The digital age is driving marketing accountability to new heights. It is no longer acceptable to admit, “Half of my marketing works, I’m just not sure which half.” CEOs view marketing as a performance-driven function with a set of measurable standards, a pointed focus on return on investment (ROI), and clear lines of accountability. In turn, marketers are more reliant on their agencies and other outsourced partners to help them succeed in a business landscape that has become far more complicated, as well as highly technology- and data-driven.
All of that is forcing a new way to think about creative that goes beyond traditional norms. Instead of devising creative campaigns that focus on a single “killer” idea, chief marketers and agencies must forge high-quality, ongoing initiatives that are flexible, pragmatic, and sustainable over the long haul. This revised approach to creative goes hand-in-hand with the reality that brands must demonstrate the value of every marketing push. Today’s most successful initiatives may have a less immediate “wow” factor, yet they reinforce and build on the brand promise over time.
“It is a dramatically different landscape for agencies, ushered in by the digital age and the Internet,” says Tony Quin, founder and CEO of full-service agency IQ and chairman of the Society of Digital Agencies (which examines the evolving agency landscape in its comprehensive SoDA Report: 2012, here). “There is really no ‘silver bullet’ to cope with the new complexities of digital marketing, but all parties involved need to become more educated about technology and data and reinvent the way they do business.”
Adding to the challenge are fundamental shifts in what is viewed as both creative and effective in engaging savvy consumers. CMOs and agencies alike have to rethink traditional ideas about a creative campaign and begin approaching and evaluating their initiatives as opportunities to create ongoing dialogues—sharing of stories—between a brand and its customers.
“Any discussion of creative excellence now has to include content excellence,” says Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute. “Successful digital marketing today involves storytelling on many levels—not only the stories that a company creates and promotes about itself, but also the stories that customers share about their own experiences with a brand. CMOs and their teams need to know how to quickly create and communicate these stories and join in virtual conversations that build lasting customer relationships across channels.”
New Types Of Talent
Modern-day marketers require many new skill sets. This is one of the main reasons why technically oriented systems integration and consulting firms, such as Deloitte and Accenture, are seeking to learn the business of marketing brands to consumers by acquiring creative expertise, and creative firms are striving to round out their services by boosting their technical and Big Data-analysis acumen, as well as their content-development skills.
Both traditional IT consultancy and creative firms are cultivating cross-disciplinary expertise, for good reason. Chief marketers want and genuinely need the support of firms that can do more than just devise great creative, but also have the technical skills to know, for instance, how to target and retarget specific customers, measure social media, manage mobile campaigns, and more.
Jamie Beckland, digital and social media strategist at Janrain, stresses the need for CMOs to work more closely with skilled technologists. “If CMOs don't understand the technology landscape—where to partner with a platform and when to align with internal IT resources—the marketing organization risks losing the consumer with too little, too late," he explains. "CMOs are no longer competing for attention just against their competitors, but instead against every Web site on the Internet. That means the experience must connect with an ever-more savvy audience."
Considerations For CMOs And Their Agency Partners
CMOs and agencies can benefit from taking six factors into consideration when working toward building the right teams and expertise, as well as embarking on new digital marketing initiatives.
1. Learn how to manage and work with an extended network of talented specialists.
CMOs’ natural and understandable tendency is to want one agency and one person to trust to ensure that everything gets accomplished. But many agencies have become more specialized and therefore do not have all the required digital skill sets in-house. Marketers and their agencies can benefit from bringing together an ecosystem of talented individuals across disciplines—mobile specialists, social media gurus, content creators, and information analysts, for example—and knitting them together as a well-functioning team. Finding and successfully managing an outsourced network of “best-of-breed” specialists and technology providers is becoming an ever more strategic skill set for chief marketers.
Next Page: Demonstrate the value of every marketing initiative.
2. Demonstrate the value of every marketing initiative.
Gone are the days when a CMO could rely on counting advertising impressions or shaping brand perceptions as evidence of marketing’s impact. Instead, data has become the domain of the CMO, who must demonstrate solid ROI in the form of profitably generated leads, conversions, and other key-performance metrics. Agencies, in turn, must support CMOs by assisting them with understanding data and finding new ways to design marketing vehicles that are sustainable and agile. The goal is to generate lasting emotional impact and meaning at less expense.
3. Become a great storyteller, not just a traditional marketer.
It’s no longer about the “big idea” and one campaign. CMOs and agencies need to know how to take an idea, dissect it, and turn it into stories that resonate now and in the future with different audiences across different channels. This isn’t a process that has the luxury to happen over months or even weeks: Storytelling timelines are built on hours and even minutes. Says Pulizzi, “A company’s brand and its stories are now everywhere, and things like content marketing don’t fit neatly into one department. Today, it’s about taking ideas and content and making them adaptable and scalable.”
The requirement to bring much greater speed and agility to creative fundamentally challenges existing processes at many firms—but it is vital in a world where customers can now engage with each other and with companies on-demand in real time.
4. Think utility versus glitz.
Today’s consumers are demanding greater value from every interaction. Instead of just devising highly creative ideas, agencies and CMOs must work together to make consumers’ lives easier through genuinely appreciated content, products, functionality, and services. This may require a cultural shift because the inclination is for agencies to thrive on being creative. A brand today is not so much what it says about itself but how it behaves, and that is manifested in many ways, across multiple digital channels. The caveat is to think about being of service and providing long-term substance.
5. Acknowledge that technology now drives marketing.
To be as responsive to the marketplace and to changing conditions as possible, CMOs need platforms and technology tools. All of the major technology trends (mobile, social, cloud, big data) are enablers and drivers of marketing strategies. With all of this convergence of marketing and technology, a tight relationship between CMO and CIO seems like a natural outcome. Yet IT, with a range of competing demands, can often find it difficult to keep pace with new marketing complexities, changing business conditions, and requirements. Chief marketers and agencies need to be prepared to forge a new, more agile partnership with IT, or consider acquiring technology to support their function on their own in order to move faster on deployments.
6. Keep in mind that digital marketing is more than just a new advertising channel.
A common misperception is that digital marketing is just a new form of advertising, but the reality is that it is a lot more complicated. Traditional print or radio advertising is relatively simple to create—and to alter at the last minute. However, many of today’s marketing initiatives involve tools, such as mobile apps, complex pieces of software, that are nearly impossible to change at a moment’s notice. CMOs and agencies must learn to understand the intricacies that new technologies have introduced into marketing, plan ahead, and educate others about the time involved and the difficulty of altering some of today’s digital marketing vehicles.
For CMOs and agencies, making sense of the new world of digital marketing involves as much change management and content management as it does creativity. Chief marketers must learn to ask the right questions and make sense of information to add value to their organizations. The shift requires new levels of alignment and understanding among chief marketers and their agency partners, clear lines of communication, shared responsibilities, and the development of new skill sets.
“To compete, brands must build complete digital ecosystems with many pieces that connectback to the real world,” SoDA's Quin says. “And CMOs must evangelize and educate others about this ‘ecosystem’ concept. Being a CMO today? I’d say it is a great opportunity—and also a tough job.”