This was the question a newly-appointed CMO asked me recently. It’s a tough question. Almost as tough as the “What does good look like?” question we get asked all the time in the realm of digital marketing and ecommerce where reliable benchmarks or accepted best practice are hard to come by. 

The challenges and opportunities around the future of the marketing function are well known. Dealing with ‘big’ data and analytics, figuring out how social media fits in, integrated online and offline marketing, delivering a seamless customer experience across channels, working more closely with “IT”, moving from broadcast to dialogue, globalisation, innovation, personalisation, more agility, attracting and keeping the right talent. 

But how do you create a marketing function best placed to embrace these challenges and opportunities?  As ever, the answer is “it depends”. But rather than end with that consulting cop out, I wanted to draw out some of the insights we believe we at Econsultancy have observed. 

We use a capability and maturity model for assessing organisations’ marketing capability. It is a matrix overlapping the well-recognised planks of strategy, people, process and technology with capability maturity columns we call emergent, intermediate, and advanced.  

To support this framework we conducted research into how organisations were treating digital marketing from an organisational design and team structures point of view.

It was clear from the results that organisations went on a journey, relating to their digital maturity, where the organisational model most suited to their stage of transformation changed over time. Hence the many ‘re-orgs’ we see happening. 

One obvious question, in the quest to create the ‘future-fit’ marketing function, is whether organisations can leap-frog from ‘beginner’ to ‘advanced’, to go from digital novices to integrated marketing excellence in one big step. In our experience this is very hard to achieve without very significant personnel change, particularly at the very top to drive it through.

Usually it is a journey which takes years. At least if this is recognised by senior management, and that journey has a clear roadmap, it can help the frustrations otherwise experienced at the apparent lack of speed of change. 

Marketing function nirvana, certainly when it comes to integrating digital into the organisation properly, is achieved when the function excels at digital but where there is no-one left in the organisation with ‘digital’, ‘e’, ‘online’, ‘internet’, ‘new media’, ‘interactive’ in their job title.

There are very few organisations who have achieved this state of enlightenment yet and those that have are typically either smaller companies or internet businesses. Most organisations are still scrabbling to hire specialist digital talent. 

On people

We used to talk about T-shaped people. That is, marketers with a broad set of knowledge and skills across marketing but with a deep specialism in a particular area. I’ve recently started talking about pi-shaped (π) people. Marketers with the broad base of knowledge but capabilities in both ‘left brain’ and ‘right brain’ disciplines. Marketers who can be analytical and data-driven AND understand brand, storytelling and experiential marketing.

It’s asking a lot but these people do exist and represent the future of (integrated) marketing. Witness the growth of ‘Creative Technologists’ or the ‘Chief Marketing Technologist’. You want people who focus on the customer, focus on data, like change, who are curious, passionate.

Watch News International CMO, Katie Vanneck-Smith, exhort marketers to ‘marry the technologist’ or read what the Nordstrom innovation team want in a teammate to get a better idea of the marketing people fit for the future.  

On process

There is a big move to more agile ways of working. This should impact marketing as much as it does project management or IT. We have to move from highly linear, highly specified, rigid ways of working, to more fluid, reactive, dynamic approaches.

Social media is ‘on’ 24hrs a day; your customers are interacting with your brands all the time. Marketers have to become like conductors of an orchestra: bringing together the many disciplines (instruments) to create harmony in a dynamic way. 

Watch Coca-Cola talk about its ‘liquid and linked’ approach to future creativity through content excellence: 

Whilst Agile as a way to manage projects is rightfully gaining a lot of traction, it is not the silver bullet. It is not always the right, or only, way to do things. Culture is much more important for the future-fit marketing function than the specific process chosen.

The right culture embraces testing, fails fast, focuses on the customer, recognises that data beats opinions, embraces change, prototypes and iterates quickly. 

Government may have a big challenge to become a future-fit organisation but I’m very encouraged by what I see happening within the Government Digital Service and would encourage you to look at its Design Principles.

On technology

If you think technology isn’t as much the realm of marketing as it is IT, then you’re probably not future-fit. The world of data, APIs, responsive design, and what is made possible by cloud-based services is the engine that drives the future of marketing. 

There is a danger currently that too many organisations are going out and buying technology in the hope that it will somehow make them future-fit marketers. It is much more important to have a smart vision for the technology and data architecture that will enable a future of marketing that is efficiently and intelligently ‘omni-channel’ and personalised.

The CMO and CIO need to jointly own this vision. Watch this presentation from the FT for what I think is a very smart way to think about technology from someone who is arguably more marketing than IT: 

The journey towards digital transformation, and marketing excellence, is not an easy one but it is exciting and full of potential. And it should propel marketing as a function into an increasingly powerful role within organisations.  

This article was orginally published in Marketing Week. 

Econsultancy regularly works with global brands to tackle their own digital transformation head on. Contact us to learn about how this is affecting businesses, including yours, and how our approach and experience can assist you. 

Ashley Friedlein

Published 13 December, 2012 by Ashley Friedlein @ Econsultancy

Ashley Friedlein is Founder of Econsultancy and President of Centaur Marketing. Follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (3)

Dale Lovell

Dale Lovell, Chief Digital Officer at Adyoulike

This is a good post Ashley that has hit the spot on the future skills of marketing. It's something we are seeing more and more of in the content marketing sphere.

We are increasingly seeing the need to develop Pi shaped ways of thinking in order to meet the needs of clients; you need to be creative enough to develop great ideas and then create that content, but you also need to be able to carry out analysis on what works, dive into the stats and use technology creatively to develop a plan that works.

Integrated marketing is undoubtedly going to require these skills even more in the future; but given the fact that technology is ubiquitous in our daily lives it is a skill-set that more and more future marketers will have instinctively – it’ll be like email to the existing generation. Technology is the tool and the basics, but the real asset will always be the creative element.

Dale Lovell, Publishing Director, Search News Media

over 5 years ago


Juliet Stott

We are hosting a digital marketing workshop in London in March to discuss these very important issues. We will be looking at the best content marketing tools to use and how to influence & get buy in from the top decision makers in your organisation. We believe digital marketing is the future for any successful business.

over 5 years ago


Guy Steele-Perkins

Really enjoyed this article Ashley. Many thanks.

The mind boggles at all the data that's being created, I just wonder how company's are going to collect and distribute actionable insights and move them to the frontline quickly enough to impact consumer behaviour.

I mean, marketing is now at the centre of a data maelstrom, flooded by high velocity feeds of information — web analytics, transaction histories, behavioral profiles, industry aggregates, social community content and feedback, etc.

How will marketers look beyond the white noise to see the underlying patterns and trends, coax out explanations and ideas from the endless sea of bits. I guess lucid visualizations will be invaluable — as will the people who can deliver them.

Its an exciting time to be a marketer, I just hope the talent that's coming through are learning the skills necessary to work through this morass of information.

over 5 years ago

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