Marketing leaders need to be digital visionaries, not bogged down with technicalities

Marketing leaders need to be digital visionaries, not bogged down with technicalities

The digital terrain is ever-evolving - so evolve with it, says Dominic Grounsell.

Maybe it’s a sign I’m getting older, but marketing seems a lot more complicated than it did when I started out at Unilever, back in the early noughties. Such has been the pace of change since the explosion of digital; the marketing world now feels a completely different place from that just a decade ago. Along with all the traditional skills, marketers now have myriad new channels, techniques and technologies to master, and the dynamism of the digital landscape means we have to run simply to stand still.

One of the ways this changing environment affects marketers most is in our approach to management within our organisations. Whether we’re managing upwards or downwards, the digital world has introduced new challenges to how we operate. Managing upwards, into the most senior levels of business, has become harder due to increases in complexity and accountability.

Confusing terrain

The digital landscape is rife with technical jargon, and the digital value chain can be hard to penetrate if you’re unfamiliar with it. Digital channels are also highly measurable, and we can now prove the direct impact marketing has on the performance of a business. In this context, marketing leaders must be able to explain complex results and nuances to senior audiences who, in turn, place marketing under increased scrutiny and demand greater accountability.

Effective upwards management in the digital world therefore becomes about distillation and education. It’s about identifying the pertinent facts rather than drowning in detail; logic-based storytelling; and taking non-digital natives on a journey of learning without the appearance of condescension. These are skills that require real practice.

The reverse is true when it comes to managing downwards. Whereas most marketing leaders are generalists, marketing teams are increasingly composed of specialists, and so we face challenges in how we effectively manage our people.

Death and taxes

The days of junior marketers seeking technical help from their marketing director are coming to an end

Generalist marketing leaders are often not close enough to the detail or the rapid developments going on in digital channels to keep up with the specialists in their teams. The days of junior marketers seeking technical help from their marketing director are coming to an end. After all, how can a generalist marketing director offer meaningful advice on the minutiae of PPC bidding strategies? The devil is in the digital detail.

In this environment, the role of the marketing leader becomes less about technicalities and more about vision and setting objectives. We need to allow the work to happen without the level of executional control and oversight our predecessors enjoyed, back when all we had to play with were tried-and-tested channels like TV. For many of us, relinquishing that closeness is hard, but it’s necessary if we want our teams to succeed.

Like death and taxes, another of life’s certainties is that the digital world will continue to evolve. For marketing leaders, success is likely to be based as much on how we operate as what we know, and so we must continually adapt our management approach if we want to thrive.

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