A few weeks ago I was chatting with an acquaintance who works for a trade body in the marketing industry, organising events for them. These events take sponsors, and the sponsors they were working with were exclusively technology service providers. Marketers buy marketing agency services, advertising space, novelty pencils and the occasional cuddly toy, right? What’s going on?

It seems to me to all trace back to a quote that I’ve heard endlessly in the past couple of years, and which I myself have used in the past: that, according to Gartner, “by 2017 the CMO will Spend More on IT Than the CIO”. The source of this pearl? A webinar that is referenced here: http://my.gartner.com/portal/server.pt?open=512&objID=202&mode=2&PageID=5553&resId=1871515

I’ve never met anyone who has heard the webinar. I’ve met plenty who have not only quoted it, but also aligned their own marketing activities around it – as witnessed by my marketing trade body chum.

From the very little information that Gartner has made public on the topic (the link above is it, as far as I can tell), the first thing that is really important to take note of is that it appears to only apply to CMOs who work for “high tech providers”. That’s really, really important. Because it means that Gartner isn’t predicting that most CMOs will be spending more on IT than their CIO colleagues; just those working in high tech companies (what that definition is is also left unclear). The few further nuggets of data that appear in this Forbes article also seem to show that tech companies are a special case.

What many in the tech industry have taken from this factoid is that all marketers are going to suddenly become the new sources of wealth as the tech world tries to drag itself out of the post-crash doldrums. What scares me most here is how the words “Gartner predict” can make sensible, successful career marketers and salespeople take leave of all of their senses. Just think about it for a second: the head of marketing will spend more in four years time on IT than their IT colleagues? That’s going to take two remarkable things to happen – firstly an absolute collapse in IT spending within the IT department, and then a massive shift in spending from marketers towards IT. Not digital, not tech-enabled services, but IT.

Why (working on the very limited information we have available) do I think this is bobbins? Well, I do think that spend in the CIO department is likely to drop. And I do think that it’s feasible that spend directly on tech in the marketing group of many companies might increase. But the factors that impact the decline in traditional IT spend (particularly, commoditisation of services and Cloud) are the same reasons why the CMO will continue to spend a lot more of their money on other things – namely services that may or may not be technology enabled. That’s not the same as “IT”. Maybe the headline should be “catastrophic collapse in IT spend by CIOs by 2017”?

Unless, of course, there is some conspiracy going on in which tech companies are going to focus their own marketing on marketers in the hope that their lack of tech savvy will mean they’ll buy a whole load of tat they don’t need at prices they shouldn’t be paying. That, of course, is ludicrous. The simple fact is that we love simple facts. Simple facts about the future doubly so. And even more if they just sound too good to be true. Especially if they’re predicted by a group like Gartner (an aside: you know how countries’ finance ministers get all het up about their nation’s S&P credit rating? The same S&P that gave junk mortgage investment vehicles AAAs? Why do we trust any of these ratings or analyst groups any more?!)

There will probably be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy in all of this; the amount of marketing effort going in to marketing tech products to marketers will surely pay off to some extent in increased sales. But for the most part, in most companies, the CIO will continue to be the dominant (if contracting) IT spender. And that of course is (it appears) what Gartner might have said anyway.

7th November 2013 EDIT: A big thanks to Ian Cox who found this – Mark McDonald from Gartner “explains” the stat. Put it this way – pretty much what I said above… When they said “IT” they kinda meant “technology” and “technology” kinda might mean things like, erm, Google adwords…

5 thoughts on “The “2017 Meme”

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