The chicken and the egg

Which comes first, technology or strategy? I suspect most of you will say strategy – I bet, however, most clients actually do it the other way round. In the world of CRM and database marketing (whether it’s executed online or in mixed media), if I had an egg for every time a client delayed strategy projects while they go through procurement for the tech to support it, I’d have the makings for an awfully big omelette. Logically of course strategy should come first: work out what you want to do and why you want to do it, test the theory, then build the technology to support a plan that works.

Yet – and see if you recognise this – budgets consistently get spent on technology first. Sorting out the Email Service Provider (ESP) before working out what kind of segmentation is required, or what kind of multi-channel tracking is required, seems absurd. Going further upstream from that, spending large amounts of money on a Single Customer View (SCV) before working out how you’re going to monetise one also seems counterintuitive. I’m not sure of the rationale; is it that “if we have the technology, we’re ready for anything”? More likely in the days of recession, where a company has surplus cash but needs to cut costs, the argument for making a large technology decision means it can be moved to capital expenditure and accounted for on the tax bill.

But this means marketers are then constrained to playing catch-up, beholden to the decisions made based on the balance sheet instead of based on customer marketing requirements.

On a macro level it’s a bit like hiring an ESP to do CRM strategy – the answer will only ever be ‘use email’, never multichannel or SMS only; likewise, by buying the SCV platform or the CRM system before deciding on what you’re going to do and why precludes things like the advent of social, or whatever the next mercurial marketing channel change turns out to be. If you’ve invested in the big technology, you’re stuck with solutions that use it. Or of course you’re stuck with a white elephant, a capital expenditure project that sits in the corner waiting for you to realise the people with the manual have long left the company.

In fact, this is precisely what happened when CRM was invented. Huge IT installations were sold to firms that wanted to amortise spare cash, then never got used, and eventually when the ‘high-ups’ started asking questions CRM became a dirty word. That was twenty years ago, and today’s marketing decision makers must remember what happened else it happen again. And now that marketing and technology are intimately entwined, this kind of monstrous over-investment in IT without a clear strategy for what it will actually be doing for marketing can no longer be blamed on the egg-heads when it goes wrong. It’s now everyone’s responsibility, especially marketing’s, to make sure the investment is supportive, not directive.