Marketing and IT are moving ever closer as the technology requirements of marketers continue to grow. This year’s DataIQ Link conference put the relationship between these two critical functions under the spotlight to find out what a successful marriage might look like.
How was the technology module on your marketing degree? What’s that - there wasn’t one? That could be awkward given the IT-saturated environment in which marketing now operates. You don’t have to buy-in to the CMOs-outspending-CIOs school of thought to accept that these two business-critical functions will have to become very closely acquainted.
That is why the focus for DataIQ Link in September was the marketing-IT interface and how to ensure it is functioning effectively. Real-world case studies and informed insight from practitioners ensured that delegates came away with valuable learnings (and CPD points) about what works.
Just weeks before the $5.9 billion acquisition of King Digital Entertainment by Activision Blizzard, chief scientist Vince Darley and head of core data analytics Andy Done revealed how the games company had coped with its data explosion. “Candy Crush Saga was first released on a web platform, then it was transitioned to Facebook and then onto mobile. That mobile switch has been transformational,” he said. “Our view is that our games bring art and science together through the play, challenges and emotions that are created.”
What the company does not want to create is frustration, which is what happened with level 65 - an infamous sticking point for gamers. “We looked at it via the data to see how many attempts it took for players before they passed it. The average was 130. Half of the players who made it to level 65 gave up the game. Our long-term view is not about one level in one game, but the long-term value of players,” said Darley.
By leveraging this data insight, the game designers were able to simplify the stage and keep players engaged for thousands more levels and potentially dozens of other games. This is in line with the corporate KPIs of retention, engagement, motivation, conversion and virality - it is only at the fourth stage that players begin to spend money in-game.
Done revealed what King’s growth had meant in data and technology terms. In 2011, it was still doing all of its data processing inside the Qlikview visualisation tool, before migrating to Infobright in 2012. It span up its first ten nodes in Hadoop in the middle of that year which has now grown to 230 nodes holding 20 billion data points on 5 petabytes of storage. Somewhat ruefully, he noted that, “we thought we were done...”
In considering price versus performance, as well as the demands of the business for data insights, King has had to migrate its analytical database twice. “We apply agile principles to technology decision making because we can be switching technology every six to nine months,” said Done.
At the time of launching into mobile, that meant accepting a “stovepipe data management solution” because it gave the business what it needed. “We knew we would pay for it later,” he added. The cross-functional data analytics function has now been restructured to face its key stakeholders in marketing, finance and games studios, all working from a common data platform. “The data stovepipe is now a data pool because the business wants to see the whole story,” said Done.
Not many companies experience the hockey stick-type explosion of usage - and the data that brings - which King has undergone twice in the last decade. Its success reveals the fundamental importance of maintaining data as a critical resource for decision making and product development, keeping the data and analytical architecture up-to-date. That is easier for a £1 billion a year business than most, of course. But it is an issue almost every company has to address, especially in the context of marketing technology.
Andrew Buckley, senior vice president core products at Mastercard, presented findings from research he has carried out into the issue. The background was realising that no academic studies had been done into how technology innovation takes place in service companies, rather than manufacturing.
At the heart of what he discovered are interpretation barriers. “There are language differences, such as with test-and-learn or champion-challenger. Even when an IT person says data, they mean something very different to a marketer,” he noted. The processes being adopted by technologists are also difficult for marketing - the way marketing works makes it hard to introduce agile processes, for example. “All you get is a series of sprints because you don’t know what’s going to be delivered,” said Buckley.
He offered delegates a set of mitigation tactics, most notable of which is the need to develop T-shaped skills which allow the marketer to understand technology’s processes and vice-versa, while retaining their deep domain abilities. User journeys are another option. “They are used in industrial design, but are less common in the service industry,” he said. This can lead in interesting directions, such as the decision by LinkedIn to make half of its office space public so its developers can interact with real-world users. Said Buckley: “That is part of their prototyping and how they have broken down the IT thought world.”
Agile was much discussed as a working method throughout the day with differing views about whether marketing can adopt this IT-oriented practice. For National Trust and its two-year project to introduce a loyalty platform and single supporter view, IT project director Andrew Bridges said: “We did struggle to say we had a methodology. It was not as simple as using waterfall - we had lots of mini waterfalls. So perhaps it was ‘wagile’. It was aligned to different releases so that, if problems arose, we could push that element back and bring something else forward that was ready using six-week sprints. The key was having something that works for what you are delivering and the culture of the organisation.”
Laura Scarlett, loyalty programme director, noted that the impact of a successful project is to change things. “Now it is business as usual, but IT is not structured to look after the whole marketing platform and see it through the end-game. That will be a problem going forward, so I am lobbying our CIO to get in a marketing technologist to look after the entire programme,” she said.
Change is a troublemaker, especially in the relationship between marketing and IT because the former’s needs can change rapidly, yet the latter’s goal is always for stability. “We had a CRM system and a supporter database holding our most valuable data set. But it was built in 2001 when we didn’t think email would catch on, so it was built at household level. Now email is a critical tool,” said Liz Curry, head of CRM at Comic Relief.
This created a business driver for change, with marketing wanting to bridge online and offline data. “Our primary business objective was to make more money,” she added. Working with an IT project director, the charity adopted a three-month waterfall approach (which actually ran over to six months) to clarify its thinking and establish a clear business case.
Following a review of the technology options and success stories at other charities, Curry noted that, “as we did this, we thought we might be looking at it the wrong way. Did we need a CRM system and would it be worth it, or did we need to know more about our existing supporters, rather than their contact history?”
If that data was not joined up, it created a cost to the business which the project quantified. As a result, Comic Relief decided to invest in a single supporter view, rather than a CRM solution, so it could target communications more effectively. “Our technology selection was revenue-driven and we identified savings of £463,128.22 just on our fundraising side,” said Curry.
That is a powerful example of why marketing needs to understand technology. It also demonstrates that all IT investments need a clear business case. Regardless of the challenges these two functions find in talking to each other, that is the one language both can understand.