As marketing leaders struggle to keep pace with technology and evolving consumer behaviors, Ken Fitzpatrick, CEO of the Digital Marketing Institute breaks down a recent study and highlights what it will take to adapt for success and build winning marketing organizations.
For marketers, the pace of technological change can be overwhelming. From keeping up with the latest digital trends to evaluating the best way to reach and engage customers, it’s easy to feel like we’re always playing catch-up in terms of the skills and technologies needed to succeed.
To get a better understanding of the future of our discipline and to take the pulse of marketing leaders, The Digital Marketing Institute (DMI) and The Economist Group recently surveyed more than 500 marketing executives around the world. Our study, Perpetual Evolution: The Interplay of Talent and Technology in the Future of Marketing, took a critical look at the future of the marketing organization itself, and what kinds of people would be needed to meet the challenges ahead.
Unsurprisingly, the results revealed that marketers are struggling with how to future-proof their organizations — particularly as digital experiences are now the cornerstone of marketing programs. Marketing leaders are grappling with how to recruit and upskill talent to keep pace with technology and evolving consumer behaviors.
The good news is that marketers realize there is no panacea to address all of these challenges, and that it will take a combination of tech and talent to build and maintain winning marketing organizations.
So as we prepare for the next few years, what is the best way leaders can adapt for success?
It is evident that building a team of agile professionals who can easily embrace the perpetual change that is the norm for our industry is the critical element of a successful marketing organization.
To get a sense for the expertise that will be needed, we asked the global marketing executives, “What skills and competencies will a future marketing workforce need to be successful in the next five years?”. Interestingly, nine of the top ten responses identified skills that are not typically associated with traditional marketing, leading with technology skills (48%), openness to change (38%), adaptability (37%) and broader business knowledge (31%).
Of these, openness to change and adaptability particularly resonate with me. Leaders recognize that marketing and technology will continue to evolve, but will a marketing team freeze as a new technology or customer demand emerges, or get creative and develop new solutions that differentiate them in the market? The talent needed to drive future success will consist of well-rounded professionals who can embrace the ebbs and flows, as opposed to solely industry or technology specialists.
The organizations that come out on top will be diligent about ongoing employee growth and development and will build agile teams that can easily adapt to an era of constant change. With so much concern and uncertainty around the specific technology that will next disrupt our organizations, marketers should focus more on finding professionals with a balance of technology and business talent.
The combination of tech and talent is key to future success. People with skills like creativity, adaptability and flexibility — along with tech skills — will prove the most valuable to marketing organizations. But how to find and / or develop this new generation of professionals?
It’s an urgent question indeed, as marketers — perhaps as a reaction to the never-ending digital revolution — are worried about building teams with the right skills. Seventy-four percent of marketers surveyed believe that marketing organizations face a critical talent shortage due to a lack of digital skills that will be needed to meet ongoing customer demands. This talent gap includes digital marketing knowledge as well as soft skills.
When asked about the best way to address this talent shortage, the research indicates that marketers will place a strong emphasis on recruitment (47% say they will focus “somewhat or much more” on recruitment), and a sizable number (40%) say they will focus on recruitment and reskilling of their existing workforce equally.
Clearly, “perpetual evolution” refers to more than what’s happening with technology and marketing priorities — it also refers to how marketers and the companies that employ them should approach professional skills development. Recruitment is a great way to energize teams with new perspectives and skill sets, but as the skills that may be needed today may not be relevant tomorrow, ongoing training and learning cannot be overlooked.
Consumers today don't just expect companies to understand their needs, they expect those needs to be addressed with highly relevant experiences on the platforms and devices of their choosing.
Marketers appear to be aware of this necessity. When surveyed, they identified customer experience (CX) as the most important area that contributes to an organization’s success and business performance today - and notably, it was also identified as the key driver of success in the next five years. Unsurprisingly, traditional and display advertising along with events and sponsorships ranked at the bottom of the priorities, for both today and in the future.
Today’s fully digital era means customers now expect companies to understand their needs and deliver experiences that address them. Even in the B2B or B2G spaces, customers are looking for B2C-type shopping and buying experiences similar to what they experience in their consumer lives. The organizations that succeed will be delivering their customers the experiences they’ve come to expect but on all the various devices, apps and platforms that they use.
Building a digitally-savvy workforce is critical when prioritizing customer experience across the marketing domain. While it’s easy to get hung up on the latest technology capturing consumers’ attention, keep in mind that today’s expert workforce may not have the relevant skills needed for tomorrow.
Put simply, marketing initiatives need to be digitally integrated, implemented by teams who understand traditional, real-world and digital touchpoints if they are to keep pace with the rapid changes in technology and consumer behaviors. Only in this way will the other areas most important today to an organization’s success— CX, Strategy & Planning, Data & Analytics and UX—be adequately addressed, while future-proofing the organization for what lies ahead.
Perpetual evolution is the new cultural norm for marketers. It requires keeping skills up to date on a constant basis. It also demands a new mindset that rapid and ongoing change in the world outside our companies cannot simply be observed and chased; it needs to be mimicked to keep pace with the needs of the market and consumers. We will need marketing teams who have the ability and curiosity to adapt to succeed, because a culture of change is not driven by technology; an organization’s culture is driven by its people.
While fear of the unknown may be keeping marketers up at night, I am excited and optimistic about the evolution taking place.