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3 business areas marketing must own as we enter the fourth industrial revolution | B2B Marketing

Marketing is well-placed to prosper in the ‘fourth industrial revolution’. Charles Doyle highlights the three key areas that marketers should take strategic ownership of in future

There’s never been a better time to be in marketing, but there has never been a worse time to identify the talent that marketing will need in the future.

All of my research and experience suggests marketing will thrive and prosper as a valuable and purposeful career in the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ – an era of emergent and disruptive new technologies.

Marketing may have been perceived as a less prestigious or credible career compared to law, accountancy or engineering because it is not locked into a regulated, rigid structure of training and certification. But that perceived weakness has become its greatest strength. Marketers are not trained to a universal standard – instead they come from diverse backgrounds and bring multi-faceted skills to the table. They are also the owners of the organisation’s largest intangible asset, it’s brand.

Marketers’ ability to adapt, learn and share will be invaluable to organisations, not least because adaptability and lifelong learning have become indispensable traits. As companies and markets become more complex, and as technology enables more automation of marketing processes, the areas of expertise required by marketing will expand each year.

New roles, old roles

I first became a CMO in the late 90s, a period when the internet was first commercialised and in the midst of the dot-com bubble. Google was in its infancy, Amazon was growing rapidly, Apple was yet to launch the iPod or iPhone and there was no such thing as ‘social media’.

The intervening years have been transformative, not just for consumers but also for marketers as a host of new jobs were created: digital marketing, social media marketing, social listening, influencer marketing, SEO, marketing automation, branded content, cloud marketing, big data analysis, data mining, programmatics, user experience, and so much more. We now see job titles such as ‘data wrangler’, ‘SEO ninja’ and ‘chief storyteller’.

At the same time, some roles in marketing, communications and sales have seen their influence decrease. Some of these roles are in the process of reinventing themselves, others are under threat of extinction: press officers working with print media, direct salesmen, telemarketers, offline market researchers and staff who prepare physical marketing collateral or pitch documents. Even advertising executives must evolve – Google, for example, is the world’s largest ad agency and it doesn’t have any ad execs.

Nevertheless, the core skills of marketing (creativity, message development and management, market segmentation, intelligence gathering) are more in demand than ever before. They are simply using different formats and different tools.

What can we learn from this period of unprecedented change? First, that more jobs will be created than will be destroyed or diminished. Second, that traditional marketing skills will be necessary, but will be implemented using new tools, formats and methods.

From this short review of marketing roles over the last 20 years, we have some clues as to their future. It may be tempting to predict that roles will be subsumed by artificial intelligence, analysing vast quantities of data faster than any human ever could and offering decisive actions based on that analysis. It is often predicted routine and repetitive roles will be automated by software, leaving marketers to focus on human skills that robots are yet to master, such as visual creativity, building relationships, generating insight from disparate data sources and storytelling with emotional impact.

However, I do not believe the future of marketing will be that simple – because of the way in which marketing will evolve. David Packard’s famous maxim, “marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department”, will become a reality as marketing moves from the periphery to the core of the extended enterprise. Everyone will become a marketer, but with different specialisms.

“As a CMO, I have always told my teams one thing: always take the high ground, or else you’ll be condemned to work the low ground forever”

Marketing as an enabler of transformation

Moving away from its outdated role as sales support, marketing will sit at the epicentre of transformational and strategic change – either as a driver or an enabler of change. Rather than managing robots and analysing data, marketing becomes the strategic centre of the business.

We can already see this in advanced industries, where marketing has risen in terms of its contribution to corporate strategy, its role as an enabler of digital transformation, as an owner of client relationship development and as a manager of intangible assets.

As a CMO, I have always told my teams one thing: always take the high ground, or else you’ll be condemned to work the low ground forever. I always pushed for marketing to be at the strategic centre and always tried to get a seat at the top table.

It isn’t always an easy route, especially in B2B. People accuse you of not wanting to get your hands dirty, or they do not see strategy as marketing’s main role. I may have been premature in my aspirations back then, because now is the best time for marketing to take centre stage through digital transformation and enabling a more client-centric organisation.

ITSMA, the association for technology, communications and professional services providers, has been tracking this progress in a recent survey. It found CMOs and their teams are taking full ownership of vital programmes such as positioning and new offerings, targeting new markets, client insight and profiling, customer journey, digital marketing infrastructure, research and development.

