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Adidas CIO plays to win at digital marketing

Elizabeth Heichler | Feb. 17, 2015
Jan Brecht describes how a unified tech-marketing team scored a victory at the 2014 World Cup.

Talk about the team. How has your technology group worked with the marketing group?
Brecht: We were pretty honest with ourselves. The IT guys realized, we probably do not have the creativity it takes to run a successful marketing campaign from a creative perspective, and the marketing guys were equally honest in saying, we probably don't have the technical skills to put our creativity into something which is scalable and secure. After quite a bit of discussion, we decided to fully integrate. We call it the digital experience team, with digital creative perspective and digital technology perspective.

The team is led by one person, reporting to both the CMO and the CIO. And that team cannot distinguish whether they are marketing or IT. We made that change effective as of Nov. 1, 2013, and I think that was probably the most significant step to being successful. Because that lays the foundation of not having all the finger-pointing: 'oh the IT guys don't get the creative stuff, the marketing guys don't get it scalable, it breaks down.' The theme is: One accountability, end-to-end responsibility, whether it's the creative piece or the technology piece.

Today everything is based on technology, everything is on social media. It's why you cannot do without IT, but certainly you cannot do without creative. So that's No. 1, team, very important.

That's a challenging role for the head of the team, to report to two executives. How do you resolve conflicts with the CMO?
Brecht: By talking to him. I think the structure makes sense but it always depends on the people who fill it. It took some time to make expectations realistic on both sides. We've also put a much more structured process around the campaigns. For example, the IT guys of the joint team are now part of the selection of the creative agencies, so from the very beginning there's a quality gate, which makes things a little more strict in the beginning, but then you're much faster toward the end, because in former times, the implementation was only considered once the creative work was done. That's considered a lot earlier, and the structured process makes it a lot easier for marketing and IT to work together. That requires a lot less conflict and debate between CIO and CMO. And we get along well, so that helps.

What are the most important areas of change in technology that you see?
Brecht: The picture I always use with my internal team, not only IT but also the board, is the famous genie in the bottle. For decades IT was managed in a way that as CIO, you would have a nice bottle, your data center and applications, put a plug on it, and try to keep it under control as much as you can. That's scalability, that's reliability, that's security. Well guess what, that game has entirely changed. If I look at how we run IT today, if I look at the smartphones of our Adidas consumers, [in total] they probably have a million times or trillion times more computing power, sheer technology, than anything I can ever have in my internal data centers. That genie has left the bottle.


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