February 2, 2007, 12:00 AM

I.T. and marketing departments must lower the drawbridge

When it comes to creating and executing online marketing projects, integration and communication between I.T. and marketing are critical, e-retailing vice presidents told the Shop.org conference this week.

Kurt Peters

Executive Editor

Many e-retailers find it difficult to align marketing efforts with I.T. resources, and then keep the efforts on schedule. It`s as if a moat separated marketing staff from I.T. staff. In the case of specialty food retailer Harry & David, there is a moat between the two departments. A real moat.

Well, that`s what marketing and e-commerce development staff members call the pond between the building that houses marketers and the double-wide trailer in the parking lot that`s home to e-commerce technicians. It`s an ironic pond, though, because the two departments get along just fine-and regularly execute e-retailing marketing efforts without either side having to storm the castle.

It is not uncommon for isolation and stereotyping to create a barrier between marketing and I.T. professionals, said Anne Ashbey, vice president of Internet marketing at Harry & David. "But both must play on the same team." Ashbey offered insights on the subject Feb. 1 during a session titled "E-commerce and I.T. Vice Presidents Panel" at the Shop.org 2007 FirstLook conference in Orlando.

For Harry & David, No. 94 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, the key to successfully collaborating and meeting deadlines is having I.T. staff and marketing staff work together under the banner of the marketing department, said fellow panel member Shawn DeGraw, the I.T. counterpart to Ashbey.

Executives at books e-retailer Alibris Inc. take a similar approach. They created a cross-functional team for Internet marketing efforts and tasked its members to create a process that best suited the needs of both departments.

"We did not want to make staff use an external process," explained Michael Schaffer, chief technology officer at Alibris, No. 108 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, and a member of the session`s panel. "So they created a homegrown process that everyone agreed with and embraced, a process that helps them best work together." Additionally, the company hands out quarterly bonuses as incentives for team members. Schaffer’s colleague Brian Elliott, president and COO of Alibris, is speaking at Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition, June 4-7 in San Jose, June 6, 1:30 p.m., in a session entitled E-commerce Blogs: Finding Their Long-Term Value.

Ultimately, whether one team or two, if a drawbridge is up, someone must bring forth a battering ram. "Marketing and I.T. must come together very early during a project. People need to be talking back and forth over the walls everyday and have face-to-face communication-this is critical," said panel member John Lazarchic, vice president of e-commerce at Petco Animal Supplies Inc., No. 170 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide. "This holds everyone accountable for achieving success."

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