However, there is still a gap between perception and reality. This research also shows that the board’s acknowledgement of marketing’s influence on revenue generation is not backed up by allowing marketing to fully contribute to overall business strategy. VIM Group’s

Brand Performance Study

also shows businesses perform better when their brand is a strategic starting point. Despite that, only 7% of organisations use brand as a starting point for business decisions – while marketing as a whole remains confined to strategic matters within its own marketing bubble.

This perception gap is shared by the younger generation, who still have a limited definition of the range and potential of marketing disciplines. They tend to equate marketing with advertising and the pernicious manipulation that they see as characteristic of advertising. This perception must evolve to unlock the strategic potential of marketing.

Taking strategic ownership

With this challenge in mind, there are several key areas where marketing can take strategic ownership – while also evolving its own perception among both employers and employees:

1. Owning the client agenda

The role of client ownership can become an all-encompassing responsibility for marketing. The great divide between sales and marketing is already converging. Sales will undergo its own transformation, with a reduced need for middlemen and direct sales teams. The concept of ‘my client’, individual ownership of a client relationship, will become outdated or even dangerous. Instead, prospecting will be automated and sales qualification will be done by intelligent agents using predictive analysis.

This puts the entire scope of client development and relations under the umbrella of marketing, including client intelligence gathering, data analysis, behaviour, buying predictions, communication channels, automated segmentation, product positioning, personalisation, loyalty, surveys, profiling and client journey.

2. Intangible asset management

Marketing will become the owner of three key intangible assets: brand, content and causes.

These assets span the complete lifetime of the client relationship, both online and offline, enabling marketers to measure and manage total client lifetime value to the company.

In terms of brand, marketing will continue to own this but with much wider responsibilities, encompassing the management and measurement of brand perception among individual clients, as well as competition benchmarking. To own the measurement of brand value, marketers must be expert on the financial techniques of brand valuation and how that value can be grown over time.

In terms of content, marketing will be involved in the management of content and its rights, covering research, selection, creation, editorial and distribution. This will include responsibility for legal protections of content such as copyright, plus rights to re-use, replicate, upgrade or sunset content. This means that editors, journalists, film makers, broadcasters and even dramatists can all be members of the marketing team of the future.  This content must be personalised and personal – both qualities which are easier said than done. Personalisation requires constant research, good timing and precise engagement, so data analytics will certainly help.

Brand portals play a key role in the management of this content and should be considered as part of the infrastructure of any successful brand management activity.

Finally, cause will be a key area of judgement for companies. Marketing will promote specific causes for the sake of their impact on society and the environment, rather than just for brand reputation. Cause will also be vital for talent attraction, as millennials increasingly prioritise employers with strong credentials in this area. And in that sense, future marketing must work both on the supply side (i.e. attracting talent) and on the demand side (i.e. attracting clients).

3. Storytelling

To pull all of this together, marketing will need a range of creative writers and storytellers who can master all new media.

Storytelling may be an ancient form of marketing, but as tools and platforms proliferate it is now confronted with a period of omni-channel storytelling. There are exciting opportunities to engage target audiences with compelling content in a format that they are already accustomed to.

During my time at JLL, for example, we set up a range of new online publications that we dubbed ‘brand journalism’. In-house we recruited editors, journalists, cinematographers, studio managers and broadcasters – all functions that would normally be sourced from an agency. This team created relevant and influential (but not necessarily promotional) content such as cultural messages for staff, stories of client success using the client’s language, or trends analysis that made complex topics simple and easy to understand.

To illustrate this, ITSMA has identified that the most in demand roles cover thought leadership and content development, marketing technology and performance analytics. These roles all blend the art of storytelling with the science of marketing.

“The concept of ‘my client’, individual ownership of a client relationship, will become outdated or even dangerous”

Structure, culture and change

Future marketing will also play a key role in the internal cohesion within a company or organisation, helping to overcome silos, making key messages coherent and to give that culture a voice. 

To achieve this, marketing requires a collaborative culture. The old-fashioned marketing department, made up of independent skillsets, is dying out. Silos of expertise, of global versus local, internal versus external and old school versus new school must be broken up and reshaped.

You might compare this new structure to a film studio, where a thin layer of management has the ability to coalesce as an expert team, led by a director, to see a project through to completion. The team disbands and reforms around new projects. They have to do this productively, efficiently, quickly and within budget.

The overarching culture of future marketing must be as a value generator for clients, the wider enterprise, the brand, its causes, the employees and all other stakeholders.

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