Home Marketers Ally Financial On Why Marketing And IT Need To Be BFFs

Ally Financial On Why Marketing And IT Need To Be BFFs

Kevin Howard, executive director of digital marketing strategy & innovation, Ally Financial

If you’re a brand that wants to in-house its programmatic media buying, the best thing you can do is to make friends with the IT guys.

Because without buy-in and support from the internal tech team – whose job it’ll be to handle most of the technical development of any mar tech or data warehouse deployment – no in-housing project has a chance of being successful in the long run.

Kevin Howard, Ally’s executive director of digital marketing strategy and innovation, knows firsthand what it’s like when marketing and tech aren’t on the same page.

In 2019, when Ally first began to bring its media buying functions in-house, those teams might as well have spoken different languages, Howard said earlier this week at AdExchanger’s Programmatic I/O event in Las Vegas.

The IT team has “their own problems to deal with,” Howard said, and decoding marketing speak, like, “We need to centralize our customer data warehousing in order to enable holistic-driven media plans,” isn’t high on their to-do list.

Tech is busy thinking about things like cybersecurity, the next version of the company’s app and making sure the sites don’t crash.

“We found that they did not understand or want to prioritize what we were trying to do; that bringing the mar tech stack into our four walls is about more than just signing the contract,” Howard said. “We had ‘failure to communicate.’”

Hanging with the CTO

The tech team isn’t the only group of internal stakeholders that marketing needs to get on board, of course. CRM, legal, governance, risk and compliance all need to be involved, too.

But having a strategic, cooperative working relationship with IT is probably the most important because that’s what will make or break a mar tech investment.

In fact, Ally actually hired an outside person with experience on both sides to “come in and be a translator, if you will, to help [IT] understand what we were trying to get done,” Howard said.


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But then he was also lucky in another way, he said.

Because when Ally brought on Sathish Muthukrishnan as its new CTO in early 2020, he was “a big believer in marketing,” said Howard, who began having regular quarterly meetings with Muthukrishnan and Ally CMO Andrea Brimmer.

Muthukrishnan created an IT-specific group dedicated to the marketing team to “sit with us,” Howard said, “and really understand the problems we’re trying to solve and remove the barriers to get it done.”

“We talked about what’s working, what’s not working and where we need help,” he added.

For example, developing a first-party data strategy and preparing for the cookie apocalypse (aka the slowest apocalypse ever, h/t Anthony Vargas) is a lot easier when the tech team’s in the loop.

The other Tech Labs

But Ally took its marketing and IT lovefest to another level.

Several years ago, Ally launched what it calls “Tech Labs” (not to be confused with the Tech Lab), which is its technology incubator. Tech Labs functions as a self-contained team within the broader tech organization that helps departments across Ally quickly experiment with new ideas, experiences and emerging technologies.

For marketing, that means being able to more nimbly bring ideas to life than what’s typically possible through an agency.

In the past, for instance, Ally would brief its creative agency on a concept, the agency would come back 12 weeks later with a proposal, Ally would tweak it, another 12 weeks would pass until the agency came back with an updated version – and by then months would have gone by.

“There’s a lot of cool stuff we want to do,” Howard said, “but we felt challenged by the fact that if we want to do something cool, it would be a briefing process for the creative agency.”

The Tech Labs team “helps us solve problems in a prototype fashion much quicker than waiting for a full-blown presentation from an agency,” he said.

None of this is possible, though, if the marketing team doesn’t first take the time to educate itself about technology and set a cohesive strategy.

“Don’t wait for a technology to solve your problems, and don’t wait for an agency to solve your problems,” Howard said. “You’ve really got to understand what’s going on yourself.”

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