4 ways marketers need to reinvent themselves in the digital age

Marketing is one of the most demanding jobs today. In the past two years, with the marketing function becoming more integrated, the pressing need to reinvent it is also increasing.

This is the big struggle for marketers – how should they do it?

According to an Adobe study, Digital Roadblock: Marketers Struggle to Reinvent Themselves, based on a survey of more than 1,000 marketing professionals in the US, 64% of marketers expect their role to change in the next year. Social marketers, data analysts and mobile marketers will also be in high demand.

However while 40% marketers stated that they want to reinvent themselves, a mere 14% of those marketers actually said they knew how to go about doing so.

In a panel discussion moderated by Adobe’s CMO Ann Lewness it was highlighted that where previously there was a struggle between the either brand specialists, creative head or data scientists to lead, today a more collaborative stance is needed when it comes to the role of marketing.

Jana Rich, managing director of recruitment firm Russel Reynolds Associates, said that that marketing is one of the most in demand jobs today. The statement was seconded by associate professor of the department of business management for Brigham Young University, Jeff Dotson.

Dotson added that the marketing departments today are seeing an increase in entrants and these entrants are not just from a either a data science field or creative field but rather a balanced mixed of the two, further highlighting the shift in the traditional marketing role to encompass a now scientific backing.

What then does it take to be a great CMO?

1) Leadership

One thing all panelists agreed on was that everything comes back to leadership.

"You need to have a lot of pieces in your toolbox that you used over the years. But at the same time you need to be able to shine the compliment on to your team members so that they will really stay with you," said Rich. At the same time, while cross training is necessary, CMOs still need to know and retain what they are great at.

"Just because they have acquired a range of talents, they can't forget what they are essentially great at and dilute this talent," explained Rich.

2) A collaborative stance

Jeff Titus, general manager of digital technology solutions and strategy at Audi of America, added that a CMO today needs to be able to let their team members step in. Marketing heads also need to have the ability to admit that they might need help from other experts in various fields and participate in cross training.

"We are trying to build teams that are collaborative not just silos. But rather, we are trying to educate teams across the business. Cross pollination and keeping people in digital proximity working across silos is needed," he added.

Ultimately what is needed is a team that can communicate with both technology while building a great brand narrative. For this to excel, a partnership between a marketer and a data expert is vital.

3) Room for failure

According to Titus, room for failure is vital. In the Adobe study, it was highlighted that risk aversion is holding many marketers back. And when asked to describe the ideal marketer would be like, 50% of marketers risk-taking would contribute to that, with 45% hoping to take more risks themselves.

This was particularly true when it came to the area of digital. Nearly 65% said they are more comfortable adopting new technologies once they become mainstream.

"Divorce yourself from the stance that you are always right. Fail fast and if it didn't work it isn't for us. Get people talking about what worked and what didn't," Titus said.

"This is what we call the wash, rinse and repeat cycle," he said adding that having shorter campaign cycles today means the risk of making mistakes is lowered.

Making mistakes enables the marketing teams to understand what works and what does not without incurring a huge cost.

Meanwhile, Pete Stein, CEO of Razorfish, added that "the most successful CMOs are those with more broad perspectives" and with vision. "Anyone rooted in tradition will struggle. They need to be willing to force the change they want to see."

4) Balance creativity with analysis

The question was raised on if creativity would be compromised when marketers get too analytical.

Razorfish’s Stein said that from an agency perspective, as long as both teams are working towards innovation, there won’t be a struggle. Creative teams, don't feel threatened by the quantitative experts as they too want and need that feedback and immediate response to the work created, he said.

"As long as the conversation is for long term feasibility for the brands, most of the time conversations between the 'creatives' and the 'quants' are on the same page," Stein added.

Dotson said that the two actually help working in a more targeted marketing segment. With the help of data, problems areas in the marketing funnel can be more easily identified and rectified. Meanwhile Rich added that sometimes an "inverse" can happen where creatives prefer working with quants as more and more CMOs rely more on quants to "measure the impact of what [marketing activities] are doing."

Adobe's CEO Shantanu Narayen also highlighted the importance of creativity in the digital age, earlier in the conference. "Without creativity and out of the box ideas, there will not be any inspired marketing activities or personal connection to the customer. Without that emotional connection, there is no loyalty. A creative genius is what is required to stand out and inspire customers to engage with us," said Narayen.

5) The importance of agency relationships

Another question that was raised was - with the DNA of the marketer now changing, how will this impact the agency relationships?

The discussion pointed towards a growing importance of agency relationships.

Razorfish’s Stein said that companies will see "more skills brought in-house".

"Companies will start to invest in house in both senior level data scientists, senior technologists as well as ground level data scientist," he added. This is because data will only take more prominence in the marketing role going forward.

Audi’s Titus said that partnerships with agencies will still remain really important.

"It will help to bring agencies in house and our teams over to their side to understand the business better," he said. Titus also added that companies will also need to know "who and what kind of teams they need to accomplish their goals in the business.” That should be the first step.

This might also mean that there will be a demand for agency folks coming in-house to the client side, as there is a demand for the “creative DNA” in top tier roles, said Russel Reynolds Associates’ Rich.

Adobe paid for this journalist’s trip to Adobe Summit 2014, held in Salt Lake City, Utah.