Few brands can claim to be as iconic and beloved as Land O’Lakes – and even fewer can claim to have held this position nearly 100 years. This is no accident. Land O’Lakes is one of the most digitally innovative brands in its industry. At the center of it all is Erika Johnson, Senior IT Portfolio Manager, responsible for developing and managing the brand’s best-in-class marketing tech stack. We sat down with Erika to learn more about how she’s seen the marketing technology industry develop, where it’s going, and how Land O’Lakes is staying ahead of the curve.

For more insights from Erika, watch her talk from Transition 2017 in San Francisco:

How have you seen the relationship between the marketing and IT functions change over the course of your career?

I started at Land O’Lakes six years ago, at that time, the relationship between marketing and IT was very limited. We took orders from marketing — that is, if they remembered to call us at all. Often, they were going outside of internal IT looking for solutions. Thankfully, since then, we have evolved the relationship between the two groups.  

The change started with great executive sponsorship – our CMO and CIO are both big advocates. Buy-in from the top was critical, but the change occurred across all levels of the organization. Along the way, we made investments to grow our teams focused on digital marketing.

Our partnership is not always perfect, and that’s okay. That friction between IT and marketing is welcomed – we challenge one another, we question each other’s assumptions, but we ultimately know that we must partner and work together to be successful. That shift in mentality is really the biggest change that I’ve seen.

How do you think the IT/marketing relationship will change in the future?

I think it will continue to improve – we’ll be more integrated both strategically and organizationally.  The lines will blur between the two departments.  I see a time where marketers will move into IT and IT folks into marketing.  

At Land O’Lakes, an example of the blurring of lines comes through work recently done to complete a three-year digital marketing roadmap inclusive of people, process and technology.  It’s the first time we put into play a longer-term view of our partnership. Going forward we’ll continue to go back to the roadmap and update it based on ever-changing technologies and consumer needs, but because of it we’ll be able to be even more responsive and quicker to market.

 We will know we have gotten there when in meetings, you can’t easily tell who is IT and who is marketing.

Functions like sales, finance, and HR have really adopted systems thinking into the way they do business. Why do you think this approach has yet to become the default in marketing?

Going back to the “Mad Men” days, marketing has traditionally been a more creative and artistically driven discipline with just a hint of research science to it. Even more recently a lot of focus has been on building brands through storytelling, which you could argue is more of an artistic or creative endeavor. Thus, some marketers didn’t think about the full loop activity or the full system because they were more focused on these types of activities.

The tools and techniques have changed so now we can measure marketing effectiveness. We can automate back office operations, and we can get to total closed loop system view. In my opinion, the advancements and investments in technology for marketing did lag other core business functions.

At Land O’Lakes, marketing and IT are embracing the idea of systems thinking. Whenever we make an investment in marketing technology, we make sure that we evaluate how it will fit into our overall tech ecosystem and support the customers experience with our brands. For example, we realized additional value when we implemented Percolate and integrated it with our other tech tools. I’m excited to share a bit more about this during my upcoming presentation at Percolate’s Transition San Francisco conference.

Do you think having systems like Percolate in place enables marketers to be more creative?

I think it is important to have a process design supported by systems.  Tools or systems like Percolate and others in our marketing stack allow us to be more efficient and support our processes. This frees up time to focus on our products, our stories, and our customers, which includes time to be creative.  Plus, the tools and analytics we have in place help us know where to better spend our creative time and funding by helping us answering questions like “What’s the story that we need to tell?” and “Where is the best place to share it?”  Our marketers can really put their creativity to work. 

To learn how Land O’Lakes uses Percolate to deliver world-class content, read our case study.

What are the biggest benefits you’ve seen at Land O’Lakes in adopting Percolate for marketing?

One of the biggest benefits is simply being able to see everything that we do in one place. When I first entered a marketing-focused IT role, I recognized that the project management discipline that IT had wasn’t copied over into marketing. Our marketers knew they were doing a lot of work, but they didn’t have visibility into all their initiatives nor an understanding of when more would be coming their way. This was very different from IT where we tracked all our work and a variety of project related metrics.

I see great opportunity with Percolate to understand current workload and what new initiatives are being planned. We can see the details down to each initiative, and we can show everything that marketers are working on and prioritize these efforts. Prioritization may require us to say “no,” as not all initiatives are created equal.

What do you think is the biggest mistake that enterprise technology buyers make in selecting the right solution for their business?

A common mistake that people make is assuming that their current process will map perfectly into their new tool. I’ve experienced this during many selection processes. I’ll give you an example with Land O’Lakes and Percolate. Our existing metadata structure didn’t map perfectly into Percolate. We knew it wouldn’t ahead of time, but we trusted that Percolate has best-in-class practices built into its platform and services. We are not metadata experts by far, so we did butt our head against the wall a few times trying to get it right during implementation. Ultimately you must be willing make changes to access the benefits of the tool.

For brands looking to implement new technology in a global organization, change management is a huge hurdle. How does Land O’Lakes approach guiding employees through large scale process changes?

When we rolled out Percolate we did a few different things.  First, we recognized that we didn’t have all the internal expertise so we brought in external expertise. We brought in a contracting firm with specific library science expertise to help with metadata, and we partnered with the services arm at Percolate to get that outside-in perspective.

Second, during our selection process for Percolate we consulted a diverse, cross-functional team. We had 15 people from across the company weighing in. Everyone at the table was asked to share in the decision-making process.  This included executive level sponsorships from marketing and IT. Our executive sponsors actively reviewed our recommendations and rollout plans and challenged us when appropriate.

Lastly, we continued to leverage these people throughout a phased rollout of the tool including training. Because we took the rollout business unit by business unit, we could share the successes and learnings from each unit with the next. Those first teams within marketing became our exemplars as we rolled out across our organization. For example, our communications manager Joe is a great user of the Percolate Calendar, so we show his calendar to other people in the organization to encourage adoption.

A lot of this might sound super basic. But when you’re executing a complex project, you can easily forget about the basics. People mistakenly assume that everyone will just come along and be on board. But that’s often not the case, so the most basic communication and training things are sometimes the most effective tools to use.