‘Bendy’, ‘brave’ and ‘strategic’ – what does the marketer of the future look like?

Marketers face more opportunities, and challenges than ever before / The Drum

With increasing responsibility for data and innovation; a proclivity towards in-housing; the rise of management consultancies; evolving agency models and an ever-changing suite of technologies at their fingertips, marketers face more opportunities, and challenges than ever before.

So, when The Drum’s editorial team sat down at the end of 2018 to discuss the big themes for 2019 we decided we wanted to focus on ‘the marketer of the future’. It’s a premise that might sound a little Ridley Scott-eqsue, and sometimes it is (hello McCann Japan’s robot creative director). However, in a world that’s never moved faster – and where consumers wouldn’t care if 75% of brands disappeared – there’s also a conversation to be had about the know-how, skills, and resources marketers need to futureproof not only their businesses but the profession as we know it.

We hear a lot about the agency of the future, but over the next 12 months, we want to explore the ways in which clients (and their agencies) can embrace change instead of resisting it.

Since we don’t have a crystal ball of our own, we spoke to marketers from all corners of the industry to kick things off, with execs from Mastercard, Heineken, Accenture and more revealing the key trends they see as shaping how the marketer of the future operates.

CMOs will need to address their own knowledge gaps

Over the past five years, the chief marketing officer remit has broadened to encompass more tech, innovation and data responsibilities.

So just what does the marketing boss of the future need to focus on? “Marketing leaders are no longer responsible just for campaigns, they should be an integral part of company leadership,” according to Mastercard’s chief marketing and communication officer Raja Rajamannar.

“Yes, they need to be a marketing expert. But, equally, they need to understand finance and business impact. They need to understand data and how to leverage it or they will get killed by the competition. And they need to understand PR because marketing and PR should no longer be two separate functions. At Mastercard, they’re one organization.”

That’s not all though. With some chief marketing officers having larger technology buckets than the chief technology counterparts, they have to get to grips with how that’s disrupting their business internally.

“If you don’t understand it, how are you going to determine how to best spend your martech funds?” asked Rajamannar. “It’s imperative for marketers to have a solid grounding in all this.”

The 2018 Gartner CMO Spend Survey, which polls over 600 marketing leaders across industries in North America and the UK, found that 16% of marketing budgets were being allocated to innovation, with two-thirds of marketing heads expecting this to grow in 2019. However, on a scale of one to five, marketers rated themselves as a two for ‘innovation maturity’, indicating that there’s a skills gap that needs to be addressed.

Greg Johnson, chief innovation officer at Mcgarrybowen, believes 2019 needs to be the year marketers find the balance between thinking data will “solve all problems” versus believing creative is the silver bullet.

“Creative bravery is more important than ever and marketers can buy the ticket to creative bravery through data,” he said, offering some advice on how to achieve equilibrium. “When you understand your audience you can say: ‘We stand for something and we’re not afraid to risk a few people being upset.’ Data helps manage the risk.”

Echoing Rajamannar, Johnson went on: “Marketing leaders also need to connect marketing performance to business performance. They need to take a responsible approach to their strategy and budget, and they can ask for more flexibility and budget to have the runway to take informed risks.”

With the average tenure of a chief marketing officer currently sitting at three-and-a-half years, there’s not much time to enact change internally, but the marketer of the future needs to look beyond the four walls of their own department to succeed.

Agencies must evolve to compete with consultancies

Having snapped up dozens of marketing agencies, the likes of Accenture and Deloitte have been encroaching into ad land’s turf for the past few years, but most marketers believe there’s room for both as they march towards the future.

Speaking to The Drum last year, Darian Sims, B2B marketing excellence director at Canon Europe, said that for all the rhetoric around consultancies wooing advertisers with end-to-end propositions, that’s not quite how his brand is using them.

The camera and print firm brought Accenture on board last year to shape its B2B digital customer journey roadmap, but the Karmarama owner wasn't invited to execute it.

"We didn’t want them to do that for us," he said, explaining that it then brought on WPP agency Possible on to run "some elements" of a web redesign, the customer journey, and its click-to-connect feature.

"In our group, we’re happy to bring on the right people to do the right things, but not necessarily having them continue that journey for us."

For Mcgarrybowen's Johnson, while agencies do need to adapt how they work in response to the consultancies getting a seat at the table, the answer doesn't lie in launching their own consultancy-style offerings.

"Consultancies buying agencies doesn’t make them competitive. Holding companies have been doing it for years and still struggle because of the different cultures and approaches. It doesn’t mean it’s working just because they can do it."

Instead, he believes, agencies need to "care about marketers and their challenges and struggles and be there for them."

He went on: "Agencies need to see the modern chief marketing officers’ problems for what they are and help solve them. That means becoming a deep, trusted partner — or risk not being relevant. As long as agencies retain that brand stewardship approach they can think above a tagline and execute an idea across customer journeys. It’s not that complicated."

