Future proofing your marketing team in today’s digital environment.

Outputs from Alternatives Think Tank – 8th July 2015 by Charley Stoney, Group Managing Director, Alternatives

This was the fourth in the Marketing think tank series hosted by Alternatives and attended by senior marketing and digital leaders across the banking, retail, medical, automotive, insurance, FMCG, gaming, media and telco industries.

Dig Ire


Facilitated by Asta Lund, Multi-Channel Director of Arnotts and Anthony Quigley, co-Founder and MD of the Digital Marketing Institute this forum proved to be the most popular session yet with real insights gleaned from everybody present.  While the discussion was very broad as to be expected from such a hot topic, some key pillars were identified as the stepping stones for high performing, digitally enabled teams:

1. Key pillars required for best in class marketing

When asked this questions Asta Lund made the valid point that the fundamentals of best in class marketing itself haven’t changed. What has changed is our ways of communicating since customers are more in control of the brand conversation. The key pillars that enable great marketing are still:

a. Customer First – Providing an excellent customer experience
b. Emotionally Intelligent Leadership – Someone who may not have all the technical skills but who understands the right questions to ask of their support structure
c. Collaborative culture – With internal stakeholders, different functions and external agencies
d. Great Project Management Processes

2. Marketing skills in a “Customer First” world

This topic and the need to look at re-structuring and future proofing marketing functions has come about because of the need to embrace the ‘customer led’ nature of marketing and organisations need to align their marketing skills to embrace this change.

Word MapGreat marketing has always been about putting customers first – gleaning insight about our target market and communicating with them in a way that resonates and establishes (hopefully) an emotional connection between brand and consumer.  Now however, the marketer is no longer in full control of the messaging and the brand discussion, the customer is. The digital world has enabled a consumer led marketing environment which is now much more about “what customers are willing to hear”, not, “what brands need to say”.  This means that we still require the creative skills for great ideas but we have to embrace additional skills such as e-CRM, social, content management as well as the more technical skills such as user experience, performance marketing and data analytics. In larger markets such as the UK and US, marketing teams have simply expanded with individuals bringing deep, narrow skills into the team.

In Ireland, with a much tighter market and smaller budgets we have always had to build multi-skilled teams and educate from within and to a certain extent this is how we have been managing the digital explosion. However, this has put even more pressure on marketing leaders to ensure these skills are embedded and continue to deliver results, particularly in the past few years of reduced budgets and headcount.  On a positive note, the economy is in recovery, and organisations are reinvesting in great talent. This has resulted in a groundswell of strategic planning for growth across organisations and a belief in the marketing community that now is the time to make structural decisions and create build best in class marketing teams that will deliver on this growth.

In relation to budgets a couple of interesting points were made. First that the marketing function now has a higher technology budget than the IT function in most organisations. Second, that allocating part of the marketing spend in upskilling existing talent as well as acquiring fresh talent, the new digital skills sets being embedded are paying dividends in terms of customer and business growth.

3. Building a marketing-led business case for the exec team

An obvious point perhaps but without full buy-in from the executive team, (specifically the CEO), a structural change is difficult to drive through so the first task to be undertaken is to build and take ownership of the business case for change. And, doing this before the CEO asks for change is key.

This is even more important when it comes to creating a digital mind set within an organisation as it may significantly change an organisations’ culture and its’ ways of working.  As we have seen over the past few years, if a digital mind set and structure isn’t owned and driven by marketing, it can sometimes be imposed on an organisation by a CEO who is keen for the business to “become digital” and isn’t seeing this being driven from within. As a result, we have seen senior leadership roles being created to take the digital lead which often sits outside of the marketing function. Silo divisions have been created that may result in a divide between marketing and digital.

Given that marketing has traditionally owned customer insights, it follows that the role of the marketer is to drive the agenda for change in how organisations are interacting with customers and re-establish their position as thought leaders in this space. While there is undoubtedly a major role for technical innovation, digital is, after all, another way of accessing customers so, is the case for a separation of resources in this area really that strong?  Two examples were cited in the group that met on the 8th July. One marketing leader described how their own job title changed (adding a business element) and that this potentially enabled them to gain increased buy-in from internal stakeholders and implement a customer focused strategy that included all aspects of the company’s customer interaction, including the ecommerce piece.
Another leader described how they took responsibility for the digital strategy by developing a commercial business case for change that resulted in a traditional FMCG company creating an ecommerce platform that was owned by Marketing from the outset.

Both examples, while approached differently, has the same net effect and placed the marketing function at the centre of the business again.
So, is this a call to action for marketing leaders to take charge and drive the digital agenda throughout the organisation so that marketing still retains ownership of the brand, the customer and the customer experience?

4. Collaboration = Success

Regardless of where the responsibility lies for driving the digital agenda, the key to success is collaboration among both internal and external customer facing teams. As organisations, (particularly for marketers), have become more complex, with dotted line reporting either outside of Ireland or across functions the need for close collaboration and streamlining of internal communications is increasingly important.

