From the rise of online shopping channels to ad campaigns created for an audience of one, consumer marketing has changed more in the past ten years than it did in the previous 30. Despite that level of change and disruption, if you had put a few typical marketers from the 1980s into a time machine and sent them into the marketing departments of today, they would probably feel right at home. There might be a new IT department and a few other changes, but the job titles, structures, approach to performance management—even the vocabulary—would be remarkably familiar.
That’s not a good thing. The truth is, while the proliferation of new channels and technologies has dramatically changed the environment in which marketers operate, the way they organise and approach their tasks has stayed more or less the same. Most marketing functions still develop and roll out large and infrequent campaigns, rely on agencies to make the same old media purchases, and are organised by geography or product.
As a result, few marketing organisations are able to take full advantage of new digital and advanced analytics tools that would enable them to be more agile, engaging, and effective. They are also missing out on growth.
Orchestrating the marketing ecosystem
The digital age has made the old agency model redundant with the emergence of an array of narrower, more specialised services. Making effective use of these capabilities requires new management approaches and ways of working:
Managing partnerships—inside and outside the organisation: The traditional notion of managing a roster of a single media agency and one or two creative agencies of record seems like a relic from ancient marketing history. Today’s world features multiple channels and capabilities, such as search, social, programmatic, and content management, all of which need to be closely coordinated to be effective.
Build brand tribes—Brands have long been managed by global teams that design global campaigns and local teams that execute those campaigns as well as manage local ones. This often results in frustration in both directions: Local teams think global doesn’t understand their market, and global thinks that local isn’t using collective assets. To combat this issue, we have seen marketers start to build “brand tribes”—informal, globally dispersed networks of marketers, who collectively identify and share their best assets.
Nurture new ventures—Companies are under continuous pressure to find new sources of growth, both inside and outside the core business. Recent research has shown, in fact, that companies that are able to create new products or services while maintaining a baseline of other capabilities are the fastest growers.
Applying agile ways of working at scale
The capability to test new ideas fast, refine them, and bring them rapidly to market has become essential. Creating new products and experiences in real time, however, requires new methods of working, and there are two key approaches that can make it a success:
Build an agile operating model: The concepts of agile and scrum—a specific form of agile that relies on small, self-organising, cross-functional teams that work toward specific goals or “sprints” by breaking down tasks into smaller parts, assigning responsibility to team members, and reviewing progress frequently—originated in software development but have begun to reshape the way consumer companies innovate and operate. With agile, companies use data and analytics to continuously identify promising opportunities or solutions in real time, deploying tests quickly, evaluating the results, and rapidly iterating. At scale, a high-functioning agile marketing organisation can run hundreds of campaigns simultaneously and test multiple new ideas every week.
Maintain a stable backbone for routine processes: Agile test-and-learn approaches are critical for dynamic processes in which the outcome is unknown, such as product development or user experience. Other more static processes, such as budgeting, procurement, performance management, customer analytics, and data management, are critical to have in place when scaling new processes. For that reason, they need to be stable and repeatable.
Adapting your marketing capabilities for the new world
Describing the agile workplace is one thing; making it happen is another. Marketers need to build or acquire specific new capabilities, including the following:
Advanced analytics / big data: To make sense of all the data marketers can now amass, marketing functions need to acquire or build significant new analytics capability. Analytics is what powers a test-and-learn culture in which results can be rapidly scanned, analysed, and acted on. Advanced analytics systems can help manage the tremendous complexity involved in delivering tailored offers—and even more, in personalizing those offers and predicting what customers will want next. Getting personalisation right and scaling it across the organisation can reduce acquisition costs by as much as 50 percent, lift revenues by 5 to 15 percent, and increase the efficiency of marketing spend by 10 to 30 percent.
User experience (UX): While most companies understand the importance of a positive customer experience to the bottom line—done well, it can boost revenue 5 to 10 percent and reduce costs 15 to 20 percent—few excel at designing or delivering it. We have found that the starting point for delivering a great customer experience is an understanding of customer journeys, the series of interactions a customer has with a brand or peer to complete a task, such as opening an account or buying a product. Crucially, this isn’t about just improving existing journeys but often reinventing them—with the help of digital technologies—to meet and beat customer expectations.
Content publishing: For brands to maintain a tight relationship with consumers, they need to develop always-on capabilities that allow for continuous communication across many channels and formats. Getting the communications flow right requires an editorial team and a content supply chain that continuously creates and delivers high-quality and relevant information or entertainment that can be shared.
It’s not easy, but the rewards are high
While many organisations have made progress in the dimensions highlighted in this piece, none, in our experience, has mastered them all. That’s because it’s difficult, and each situation is unique. But there is a path forward. It starts with looking outside your own walls for inspiration and forming a clear view of where you can excel. Then it requires combining full commitment and unity of purpose, from the executive suite to the teams empowered to create the change.
*The author would like to thank Raphael Buck, Biljana Cvetanovski and Alex Harper for their contributions to this article
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