However, Jennifer Poulson, senior vice-president of marketing for Asia at Japanese video game company Bandai Namco Entertainment, thinks management consultancies will increasingly compete with agencies in a different space - marcomms.

“Instead of agencies advising clients on branding and corporate positioning, management consultancies can usurp this offering and bake in communications strategies from the earliest stages of business decisions and change management," she said.“ The benefit of this for the field is that that corporate communications will finally get a seat at the table."

According to Poulson, this means that rather than being tacked on at the end to spin a story or craft a message, communications priorities "can help shape the business priorities".

"This is critical in an age in which your reputation can make or break you. Making business decisions based simply on advice from legal, finance, sales and operations experts, will no longer be sufficient," she forecast.

For Scott Tieman, global lead of programmatic services at Accenture Interactive, the convergence of a number of disciplines that in the past were more separate — like creative and tech converging to provide dynamic creative — will spur an evolution in agency-client relationships.

"To enable that, you need creatives who understand not only what creative and content are relevant to customers, but also who are comfortable working with data streams and have enough data acumen to understand how the creative performs — all this has to happen in real time and that’s a massive change and undertaking."

The in-housing trend won’t go away

Where some clients like Unilever have been in-housing creative to save money, others are developing internal solutions to counteract what they see as a 'murky' digital media supply chain.

In 2017, the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) highlighted a trend for bringing digital buying in-house or working to a hybrid model. It found that 65% of brand marketers had bulked up their internal capabilities by hiring dedicated digital and media leads.

A further 40% were developing internal solutions to issues like ad fraud, and with the likes of Sprint and the Wall Street Journal bringing media within their own walls and shouting about the results, it doesn't look like a trend that's going anywhere soon.

Speaking on a panel hosted by The Drum last year at Worldwide Partners' annual global agency summit, Michael Gillane, director of marketing strategy and planning for Heineken’s extensive beer and cider portfolio, admitted he was among those in-housing some technical elements.

"Organising internally is one of the big challenges, but so is organizing externally in terms of the agency ecosystem, because the next five years is going to be very different to the last and we need to get ourselves set up for what we think that future will be,” he mused.

At the same time as the brand appointed Dentsu Aegis to its UK media account in 2018, Heineken decided to in-house large parts of its supply chain. Last September it launched an 18-month blueprint to handle digital media strategy, planning, and buying (including all programmatic and social) and media partnerships. Community management was brought in too, and Heineken hired several data scientists and a team to manage its martech stack.

“We work with Dentsu on all the traditional media buys,” Gillane explained, adding that in-housing these skillsets were about the brand getting a grip on its own data and differentiating itself from the inside out, rather than short-term penny-pinching.

“We’re not looking to save cost per-say, the business case is broadly cost-neutral. The intent is not to save money but to get us to somewhere where from a financial point of view we’re in the same place, but we’re building internally instead of paying X million pounds in fees to an agency to build its own capability to go on and sell to others.”

A new generation of talent will underpin all this

Where the Unilevers and P&Gs of the world were once considered training ground for marketing leaders, fresh talent is now rising through the ranks having cut their teeth at the likes of Amazon and Facebook.

Armed with tech know-how and a solid grounding in e-commerce, and with the chief marketing officer role becoming increasingly data focused, this new breed is well equipped with the skills needed to close the knowledge gap and help advertisers build for the future.

Rebecca Ang Lee, chief marketing officer at insurance company MSIG Asia agrees, noting: “With big data, marketers have a better opportunity to truly understand consumers’ decision-making process. Therefore, being able to interpret data and cleverly apply the insights into effective marketing strategies will be a useful skill to unlock the true potential of the data collected.”

However, Evan Jones, chief marketing officer at Fender, warned it's about more just about having the tech know-how.

“I've met a whole new generation of marketers coming in who really understand the technology but don't get storytelling. I think if you look at marketing going back 30 years, storytelling was the predominant strategy and media was always the second part of it," he said.

“Understanding how to manage both is probably the secret sauce for people who are going to be successful in the next 10-15 years. Because it doesn't matter who you are – whether that's a startup or a legacy brand that's trying to go through a digital transformation – the marketing technology fundamentals are critical and it's changing all the time but don't focus on that at the expense of understanding how to motivate and inspire.”

Nurturing internal talent is key too, but another challenge brand marketers are facing is retention, something Amber Kirby, Virgin Holiday's vice-president of marketing and customer excellence, has experienced.

"We have quite a small team. So managing to retain talent when you want to continually develop someone who is ambitious... it's really difficult when people hit a ceiling, and things are changing so fast. Smaller agencies probably share the same feeling, you want to give people bigger remits but there's no space to, so you have to let them fly."

When asked for one word to sum up the marketer of the future, Kirby opts for "bendy" - a word brands and their partners would do well to heed as they look to the future.

Additional reporting by Shawn Lim, Ginger Conlon and Katie Deighton.

You can keep up with The Drum's 'marketer of the future' coverage here.

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