about integrating a wearable, internet-connected device into the journey. The possibilities are endless, but we must stay outcome-focussed.
  • Take a look in the mirror. Brian told us about a few useful tools that businesses can leverage to understand what people are saying about them, so that they can adapt accordingly. Take a look at BottleNose and Glassdoor, which he explains is like “Yelp for businesses”

The journey to bridge the great divide in the search for organisational responsiveness is a complex one and it takes more than a few advocates and shiny job titles to bring it to life. I will continue to urge organisations who do it well to tell their story to others to convey the importance of working together as one unit, as well as actively bringing the Business and IT together on the projects we are working on or scoping out. Join me in taking action to bridge this gap and also stay tuned for my next post which will explore in more detail why the gap exists.

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To read more about how to change the way that businesses create experiences, please refer to Brian Solis’s latest book [What’s the future] of Business? [#WFT]

[1] It was around 12 months ago when I stumbled across the Business Chicks group. Being a modern woman I was originally disheartened by the name. But when I went along to my first event last year to see what the Business Chicks had to offer, my perception was proven wrong. The Melbourne-based event featuring Pret-a-porter’s Megan Quinn attracted staggering numbers. Over 500 spirited and energetic business women flocked to Zinc function centre to listen to her speak about her bumpy and windy road to online success. Over time, I discovered that the group started with just 250 members some years ago and numbers are now at a staggering 31,000 members. Another interesting fact is that it’s not exclusively for females: 5% of their members are males.