Marketing has got out of hand. The past decade has seen leading marketing practitioners and thinkers tell anyone who will listen that our discipline’s future will be built around ‘digital’, ‘performance’, ‘ automation’, ‘experience’, ‘big data’, ‘content’, ‘creativity’, ‘brand purpose’ and many more buzzwords.
New articles and blogs are produced daily, listing the ‘essential skill set’ and ‘modern toolkit’ of marketing. But benchmarked against one another, they demonstrate a complete lack of direction, let alone consensus.
So everybody disagrees. What’s the problem? The problem is that with no consensus on how marketing should best get done, we open ourselves up to the danger of focusing on and measuring all the wrong things. As the number of tools available to enterprise marketing teams continues to spiral it becomes ever harder to even keep track of your marketing operations, let alone manage them effectively.
The infographic created by Chiefmartec.com each year in a bid to ‘make sense’ of the marketing technology landscape but has become all but useless. With nearly 7000 vendors listed in the above 2018 version – a far cry from its humble beginnings of 150 companies in 2011- and many others in existence not listed at all, modern marketing has become nothing if excessively complex.
Such complexity doesn’t come cheap. Our struggle to clearly define what modern marketing is all about, and what success means, comes at a cost. For as long as nobody is able to claim a universally accepted definition of marketing, the marketing function loses credibility elsewhere within organisations.
When one considers the number of platforms and tools used by the average enterprise marketing function and the huge volume of data generated by them, one fears for that team’s capacity to turn that data into genuine insights. The process, the operations and the culture needed to make sense of it all are fiendishly difficult to build for CMOs who – according to the Korn Ferry Institute – suffer the highest turnover in the c-suite.
Worse perhaps than taking a hit to our reputation, marketing is also open to accusations of wasting money. After all, if marketing practitioners can’t agree on what counts for marketing success or what tactics or tools are going to help them achieve it, why should a CFO trust them with a budget? Somehow we’ve allowed marketing in 2018 to become convoluted, over-elaborate and confused.
Just as with marketing skill sets and toolkits, the internet is rammed full with examples of ‘perfect marketing models’; so you could argue we don’t need another. However, from the conversations I’m having with enterprise CMOs across various industries right now I’m starting to picture the necessary skills of modern marketing functions as a constantly shifting Venn diagram of the ‘fixed’ and the ‘fluid’.
These are the skills and processes required within the marketing function that remain steadfast and need precise operations built around them.
Marketing needs to become more measurable and therefore also more analytical and more business-like. The more able marketing is to report meaningful success, the stronger its relationships with other functions will become. Data (useful, illuminating, valuable data as opposed to just ‘all the data’) needs to be housed, managed and accessible to all.
When the processes and mapping of everything from campaign planning, through agency briefing, asset creation and management and execution gets touched by multiple functions (legals, procurement, finance and so on) across multiple markets there needs to be some control. Avoiding errors, reducing waste and ensuring a single and unified brand voice – not to mention adhering to any necessary regulatory protocols – becomes effortless only once a tight, slick and easy-to-use operation has been established.
These are the elements of marketing that distinguish the very best practitioners and result in the most innovative campaigns and experiences.
How to establish tight and user-friendly operational marketing processes that generate the sort of insights on which creativity can be allowed to flourish remains a key marketing challenge. Being able to measure everything your team does is only half the job and means little if it can’t then conjure the magic that will differentiate your product or service for the customer.
Change, and with it uncertainty, is constant. Any tool, platform, operational process or marketing culture needs to be stretchy, adaptable, flexible, open to improvement. If, at any one time, you find you’re running your marketing operation the same way you were 12 months previously, consider it subject to a healthy review.
After more than 25 years advising boards and leading companies that serve marketing functions I’m attracted to any solution that succeeds in simplifying the marketing stack, the process and the route to success.
If 2019 is the year the discipline of marketing starts to claw back the hidden cost of complexity in large enterprise marketing organisations, that will represent huge progress.