I recently had the good fortune to meet up with a number of interesting and thought-provoking members of the London chapter of the International Food and Beverage Technology Association (IFBTA). As its name suggests, this is an international organisation that ‘promotes the use and advancement of technology within the global food and beverage industries with a focus on education, certification, standards, research and networking’ and aligns with ‘other industry groups supporting technology-related initiatives to further the interests of the industries we serve’. Its London chapter is newly established.
I think this is a brilliant initiative. For me, however, there is one critical omission from the list of elements that the IFBTA wants to focus on – marketing. Ironically, most of the conversation that evening was about how IT teams need to work much more closely with their own marketing teams to improve the effectiveness and cost efficiency of their customer marketing. This should be recognised in their mission statement.
IT departments used to be purely internally focused. They determined the laptops, phones and other digital devices the company should use. They proposed new tills, back-of-house kitchen systems and hand-held ordering devices. They agreed how business data should be collected, analysed and presented and dictated who should have access to what data and when they could have it. They rarely thought about IT in the context of the whole customer journey (with the exception of the odd loyalty scheme).
The best IT directors formed close relationships with their fellow board members, working with them for the good of the business. The worst were arrogant, closeted, remote, unhelpful and dismissive of ‘fluffy’ marketing. In recent years, there has been a significant swing away from the latter and towards the former, although the latter still exist in some organisations!
One senior chief executive told me that he interviewed almost 50 IT directors in his search for the right one. He needed someone who absolutely understood the role IT should play in developing a company’s relationship with its customer base. He wanted someone who realised gathering business data was simply a process (that many could sort) and the key was translating and understanding customer data –not just business data. He needed an IT director who instinctively knew that understanding the company’s customers was the most important element of their role – and that digital would dominate consumer communications.
Marketing directors and IT directors now have to work hand-in-hand and side-by-side. It is a critical partnership. The two teams are fundamental in developing and implementing digital strategy. If they don’t develop their company’s digital objectives, strategy and plan together and support one another at the highest possible level, the company will fail to thrive. The IT department can no longer bury itself away and the marketing team can no longer ignore it. Nor can they bat problems between the two teams – they have to work collaboratively and positively.
Our work with numerous sector companies, and our commercial partners, on digital has really highlighted the need for this positive working relationship. Right now, the emphasis is on how to best analyse social media information collected via Wireless Social and how to use this in the most effective (and sensitive) way. The level of information we can collect allows for almost micro-marketing to specific individuals based on their social profiles and is a powerful tool in terms of driving footfall and loyalty. The early adopters here will have significant first-mover advantage – and that applies to operators and suppliers alike.
Luckily, the people we are talking to recognise this initiative belongs neither in the IT camp nor the marketing camp and, for it to really make the most of its potential, both teams have to be in the room and work together. I wish the IFBTA huge success in facilitating this and hope it becomes a raison d’etre for its existence as an organisation.