Marketing has the chance to lead post pandemic but structures need an overhaul
Companies are asking ever more from their marketing leaders but if they want to achieve the customer-centricity they covet they must first look at how they are set-up, says Marketing Week Editor-in-Chief, Russell Parsons.
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Detailing its priorities for the year ahead recently, Marks and Spencer identified: “Coordinating improvements across customer experience and personalisation through meaningful measures of customer experience, data-driven marketing strategies and embedding digital first behaviours” as the “key enablers to being a customer-centric business.” Phew. That’s a lot of (buzz) words. The British retailer is not untypical. Take your pick of companies stringing together stock phrases to articulate the challenge and opportunity ahead.
Few, however, are in the best position to meet or exploit. The past 12 months have exposed many failings. Inadequate online presences and fragmented experiences, yes and crucially it has laid bare how many companies are disconnected in a way that makes it difficult to deliver a joined up experience for their customer.
For many brands, attention has turned quickly to what they need from their marketers to lead them to utopia.
A sad reality of the past 12 months is the number of seasoned marketers I am in touch with who are out of work. They have been good enough to share their experiences and job descriptions for roles they have interviewed for. Here are some edited highlights of one from late 2020, a big job at a household brand. The new CMO must “be in equal part brand leader and performance marketer”, able to create “deep customer connections and drive engagement”. So far, so standard. The list continued: “balance technology and creativity, drive further personalisation, exploit data to create unique customer experiences through mass personalisation, to deliver a profitable ecommerce offer, develop a leading digital platform…” And that’s just the summary. The list of hard skills required spills on to a second page.
Elsewhere, Marketing Week recently published an assessment of the current jobs market in the UK. Overall, it demonstrates that marketers in the jobs market need to be tech-driven, data-led and wizards at ecommerce if they’re going to get a first interview. Throw in a claim to be a ‘digital native’, and you might make it through to the second round.
Forecasts of changing requirements are not new. Indeed, they are entirely valid. An excellent report from the WFA last year highlighted the direction of travel for senior marketers. The shift to digital platforms, however, accelerated by the pandemic has hastened the search for what employers see as the perfect marketer.
This is not the beginning of a traditionalist diatribe against those that see the future marketer as fundamentally different or a rejection of the need for brands to dial up the requirement for new skills and experience. Demanding your senior marketer is all things for all scenarios, however, is self-defeating (no one individual can measure up), unfair (on those unable to break back into the jobs market) and ultimately misguided. Other things need addressing first – structure and culture.
This is not a call for scrums, or hit squads, or the numerous other illustrations of agile working. In many cases, being agile is less methodology just a byword for working bloody hard and incredibly long hours. Less methodology, more a short cut to an unplanned sabbatical. No, it starts with organisational design.
There is no one size-fits all. There are, however, a handful of companies that look positively prescient.
Few would look to insurance for examples of progressive companies. UK based company Direct Line Group, however, is highly regarded as an example of marketing effectiveness, winning numerous effectiveness awards, and as a joined up marketing organisation. In 2019, it brought its digital and marketing functions together under the stewardship of managing director Mark Evans. The objective was to improve the end to end experience, from customer insight, to brand activity and through to delivery online and via contact centres. The company has made great strides in transformation, enjoying high scores for customer satisfaction, and continues to outperform in the effectiveness of its tactical activity.
To some, Unilever is the embodiment of a legacy business. Its dedication to innovation, however, is as impressive as its commitment to brand management. At the start of 2019, it announced Conny Braams as its chief marketing and digital officer, again bringing digital under the remit of marketing and the responsibility for the “end-to-end digitalisation of Unilever and marketing”. Preceding this and further illustration of a coordinated effort to join the dots, was the company’s decision to set up a series of digital hubs in 2018. It now has 39 across the world. Initially focused on data-driven marketing, the acceleration of ecommerce over the past year means they are also being used to further its DTC efforts.The company recently reported ecommerce sales grew 61% in 2020 and now account for 9% of its total.
In both cases, one individual might have oversight for considerably more than marketing communications, but it is the structure beneath them and the ability to orchestrate a coordinated approach which is key to their relative success, and it’s what stands them in good stead to prosper beyond the pandemic.
It helps, of course, that these companies are dyed in the wool marketing organisations. It also shows the importance of the commitment shown from the top. Both have invested in upskilling. Unilever has trained 2,000 marketers in digital skills, for example. They are also both run by progressive CEOs focussed on delivering the change needed.
A recent report from the WFA illustrates the importance of the structure, mindset and commitment from the top shown by Unilever and Direct Line. The “Delivering the Future Fit Organisation” report looked at the difference between those that identified as having made progress in their quest and those in the early stages. Almost all (92%) of early-stage respondents said their current operating model is prohibitive, compared with 50% of advanced companies. Elsewhere, half of advanced organisations report support from the C-Suite compared to just 4% of organisations at the early stages.
Perhaps most revealing is 43% of respondents from advanced organisations said their transformation was accelerated as a result of its executive leadership looking at marketing as a proven driver of growth, compared with just 15% at the early stages.
And therein lies the opportunity for companies and marketers. With a fair wind, structure and backing, marketers are perfectly positioned to coordinate efforts. To understand the challenge, to set the strategy, to bring the brand promise to life and to orchestrate all channel efforts in service of the customer. Companies can demand their marketing lead has twice the number of proven competencies they did 18 months ago, companies will still operate in damaging silos, with varying experiences if efforts are not orchestrated centrally, and responsibility is shared.
In a competitive and ever more crowded marketplace, brand is even more important, and the brand is dependent on the experience of the product. Adding more and more hard skills into the CMO job description might make brands feel like they are taking positive action but the truth is most marketers have earned what’s required post pandemic through almost 15 years of digitisation.