Collaboration is successIn order for collaboration to work, there has to be an acceptance from non-digital natives that they are now managing people in their marketing teams that will probably know a lot more about the digital world than they do. Accepting this should lead to a more empowered team as individuals’ skills are used to enhance overall marketing effectiveness and will enable digital learning across the team that improves everyone’s knowledge from the top down.  Mixing up the teams so they physically work side by side and encouraging cross functional shadowing works well. This enables more technical skills to be transferred into the marketing function and vice versa. Informal, yet structured knowledge sharing sessions can be effective in expanding the knowledge within internal teams.

Across the leadership team, it is even more crucial that thinking is aligned and particularly where there is a distinct digital team, ways of working in a fully collaboration manner across functions will break down the silos. If the digital and marketing the functions are led separately, there is a probably a requirement for joint presentation to the exec team with strategic input from both sides and an acknowledgement of joint ownership of the customer.

5. Making the most of Agencies – “A good idea doesn’t care where it comes from”.

There was considerable discussion among the group about how best to access the skills of agencies, particularly in an environment where creative, media, experiential and specialist agencies are all competing for a place at the ‘digital table’.

The consensus generally is that it depends entirely upon individuals within the agencies and when a marketer finds an external person who has a deep understanding of the digital space, they need to make best use of those skills to educate themselves and their wider team. And the best way to do this is to ensure that there is collaboration across external agencies.  There were examples given where the client organisation assumed that the agencies themselves would manage this process and it had broken down, so the advice given is to manage the process very carefully and be present at all multi-agency meetings. Of course, in addition, each agency needs to be given clarity on their core areas of responsibility, not to stifle creativity or ideas generation but simply to avoid territorial issues.

Harnessing external agency talent to help educate and inform internal marketing teams became another subject for discussion. In general, agency specialists are working across a number of sectors and of necessity are having to learn faster and be ever more innovative in order to provide added value to their clients. Giving them the time and forum to impart that knowledge was suggested as a valuable educational tool for internal teams. A quarterly think tank session with multiple agencies asking them to update marketing teams on trends, consumer behaviour and share case studies is an excellent way to impart knowledge. In addition, joint (client and agency) attendance at relevant digital seminars was cited as a way for marketers to get maximum value of these events and sparks meaningful and creative discussion that is less likely to take place within a business as usual environment.

6. Upskilling non digital natives

It appears that the biggest area for development and digital learning lies within the mid management level in the marketing function. Individuals who have excellent core marketing skills but didn’t grow up as digital natives and who potentially can act as a block within an organisation requiring a more multi-channel approach.
Formal training is obviously important such as that provided by the DMI. However, a good suggestion for internal training is the mirroring of the technology-led “sprint” methodology. If experienced marketers are teamed up with digital natives in the team to collaborate fully on projects this would enable more effective and speedier implementation of project and better customer focused communications. In this way, shared learning happens naturally and becomes a way of working that is beneficial to individuals, the team and the business.Upskill

In addition, working with individuals outside of their comfort zone and actively developing a more radical training programme can also provide impactful education. An extreme example of this was the TalkTalk UK initiative in which over 2,500 staff from all areas of the business were sent on a coding course, introducing at least a basic knowledge of programming to the team.

Shared Experiences –

During the discussion a number of examples and/or case studies were mentioned by the group either based on their own organisation or other international organisations. In no particular order they were –

Aviva has established a DIGTAL GARAGE hub in London with a Head of Digital in charge of this separate company. However, he reports into the CMO on the basis that the digital capability for the business should be led by marketing. http://www.insuranceage.co.uk/insurance-age/news/2414214/aviva-to-create-tech-garage

Maceys provides us with a great case study for making your service more accessible online and demonstrating how vital the user experience is. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L62N0XOsmgU

Accenture Research: With 88% of online consumers ‘web rooming’, leveraging online as a shop window to drive in-store purchase is as important as online purchase.

Argos: 50% of customers start the shopping journey online – 90% of those go into the store.

BMW – 10 years ago, customers made 4 visits on average to a showroom before purchasing a car. Now, it’s down to 1 visit on average as the research and decision making is done online. http://www.bmwservice.ie/ was launched as an Irish led initiative following a collaborative workshop between the business and external agencies. 70% of chassis numbers in the country have now been registered on this site.

Glanbia – www.milkman.ie A great, award winning example of a traditional business growing their market through effective use of online.

DAA – As highlighted in the Alternatives Effective Media report following our last Marketing Think Tank, accessing existing online advocates is a good way to build a brand ambassador programme online, and is particularly appropriate for brands that have a strong experience-based relationship with consumers. A good example is the DAA online brand ambassador programme for their Duty Free shopping experience, or major beauty brands who form alliances with the beauty bloggers to ensure their products get seen and talked about all over the world.

If you have a need for strategic marketers, commercial managers or digital & data professionals, please contact Charley Stoney, Lauren Fahy, Sorcha Coleman on 01-661-8889 for more information. www.alternatives.ie