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QSR Web: Why restaurants must unite IT, Marketing departments to win customers

“Marketing is now a fundamental driver of IT purchasing, and that trend shows no signs of stopping–or even slowing down–anytime soon.”

Lisa Arthur, CMO of Teradata Applications, made that opening statement in Forbes when revealing a glimpse into the future of technology spending. The trend she points to is self-evident all around us: Online retail sales are driving traditional retail toward extinction. Customer loyalty programs are being reinvented thanks to the high-touch channels digital technologies provide. And mobile apps are influencing every waking minute of our lives.

Restaurant industry CMOs and CIOs should pay particular attention to these trends. While the food business could once comfortably rely on big ad buys to drive awareness, traffic, and sales, that comfort zone is quickly diminishing due first to the fragmentation of content channels. Then there’s the rising popularity of Netflix, Hulu, and similar content providers that strip out or greatly diminish advertising. And let’s not forget the popularity of DVR systems that empower viewers to fast-forward through all commercials.

Meanwhile, the food business is witnessing a revolution in customer’s preferred experiences. Hungry customers want to view your menu online, right now, and then place an order or make a reservation instantly using their mobile device. These same customers may enjoy “checking in” at your restaurant location, leaving a review on sites like Yelp and sharing a recommendation to friends. And if your restaurant has entertained and nourished them, there’s a good chance that they’ll want to sign up for some sort of loyalty program.

Sparking chemistry through digital

This revolution is all things digital and largely marketing driven; brands and organizations want to improve their customer acquisition and retention capabilities. But this focus is achieved almost entirely through technology investments in back-end data systems, front-end customer experiences and a whole lot of “middleware” integrations.

While traditional marketing and IT departments haven’t always shared a common vision or had common objectives, the pressures and opportunities of today’s digital economy are rekindling the love between these once apathetic partners. Consequently, tech spending is on the rise and projected to hit $3.7 trillion in 2013, with marketing taking a more active and influential role. As Peter Sondergaard, senior VP at Gartner, said, “Every budget is an IT budget.” Gartner describes this renewed courtship between IT and marketing as the “nexus of forces,” sparked in no small way by surging common interests in cloud computing, social networking, big data, and mobile solutions.

The incredible opportunity here may be subtle but is surely profound: Customers desire more consistent engagement with the restaurants they enjoy. So, rather than being peppered with 30-second commercials, today’s hungry customers want to receive timely specials from their favorite restaurants as well as bonuses for repeat visits. They want to give feedback. And they want, perhaps more than anything, a personalized experience.

Bringing IT and marketing together

Working together, restaurant IT and marketing departments can build such experiences that win customers’ hearts and minds. Marketing specializes in knowing what customers want to see and do in-store and out. IT specializes in engineering the systems and pathways necessary to bring those interests to life. Through a commitment to shared goals, cooperative collaboration, and aligned investments, IT and marketing professionals can make digital experiences as satisfying as the meals they market.

To achieve this potential, marketing and IT leaders need to come together early and often. From business planning for next year’s budgets to quarterly reviews of customer acquisition data, close-knit teaming at all levels of the organization is paramount for digital excellence and a healthy return on those technology investments. Listening to new hires and rising stars is equally important. These younger generation professionals are well versed in both the marketing and technology sides of compelling digital experiences because they are consumers of them.

A new mindset is the important common denominator. As our economy becomes increasingly powered by digital, those restaurants and organizations of any industry best positioned to adapt, grow, and thrive are those willing to band together through an evolved view of their businesses and the customers that support them. Such harmony isn’t achieved easy. But it is necessary. Internal change agents or external partners that speak both IT and marketing languages can help when the going gets tough. During such transformations, the strength of the CMO and CIO alliance cannot be overstated. The true game changer is whether or not those leaders can unite as a dynamic duo and forge a culture of collaboration.

Matt Gartland, DynamIT


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