If companies are to keep abreast of the digital revolution, they will need to upgrade the role of the Marketing department and refocus their efforts towards greater consumer engagement.

Changes in store for Marketing departments by 2020

All areas of business, especially Marketing, have no choice nowadays but to adapt the way they work to the fresh demands and new codes arising from the shift to digital. Marketing managers are now fully aware of this, as a report entitled ‘The rise of the marketer: Driving engagement, experience and revenue’, published recently by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), reveals. Some 81% of just under 500 high-level Marketing executives from around the world polled during the survey underlying the report acknowledge that their organisation will need to undergo dramatic changes in order to keep up with increasing technical and consumer demands. This view is expressed by people at all levels within the Marketing department at companies of all sizes, from small and medium-sized firms to major corporates, in both the B2B and B2C sectors. Respondents were of the opinion that Marketing departments should be targeting their budgets at the social networks, mobile devices and also traditional email, three rich sources of customer data. The report points out however that companies of different sizes have different marketing priorities. Those generating revenues of over $5 billion are set to make huge investments in data analysis while those with turnover lower than $500 million will be focusing on the social networks, email contact and upgrading their websites.

So much for the specific focus of the Marketing budget. However, the company must also be prepared to invest in developing its Marketing department and this is currently a major challenge for Marketing. Some 68% of marketers polled said they are viewed as a cost centre today, but 80% reckon that in three to five years’ time they will be seen as driving revenue for their companies. Sanjay Dholakia, Marketing Director of marketing automation software company Marketo, which commissioned the report from the EIU, underlines that the digital revolution is transforming the customer journey. Consumers nowadays have easy access to a large amount of information.

Putting a figure on the business impact of Marketing departments

These days it is vital for companies to work out where and how they should be intervening in the digital journey. This task is mainly down to the Marketing department, which collects masses of online data. But how can the Marketing people alter the way they are regarded at the company? Explains John Dragoon, Executive Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer at US educational and trade publishing house Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, one of several senior executives interviewed in depth by the EIU for the report: ″A lot has to do with how Marketing presents itself within the organisation. If you don’t accept accountability for being measured in terms of your contributions and outputs, then you’re viewed as a cost centre. If you aggressively pursue an agenda of accountability and transparency, then you’ll be viewed as a trusted partner and adviser. Even if you don’t have a formal P&L, you’re seen as a revenue owner.” Given the kind of data these departments are able to gather today, this task has become a lot easier. Moreover, while just a third of the respondents say that today they have central responsibility for the customer experience and customer engagement, 75% of the marketers polled believe that in the near future they will ‘own’ end-to-end customer engagement. So why the gap between perceptions of the current and future situation? Of course the customer experience, which depends on the relationship the consumer has with the brand and which is what generates engagement, has touchpoints at every level, involving multiple departments such as sales. ″The customer experience is too important to be left to just the marketers,″  argues John Dragoon, while Sanjay Dholakia counters that although the customer experience will continue to involve many different areas of the company and that Marketing will still be working closely with these other departments, management of the customer experience will nevertheless be ″driven by marketers″.

Marketing increasingly shaped by the IoT going forward

Marketers agree that, in order to cope with and leverage the digital transformation, they need to step up their digital skills. In answer to the question: ‘What are the top areas in which you need to develop skills?’, respondents predominantly mentioned becoming proficient in marketing technology and grasping the ins and outs of digital engagement. ″Marketing is moving from an era of mass marketing and advertising to an era of engagement [… ] with a singular purpose in mind: forming long-term, individualised, durable relationships,” underlines Sanjay Dholakia.  However one headache for Marketing managers is that they are currently finding it difficult to recruit talented people with the right skills. Marketo’s Marketing Director feels that there is also work to be done to encourage universities to update their courses to take account of the digital revolution. Just after digital consumer engagement and marketing technologies on the list of skills that marketers say they need to develop, in order to be able to do a good job for their company, come strategy & planning and data analysis. Meanwhile, the Internet of Things is becoming a hot topic for Marketing management as the surge in connected objects increases the number of consumer touchpoints. How to benefit from this opportunity and how to build a strong relationship with users so as to create something relevant and useable for the company? These are among the basic questions marketers are asking themselves today, Sanjay Dholakia points out.

By Pauline Canteneur