Much attention has focused over recent years on how new technology and data tools fundamentally change the way brands communicate with their customers. We see the “art of possibility” painted in a series of one-to-one engagements between brands and consumers through an omni-channel digital experience, backed by advanced analytics, and tied to a measurable return on investment through detailed campaign tracking. This vision builds on full utilization of the technology tools that drive the “new golden age” of marketing.
Yet, strangely, little thought goes to transforming capabilities so a team can use these tools for success. We see traditional marketers struggling to take full advantage of the possibilities and handle the challenges of modern digital customer engagement. Most marketers have spent the majority of their careers as project managers for a series of agencies, managing campaigns through a process based on the slow timelines of TV and outdoor advertising, and applying old metrics to new channels, or channels that the digital age has transformed.
A technical or analytics tool is only as good as the talent that controls it, and if your brand is applying old-world skills to new-world challenges without proper transformation, resources and training, you probably are not performing to the full potential of the tools or your team.
How should senior marketers respond to this? How does one transform the talent within an organisation in order to face the challenges of a digitally focused, data driven world and to fully utilize the tools they now have available?
Make a clear separation between “digital marketers” and technologists
There are two distinct features of the demands on modern digital marketers. The first is do traditional marketing through digital channels, and the second is maintaining and developing the digital infrastructure that drives the customer experience. Many businesses make the mistake of assuming these two functions are the same. As a result they may end up with a great Facebook page, or series of SEM campaigns, and yet with a fragmented technology infrastructure, where agencies implement most basic systems and applications without any thought for the company's future requirements, integration or ongoing use.
Increase the analytical rigor across the organisation
A common error that brands as they try to adapt to new challenges is to add capabilities within deep channel silos (e.g. hiring an email marketing guru). Bolting on experts does not improve the organization's decision-making. Both digital and data capacity affect the roles of everyone within a marketing team, and an approach where these capabilities are siloed drastically reduces effectiveness. Let’s take the example of an upscale clothing chain attempting to optimise the number of facings of each product in each category.
Traditionally this is an offline decision made through judgment calls based on the experience of one individual, or in response to deals with suppliers. However, in the 21st century, with a relatively simple video analytics solution retailers can run an A/B test on the effectiveness of different numbers of facings by tracking impact of each change on the conversion rate. One might think that an analytically driven solution like this would be in the domain of an analytics team or a data scientist, but it’s the product of a general level of analytical rigour across the organisation.
Reduce reliance on agencies
Marketing as an activity suffers from a large number of internal stakeholders spread across not only the marketing function, but also touching product, sales, and IT. On top of this, a fragmented series of stakeholders across different agencies further exacerbates issues around responsiveness, misalignment of incentives, and siloing of responsibilities. To overcome this, brands must design agency relationships to ensure they provide the required expertise without being a drain on the efficiency of the team.
While agencies play an important role in providing creative and to some extent technology expertise, brands need to revisit regularly which parts of their capabilities belong to the core business and should be in-sourced (while they make decisions about outsourcing other functions which are better executed at scale, and should be outsourced). This helps brands maintain the right balance between agility driven by in-house operation, and a low cost delivered by an outsourced partner providing services at scale.
Adopt a digital culture; think fast fail
Failing in digital is cheap, and being able to test and measure all communications opens up the opportunity for incremental improvement across all aspects of your marketing operations. Understanding digital tools, as well as basic analytical rigor, lets marketers test and optimise all aspects of their campaigns and offers, from ranging to pricing to creative.
The core message here is that effective transformation into the digital and data age of marketing is about a shift in focus for the entire team, and not simply a bolt-on addition of specialist agencies and their tools. Traditional manufacturing jobs are being transformed by the increasing use of automation and technology. The response to this often involves retraining these workers to take on more complex technical tasks.
Marketing faces largely the same challenge, and the question is whether organisations which fail to face the transformation of traditional roles end up going the same way as workers who only have skills suited for the production line.
This post was co-authored by Tim Doyle.