With all of the technology cropping up for communicating with consumers, learning from their conversations, and capturing their data, it’s easy to get caught up in tools and forget the big picture: Putting customer needs at the center of the business.

Ray Velez, Global CTO at Razorfish, understands this picture well. His new book, co-authored with Razorfish CEO Bob Lord, is called Converge: Transforming Business at the Intersection of Marketing and Technology. I interviewed Ray to understand what the changes in technology mean for marketers, and how to use them to deliver better experiences.

What has changed about our world that has required businesses to adapt their structure?

In a word, technology. The rise of social networks and other self-publishing platforms have given consumers their own bullhorns. Mobile phone advances have birthed super-shoppers, with the world of reviews at their fingertips while they’re browsing the aisles. Old models, whether interruptive marketing or retail strategies predicated on the scarcity of information, just don’t work anymore. Businesses must adapt by adopting next-generation storytelling techniques and more responsive media strategies.

How does the customer benefit when businesses merge their marketing and IT functions?

Ray Velez, Global CTO, Razorfish
Ray Velez, Global CTO, Razorfish

Marketing understands the consumer; IT understands how to empower the consumer and build the websites and apps and so forth that power experience and how to connect new tech experiences to the enterprise. When marketing and IT work in concert they deliver experiences that are relevant, functional, and engaging.  Here’s a better way to think about the relationship between marketing and IT that doesn’t get into the icky business of “merging.” All companies have to put their customer at center of the operation. Doing that necessarily involves the collapse of the legacy silos the corporate world got away with before the internet. If you map your operation to the consumer journey, then sharp divisions go away. Marketing and IT – and other functions – are laser-focused on the customer’s wants and needs and how they can best be served.

What’s an example of a better experience that resulted from merging marketing and IT effectively?

Audi City opened a showroom without cars in London in the summer of 2012. Visitors were able to view different colors, equipment options/functions and focus on specific technical details all through multi-touch screen tablets. They were then able to see a life-size digital version of their car of choice on a huge HD screen. The showroom brought the Audi brand into the heart of a city, making it more accessible to potential customers, rather than forcing them to travel to industrial areas where car dealerships are traditionally located. Audi plans to open more than 20 other locations across the world by 2015.

How do you distinguish a “converged” organization from one that is simply functional?

Convergence is a constant process, not an end-point. The simple answer is an organization that puts the customer at the center is “converged.” However, there is no finish line. Technology, creativity, and media are constantly evolving; so too is the converged enterprise. It is a never-ending challenge to adapt to a customer experience that, in our digital age, will always be in flux. The hallmarks of a company that gets this are: Strong, effective coordination between marketing and IT and a software company mentality that uses agile development and employs product managers, not just marketing managers. We’re not saying that every company has to try to become Facebook, but they do need to import some of that Silicon Valley culture and sensibility if they want to build digital experiences that truly delight customers the way Facebook and other have.

What has changed about our world that requires companies to rethink how they approach the customer experience?

Rampant technological change means that not a week goes by that consumers don’t have some new way of connecting to the world — from Twitter’s Vine to Google Glass, to Facebook Home to the incredible amount of apps available in the Android and Apple stores. The disruptive capabilities of new technologies are empowering customers with more choice, control, and content. To stay relevant, companies need to find ways to leverage these technologies and platforms. This isn’t about retreading your grandmother’s marketing plan or tech development. This is about customer-centricity.

How would a small business act on and benefit from convergence principles?

There’s good news and bad news for small business. The good news is that smaller organizations are less likely to run into the deep structural problems that enterprises struggle with. This is simply a virtue of a smaller scale: Problems having to do with silos are easier to fix if they exist at all. The bad news is that there may not be enough resources to fund tech experiences that break through. Budget constraints often lead small business to rely on off-the-shelf solutions that while cost-efficient may not get the job done. Happily, customer-centricity is a universal truth that works for businesses of all your sizes. Your customer will lead the way.

How are companies using the trends in big data to enrich customer experiences?

The marketing business used to believe that focus groups told us how people behaved. In reality, focus groups told us what people thought about how they behaved, which may or may not have reflected the truth. Data, as pulled from web browsing, purchases, GPS, social media, gives us the truth and it grants companies the power to create more relevant, more personalized experiences for their customers. Successful data-crunching tells us not only what a customer likes but what a customer is likely to like. Amazon and its data-powered recommendation engine is the classic example here and it’s something that many brands are trying to emulate.

What are the first three key steps to adapting to and enacting a convergence mindset?

The first step is to find your convergence mantra, the story you can tell both upstream and downstream about how your company is going to organize around the consumer. Zappos and its customer service-driven culture is a great example of this. Next you need a visionary. For Zappos, it’s CEO Tony Hsieh, one of the most eloquent and exciting corporate spokespeople around. But it need not be a CEO. It just needs to be someone who unites and inspires. The third step is to get a cross-functional group of people in the room and do some workshops, looking at both the immediate competitive environment and gazing outside your industry for inspiration.

What is meant by “Marketing is commerce and commerce is marketing”?

Data has told us that the marketing experience both in store and online drives a brand’s reputation as much as any other touchpoint. If a customer is delighted by a visit to

online and physical stores, it is the strongest expression of your brand. Being true to your brand principles and driving those truths through technology enables your brand to create long-lasting and enduring relationships with your customers. If you aren’t creating a relationship with your customers at every touch point, someone else will.

converge2