IT used to be a local monopoly. Not unlike the cable company, you were subject to the pace of their process. But then demand reached a tipping point and public cloud alternatives entered the game.

Shadow IT was born.

Business lines simply followed the path of least resistance. These public clouds became the escape valve for pent up demand. Today, in a sense, the same thing is happening to marketing organizations.

Forget shadow IT; here comes shadow marketing.

In this context, the tipping point is the collision of a supremely content-hungry discipline and the combinatorial cost and complexity of serving and supporting a portfolio of brands, channels and local markets. Compounding the pressure is the need to execute at two speeds: a traditional campaign-driven rhythm together with a continuous cadence that asks marketers to engage audiences in the moment.

Most marketers simply aren’t equipped to keep up.

That’s when demand follows the path of least resistance. Look around and you’ll see evidence of shadow marketing organizations operating in your midst. Sales teams, partners and distributors, regional and local sales and marketing organizations—they’re all feeding the beast where you can’t.

And you can’t really blame them for it. They’re trying to rise above the noise, to earn the right to their own audiences’ attention. They’re just trying to compete. And like those business lines that did that inglorious end-run around your IT department, it’s certainly nothing personal. They’re just filling in where, perhaps, you’re falling down.

It may sound like a harsh indictment. It may sound like some sort of fait accompli for marketers, a gloomy prediction of your inevitable disintermediation. Frankly, it’s not meant to be either of these things. Just as many IT organizations became cloud brokers and cloud operators in their own rights, many marketing organizations are, indeed, rising to the challenge. Like their CIO counterparts, CMOs are learning to accelerate and scale to better serve internal constituents, to tamp down shadow marketing.

But just as IT has learned, the shadow is merely a symptom of the root cause; it will persist until you shine light on the actual problem. You can’t will the shadow away or defeat it by edict or policy.

Aristotle said that nature abhors a vacuum; when space is created, one way or another, it’s quickly filled in. For marketers, the vacuum is the yawning gap between what marketing supplies and others demand.

As Ross Perot once colorfully illustrated, these sorts of things are generally met by a giant sucking sound. In this case, that’s the sound of shadow marketers filling the void, doing whatever it takes to feed the beast.

2 Comments
  1. 4 February 2015 at 2:01 pm
    Seema Sheth-Voss says:

    Fascinating term but this isn’t new. I have worked for so many B2B tech organizations where we called our smartest and successful sale people as well as Field marketers rogue marketers. They never used the “corp. brand” assets and came up with their own! The reality is prospects and existing clients already have a brand impression of vendors. Shadow marketers are simply responding. The trick is to strike a balance – central or corporate marketing team need to become brokers or the term I like is “expert marketing coaches” and then let people who are closest to the market do their magic. I agree dictates, “governance” or policies won’t work.

  2. 12 February 2015 at 11:00 pm
    Tom Bice says:

    Shadow marketing has resulted from:
    1) marketing becoming more of a science than art
    2) a requirement that marketers know a lot about the entire marketing ecosystem, not just 1 or 2 functional areas
    3) and an explosion of marketing tools that are easy to acquire.
    The availability of single or dedicated function SaaS that require little-to-no integration with internal systems won’t hit the radars of IT. Also, most come with price points that don’t break budgets and can be purchased with a credit card. Marketers can now create their own marketing stack with tools that help curate and market content, track projects and budgets, optimize and A/B test, progressive profile, measure results, and much more. This doesn’t mean organizations don’t need larger infrastructure investments like marketing automation and sales force automation. However, marketers are under pressure to be more sophisticated, more nimble and to demonstrate return-on-marketing-investment I in an ever noisier and complex world. Thankfully these tools are answering the call.

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