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Why your IT guys shouldn’t drive your web strategy

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I’ve told this story before, but as an illustrative case study, it’s worth repeating.

A few years ago I was consulting to an eCommerce solutions firm who were keen on coming up with a deal with a prominent retail industry group. We were hoping we could encourage adoption of their eCommerce software with a low cost trial for their members.

At that time I didn’t have any contacts within the organisation, so I enquired about the person responsible for eCommerce strategy and adoption among their members.

After chatting to that person, we arranged a time to meet at his office.

At the agreed time, the eCommerce firm’s CEO and I went to the head office to meet the gentleman concerned.

Oops, wrong department…

To our astonishment, we were led into a room full of disembowelled computers and soldering irons. Our host was knee-deep in cable and had his head in a computer monitor before he greeted us, cleared some manuals from some seats and motioned us to sit down.

The situation immediately became clear. The person responsible for the organisation’s eCommerce vision was the systems administration officer.

Needless to say, both the meeting and ensuing arrangements were brief and somewhat pointless.

Quite clearly, the organisation had confused technical expertise with strategic marketing expertise.

And they weren’t alone.

Blinded by science

It was not long before that that I worked on a project with a household name in business advertising. Despite the department being responsible for electronic advertising, they were headed up by a very qualified and capable computer scientist.

Again the focus was on the technology, not what the organisation did with it. Again the department floundered and the head of department eventually moved on – but not before he had made some quite ill informed decisions on the online direction of the organisation.

The sorry part was, it was no fault of the respective individuals concerned that their employers put them in these positions of responsibility.

It’s not about computers

Even today, many smaller business operators are handing responsibility of their web marketing strategy to people who are “good with computers”.

But while their online communications reside on new technology, understanding the technology and understanding how to promote and communicate online, are two entirely different disciplines.

I often compare it to getting your television repair guy to make you a television commercial.

Yes they are both working in the same technology, but their respective roles and skills are entirely different.

What many business operators are slow to grasp is that the key benefit that the web brings to their business is a marketing communications benefit.

Marketing benefits delivered using technology

Predominantly, the web is either being used to provide information about the business to encourage sales, to act as a new channel to market, or to streamline or enhance related promotional activities.

All of these objectives clearly belong in the marketing department, but are underpinned by new and evolving technology rather than a discipline of it.

Sure other benefits are the stuff of customer service, finance and operations, but it’s marketing benefits that most smaller business gain from a professional online presence.

To that end, planning and decisions pertaining to their online presence need to come from a marketer who understands the online world, rather than an IT person who knows (or worse, claims to know) about marketing.

This way decisions can be made that leverage and complement the rest of your promotional strategy instead of being a digital shag on a rock.

Enabling versus communicating

This isn’t to demean the role of the IT department, far from it. They carry a huge and vital responsibility to keep your organisation humming in an increasingly digital world.

And let’s face it, without them many of us would be out of a job.

But having them drive what is essentially a marketing strategy only puts your firm further behind your competition as you embark on a technology-focused strategy instead of a customer focused one.

Once your strategy is determined, your IT people can then be brought in to assist in “tooling up” for it – something they usually excel at.

In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the small business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.  

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