The marketer's manifesto

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What are the biggest challenges facing marketers today? OC&C Strategy Consultants and Experian interviewed more than 100 global CMOs and marketing executives to find out.

Once upon a time, the chief marketing officer was a simple custodian of a brand. But the role is changing rapidly.

Nowadays, they are more deeply involved in a business’ proposition, customer journey, technology and sales. Consequently, marketing functions face immense pressure on resources and bandwidth. But on the flip side, never before has the function been so business-critical or the CMO’s importance to the chief executive so self-evident.

Ironically, while the function’s work is becoming more strategically important to the business, CMOs are running to keep up with the tactical demands of a vast and fast-changing digital landscape.

Speaking to CMOs at the sharp end of this trend reveals three major strategic issues with which the modern-day marketer is grappling:

Becoming upwardly mobile

The problem: 2017 will be the year of "mobile first." More than 50 percent of online purchases will involve a smartphone and, for the first time, Britons will consume more content on mobile than on TV. By 2020, the average Brit will spend 4.5 hours on their smartphone daily. And yet, despite mobile’s growing dominance, marketing spend is lagging way behind.

For three-quarters of the CMOs interviewed, the channel currently represents less than 10 percent of their marketing budget.

Fewer than one in 10 cited mobile as the challenge they were best-prepared to address. The strategic importance of the shift to mobile is not lost on them; it has simply come at a time when many are still trying to establish their digital strategy. Their logic: sort digital first; tackle mobile later. CMOs have got their priorities wrong. A monumental competitive edge is available to fast-movers on mobile. 

"We cannot hire the people we need due to the competitive nature of the workforce and the salaries being demanded"

How to cope: Leapfrog digital altogether and focus on mobile immediately.

First, understand the role mobile plays in inspiration, research and purchase for your brand, how it interacts with other digital and offline channels and the valuable touchpoints that could be formed with consumers through it.

Next, make mobile the primary element of an integrated digital strategy – never an afterthought. Build mobile into your business’ proposition, harness the power of social and visual in mobile, and start to push the boundaries with mobile chat in customer service and transactions. Your reward for making it your top priority: a powerful user engagement engine in the pocket of every potential customer.

What the CMOs said: "It feels like we and our competitors are a long way from where we need to be on mobile. Whoever cracks this will clean up in the next few years."

"For many companies, mobile is not just a challenge: it’s the only challenge."

Aedamar Howlett, marketing director, Coca-Cola Great Britain

"We know many of our consumers are spending more time with a smartphone in their hands than watching traditional TV. It is this insight that helps shape how we plan a campaign but also how we develop creative to ensure it is mobile-first. 

As data capabilities grow, it is also important that we are able to tailor our messages to our audience, to improve the relevance and value of any media investment. Looking to the future, the key is to ensure marketing functions are prepared to adapt quickly in response to innovation and to use data to understand customers.

There should be one approach to a marketing challenge: focusing on the right solution as opposed to a digital vs traditional strategy."

Getting data and targeting in order

The problem: As consumers, we’re fickle when it comes to ad targeting. While resistance is less intense among under-25s, by and large most of us say we don’t like it.

Many of us are unnerved by the thought that companies could know what kinds of clothes we’d like to buy or where we might like to go on holiday. But by the same token, we find irrelevant ads annoying and, when marketers get the right messages to us, at the right moment, we act. We click through, we buy the product or service and we recommend to friends. 

Right now, advertising relevance is generally poor: half of consumers say the ads they see are rarely relevant. That’s no surprise: CMOs tell us that they are struggling with the very basics of capturing and analysing more and richer data. Those few at the next stage are experimenting with the effectiveness of different targeting approaches and, astonishingly, most targeting done today is based on basic demographics and a customer’s history with that store or website.

At best, the marketers doing the targeting have only a partial view of the customer. Nine out of 10 CMOs interviewed plan to spend more on data and targeting in the next three years. So how can they get the most bang for their buck?

How to cope: Start with a clear view of the outcomes that will be most business-critical. Once these aims have been identified, design a target data structure around them. If improving conversion rates is a crucial outcome, location, context and interests-based targeting can unlock an advertising effectiveness goldmine. Identify the most relevant data to understand customers.

Who, how and with what are the questions that need answers, and an iterative testing approach is the way to get them. Use third parties to get the analysis-insight-action process running and develop in-house capabilities around that for the long term. Using technology, many third parties have been able to reduce dramatically the time and cost required to produce an actionable data structure.

When decision-makers are able to use the data themselves, that’s a game-changer. Upskill your team so that data-driven decision-making is first of all possible and ultimately becomes the norm.

What the CMOs said: "One of the biggest challenges that we face is just cutting through the clutter. A lot of the decision-makers are inundated consistently."

"The fine line for us is how you do it effectively [without being] a nuisance."

Claire Harrison-Church, former vice-president, customer proposition and planning, Asda

"I empathize with much of what’s said, particularly keeping up with fast-changing tactical elements of execution. The challenge is to not confuse tactics and strategy. Changes in consumer behavior such as the use of mobile should make you review your business strategy, not just the tactics of how you market to consumers.

The first principle of a good brand business strategy is to understand your customers and, although it is easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of data it’s now possible to get, there has never been a better time to do this. And being able to target more specific messages has huge potential but shouldn’t be an excuse to not bother producing strong creative.

Consumers now have more control of what they receive so that should make us raise the creative bar, not lower it. With respect to building teams, we are in danger of having too many specialists who don’t get to practice thinking more broadly and then struggle to succeed in more senior roles. Having marketers who love both creative and data is essential."

Creating a fit-for-future-purpose function

The problem: Just as marketing’s scope has expanded and begun to overlap with other parts of the business, so too has the profession evolved from a mostly creative endeavor into one where creativity must go hand-in-hand with strong analytical and digital skills.

CMOs themselves need to focus on strategic priorities but are currently bogged down in the day-to-day of running campaigns across an expanding range of tools and platforms. Building the right team to function effectively in this context continues to create a huge headache for CMOs. 

"One of the biggest challenges that we face is just cutting through the clutter. A lot of the decision-makers are inundated consistently"

How to cope: Get a talent management strategy in place. Identify the capability gaps – in data, analytics and mobile, for instance – that will be critical in the next five years. Invest in training and development to upskill your team, to reduce churn and to make the function more attractive to potential new recruits.

Put structures in place to facilitate cross-functional working and, at each level, invest time in relationships with key functions such as sales, customer service or the customer insights team.

Invest in succession planning. Only when you’re confident that your team can handle ever-changing tactical demands will you truly be able to focus on strategy.

What the CMOs said:

"Finding the right balance between creative and analytical is a major challenge."

"We cannot hire the people that we need due to the competitive nature of the workforce and the salaries that are being demanded."

"We have to keep up with so many new tools and techniques that are cloud-based on top of the day job – that is difficult."

There is an ancient Chinese curse that reads: "May you live in interesting times." Like it or not, marketers certainly do. Embrace it.

Fergus Jarvis is a partner at OC&C Strategy Consultants. The research is based on interviews with 100 CMOs from the world’s biggest brands, along with an analysis of data from the Internet Advertising Bureau, eMarketer, annual company reports and analyst consensus.