Marketers need to be polymaths: the modern-day marketing challenges

The marketing industry is having change thrust upon it, with the capabilities of data and technology upending traditional roles and career paths. For chief marketing officers (CMO) and marketing leaders, whose job it is to make sense of that rapidly changing space, the price of innovation is constant attention and readjustments.

The Drum and Domo invited a table of brand marketers gathered to discuss what keeps marketers up at night and what solutions are available: Anand Narayanun of Panasonic, Monique Aziz of Universal Music, Tom Stancliffe of Tribe, Debarshi Pandit of Sky, Sam Lloyd of Travis Perkins and Mark Johnston of Domo shared insights over coffee and breakfast on winters’ day in the cosy Merchant’s Tavern in London.

What keeps marketers up at night?

The great hope for marketing in 2018 and into 2019 is personalisation. Anand Narayanan, head of digital for Panasonic believes that modern data capture and analysis tools enable marketers to be creative around much more targeted groups:

“If you have a better understanding of who your customer is, what their motivations are, and what will they care about, you can be more creative in delivering that surprise and delight to them, as opposed to coming up with an idea that’s creative [but] for everybody. It's insight as opposed to data. As long as you have impartial insights, that is where the real value lies, in enhancing creativity.”

His advice speaks to the ongoing trend towards targeted campaigns and advertisements that focus on a subset of the total audience rather than a mass, anonymised group. Tom Stancliffe, co-founder of natural sports nutrition products Tribe, argues that for challenger brands and start-ups, “targeting with insight” can lead to more tangible results and ultimately growth around super-engaged consumers.

Data and audiences

But when customer experience is the new brand and winning requires data, and more of it, how do marketers balance data and technology as a tool for creativity in equal balance to measurement and performance?

The marketers around the table agreed that they were all wary of embracing data for its own sake, arguing that without insight data has the capability to be misused. Debarshi Pandit, head of special projects at Sky advocates for a recognition that while data is useful, it cannot quantify everything about how audiences interact with and relate to brands.

“Digital is very measurable, everything we do in digital is supposed to have a numerical value. You can't do that with a brand. There are things like net promoter score, which, if it is your KPI, is your measure. Delivering that is something that isn't in my advertising campaign or my influencer campaign. At the end of they day, that is the brand experience,” he explained.

Mark Johnston, marketing director at Domo, admitted to a certain envy for sales teams, whose KPIs have not been shifted by the rise of digital as marketing has: “It seems to me that it's very easy to look inwards at marketing and historically it would have been that inward-looking thing of 'we own or we control'. Then this digital thing came along and people become more focused on the added complexity of digital, whether it's the mediums or the channels, where the technology inside of a marketing organisation, analytics and insight now being a core function of every large marketing organisation.”

However, the group also noted that ‘digital’ is necessarily changing the expertise of the people making key marketing decisions. Where once creativity was the be all and end all for rising to the CMO position, now skills that were once considered the domain of tech and finance teams are taking priority. Narayanan believes that it is the responsibility of a modern CMO “to be more financially savvy”, to aid in demonstrating ROI around campaigns to the rest of the organisation.

Marketers as polymaths

As much as the group argued for changes that are responses to changing consumer habits and the rise of digital, they also advocated for internal changes within marketing companies. Especially when trying to keep up with constant innovation and layers of complexity at organisations.

Sam Lloyd, head of science and data analytics at Travis Perkins believes that increasing the permeability of walls between divisions and silos within companies should be a priority for marketers in 2019: “For me it's about being a maven, someone who can connect various parts of the business, really just to break down silos.” In order to do so, he argued, CMOs need to be “polymaths”.

Pandit agreed, noting that the UK marketing industry has traditionally relied upon specialists, whereas what is required today is generalists who can connect each part within a business.

The changing skillset - and the ephemeral nature of digital advertising - requires that marketers feel empowered to make decisions much more swiftly than has historically been the case. For Monique Aziz, the UK marketing manager of Universal Production Music, “It's good to have a fast response. Sometimes it's difficult. You need to talk to so many people along the way - social is too fast and if you don't do it at the right time that's the moment [gone]. I'm really close with sales, with technology [so] if I make a choice I'm confident to do it... you need to build that relationship.”

Despite those upheavals, the group was keen to point out that certain fundamentals of marketing have not changed, and that the evergreen problems that have kept CMOs up at night for decades haven’t disappeared.

Narayanan referred to the consumer marketing dilemma that you can only sell the features of a new product once, so finding new ways of selling it to an audience is paramount. He noted that “there's only so much you can say, whether that's about TV, camera, Blu-Ray, take your pick... unless you have stories that connect with your audience there is nothing to say.”

The rise of digital has created new reasons for CMOs to lie awake worrying at night. From the speed of change and the need for swift deployment of messages to the change in culture within marketing companies, there’s a lot more to consider.

Despite that the panel was optimistic that the CMO role in particular prepares people to adjust to those changes and deliver upon the promise of marketing in 2019.

Find more insights on The CMO Challenge with Domo here.

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