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Digital Leaders: Build Bridges Between Marketing and Development

7 minute read
Rasmus Skjoldan avatar
Technology isn’t a silver bullet. But it can help deliver better projects by building bridges across disparate teams.

Today's multitude of tools and technologies have made leading a digital experience (DX) project a bewildering task. Marketing wants this. Development wants that. What’s a digital leader to do?

When you look at how to speed up a complex DX project and deliver high quality end-user experiences, the palette of options placed in front of you can be daunting. Figuring out what to do next is never a binary decision.

What I’m seeing experienced digital managers do when their organizational challenges get too wild is to put shared tools in front of different teams with different needs. That way, they nudge their divergent teams to work together on advancing projects. It almost sounds too simple, but in reality it is one of the rare things that works.

Technology is never the silver bullet. But it does serve a bridge-building function. Sometimes, it’s a shortcut to deliver better projects when the organization and cross-team processes are unruly and fluid.

The Lone Digital Champion

In my daily work leading product management of a content management system (CMS), I regularly interview digital managers who are challenged with getting marketing and development teams to work together. All of them realized long ago that technology alone rarely solves problems, so they use other means to get results.

They are well-versed at building processes, and they focus on organizational structure. They facilitate fluid handovers but also obsess over tools and integrating systems. And they hold the marketing creed of forging memorable customer experiences in high esteem.

The digital leader becomes the central orchestrator and facilitator for digital experiences by connecting people and content or data through processes. Alas, that turns out to be a surprisingly lonely position.

Technology as the Binder

While those digital leaders typically agree that technology itself cannot magically save their projects, they still end up turning to technology to speed up projects and improve quality.

Why is this? My take is their organizational challenges are too overwhelming and hamper progress in their projects.

What digital leaders still achieve through technology is a shared tool set that fosters collaboration and supports the productive process that drives things forward. Implementing processes through deploying tools and asking people to work with them is a subtle and sometimes surprisingly effective way to operationalize change management. They’re building the bridges they need by using technology as the gel, easing it into the organization to help people band together.

It might be just another technology tool, but out of it comes collaboration.

A CMS Made for Both Developers and Marketers

Let’s look at your CMS as one of those tools for getting developers and marketers to work together. Does it strike a balance between being a great developer tool and a powerful marketer instrument? It often doesn’t, and there is a surprising reason why.

Content management systems have always been about bringing technology and content together. Yet in order to produce well-functioning software, every vendor had to institute and maintain an incredibly strong technical culture, internally. This has been the case since the first CMS was deployed, and is as important today as it was in 1999.

Every time a CMS vendor lost its way and let its technical culture and heritage slide, the entire company would be in danger of collapse. No customer can accept unstable, buggy or architecturally weak software. That’s why every thriving CMS vendor in the world goes to such great lengths to safeguard its technical culture.

Learning Opportunities

If you evaluate content management systems, do what you can to get a realistic, inside view of the state of their tech teams. Software will inevitably cater most to the customer team that mirrors the culture of the vendor.

It’s incredibly tough to establish an internal culture that attracts both tech and marketing heroes. Most products lean to either marketing or engineering due to the internal cultures of the software vendor. So the obvious, yet difficult reality about software comes down to:

  • Products made by technology-centric vendors cater to development teams producing systems.
  • Products made by marketing-centric vendors cater to marketing teams producing experiences.

In theory, it should be straightforward for software to empower both developers and marketers at the same time. Behind the scenes, however, multiple factors make it difficult for software vendors to achieve this. Consider these factors:

  • The ways marketers and developers work change rapidly, whereas software to support their workflows takes time to produce. You need insight into their workflows and processes before you can design a system that supports well what they’re doing, let alone take them to the next level.
  • The collaborative culture between developer-focused tooling and marketer-enabling features is hard to establish. Developers might be more caught up with serving structured content via REST APIs and delivering clean JSON. Marketers might be more obsessed with having a great authoring interface that gives them the flexibility to create and preview rich experiences. The tools you pick must be able to satisfy both camps.
  • Establishing software ownership that strikes a balance between different needs requires an equal and deep understanding of both sides. Your research and ideation process has to take both marketing and development concerns into account and synthesize these into a form that is still logical and coherent.
  • As you try to cater to opposing needs, complexity rises — and with that, speed of developing software goes down. Simply getting something new out will often trump facilitating better collaboration.

Software that strikes a good balance between marketing and development is rare.

Neither Tech nor Marketing Purchases Software Alone

Meanwhile on the buying side, a much more diverse group is handling the procuring technology (e.g. a CMS) than in the past. Here are some of the many different scenarios that we’re seeing:

  • Marketing departments ask IT to evaluate a CMS for them.
  • Customers form procurement groups with representatives from engineering, marketing, business, devops, digital and editorial.
  • Marketing departments that have beefed up their technology competencies select the CMS themselves but pull in others to validate their decision.
  • Partners bring in their CMS of choice (after having invested heavily in system know-how).
  • C-level executives understand the importance of agreeing on shared technology platforms and make a joint decision on which one to go buy.
  • Savvy and mature IT departments that either love backend programming, or want to empower or scale up their frontend teams, push a certain CMS to marketing users. After the purchase, marketing becomes a client of IT.

The market picture is not a clean one. It’s not like “Oh, now only marketing buys our products” or “The CTO inevitably takes the lead in the decision process.” Customers have become much more mature in their procurement processes and their evaluation of software.

I deal with the interconnection of technology, processes, project methodologies, design thinking, integration strategies, user experience, collaboration scheme changes and a whole host of other topics that a CMS implicitly or explicitly interfaces with in my day to day work. My favorite approach is to focus on innovation that balances the collaboration between marketing and development. Our world is divided per definition, and that divide is precisely where digital managers can get the most value from technology. Again, it may look like just another tool, but it can help remodel the way teams work together.

Digital Bridges

Let’s face it: As a digital leader, you don’t have the luxury of choosing sides. You have to build bridges, whatever it takes. Do it with handover processes, agile methods, organizational changes or any other gadget, method or procedure you can find in your toolbox.

A sound approach for digital leaders working on revving up their digital projects is to focus on the bridge rather than the two islands it connects. One way to do that is to look for technology solutions as well as particular software products that are committed to traversing the cultural silos between marketing and development. That may just be faster than the change management your organization needs to get people to collaborate naturally.

About the author

Rasmus Skjoldan

Rasmus is the CMO at Magnolia, working out of Copenhagen and Basel. He oversees global marketing, product management, partner management, technology alliances, analyst relations and UX.