The digital discussion

The digital landscape is changing rapidly, and organisations of all kinds are experiencing challenges in delivering the great customer experiences that differentiate them from the competition. I spoke to Richard Houdmont, Director for Ireland and Wales at The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) to gain insight into how marketers are grappling with these issues, along with his personal take on current and future trends.

Budgets and strategy

Digital marketing now represents a greater proportion of overall marketing activity than ever before, and a recent Gartner survey predicts that digital marketing budgets will further increase by 10% this year. Based on your discussions with marketing professionals, how well do you think the industry is reacting to the rise of digital technologies?

In a recent survey undertaken by CIM, senior marketers were asked: which capabilities will be the most important contributors to the success of their organisation in five years’ time? The top three responses were (a) digital strategy, (b) marketing strategy & planning, and (c) innovation and/or new product development. The impact of digital means that marketing today is unrecognisable from twenty years ago. Given the pace of change it will be fundamentally different in another five years, or less.

For many start-up companies it’s not a case of switching into digital, they’re already there. Technology is undoubtedly removing barriers to entry for the growing number of post-recession start-up companies. But a digital strategy is for everyone, not just technology companies, indeed digital is a game-changer.

However, many companies feel that they’re playing catch-up in the rapidly-changing digital field. Some see ‘digital’ as some sort of ‘bolt-on’ to their existing strategy. But what exactly do we mean by a ‘digital strategy’? What would one look like? CIM’s recently-introduced Digital Strategy Award looks at how organisations can implement digital marketing capabilities into strategic marketing planning. Businesses need to develop their digital strategy beyond a set of tactical actions but it’s not a case of having a stand-alone digital strategy, it’s more about how digital can enhance your overall marketing strategy.

Structure, processes and roles

What do you see as the future of the marketing department’s structure? For example, will we continue to see distinct ‘digital’ teams and roles as the impact of technology grows?

Companies need to understand the strategic implications of the disruptive digital environment. What are the key emerging themes within the digital marketing environment? What is the impact of digital on your industry structure and dynamics? Will your customer behaviour change with reference to digital behaviours and identities? And what is the impact of ‘digital disruption’ on internal resources? We don’t have ‘analogue’ teams, so why have ‘digital’?

How about the processes marketers use – there has been a great deal written about ‘Agile’ and ‘reactive’ marketing as responses to the rapid rate of change within the industry; do you see value in these approaches?

CIM is trying to encourage marketers to monitor for change and adapt as required. Marketing has to be adaptive – and be quicker to market. To deliver smart and effective agile marketing you need to apply both technology and creativity. Marketers are weaned on segmentation, so the traditional marketing department was organised in departments such as market segment (client), technology (the ‘web’ team), and product, and in recent years marketers have struggled to find a structure that would provide greater productivity with fewer resources. Departments submitted annual plans and were allocated their annual budget.

Marketing needs to be the link between customer and every other part of the business; customers’ needs are constantly changing. Marketers have traditionally been criticised for being poor on metrics. In the digital age we’re almost overwhelmed by metrics, but we must concentrate on the correct metrics and ensure that we’re using the language of the finance director, not ‘just’ web analytics. Marketers need to be constantly reviewing their plans at the same time as remaining strategic, rather than tactical and being blown off course by a sudden gust of wind. But if you’re going to respond quickly you have to have the systems in place. For example, in a recent survey an electronics retailer that answered an e-mail in seven minutes took 76 hours to reply on Twitter to the same question. If that’s how they deal with a customer enquiry, how can the marketing department hope to exploit new circumstances?

How will marketers themselves have to adapt? Do you believe that marketers need to become ‘T-shaped’ (balancing strong sector understanding with deep expertise in a particular vertical), ‘Pi-shaped’ (balancing strong sector understanding with both analytical and creative skills), or any other shape?

The days when you spent your whole career in a specific sector have long gone. That’s not to say that there aren’t sector-specific skills and capabilities, but marketing is a generic skill in the same way that ‘leadership’ isn’t sector-specific. The customer has to be the starting point for every marketer and at the heart of every marketing strategy, regardless of sector. Returning to CIM’s Capability Study, we asked senior managers (non-marketers) “What do you expect of a professional marketer?” Top of their list was “creative” followed by “commercially-astute” and “inspiring”. “Specialist” was way down their list of priorities. I think we can interpret commercially-astute as including analytical skills, but as I’ve already said, it’s not about knowing how to report the increase in ‘likes’, it’s about reporting how those ‘likes’ will impact on the bottom line.

Secrets of success

The Wales CIM Canmol awards focus on the fact that “marketing extends beyond ‘the 4 Ps’” – what are the winners of these awards doing instead that makes them so successful?

The Eurofighter Typhoon is intentionally aerodynamically unstable to provide extremely high levels of agility. The unstable design means that it can turn on a sixpence but also that it cannot be flown by conventional pilots. If it weren’t for the computerised ‘fly by wire’ system, it would drop out of the sky. What has this got to do with marketing? Over the past six years through the Canmol: Wales Marketing Awards we’ve built up a fascinating picture (or perhaps collage) of marketing as it really is ‘on the street’. We’ve seen the larger organisations and public sector who play by the rules (there’s nothing wrong with that) but on the other hand we see entrepreneurial marketing in practice which is to a certain extent chaotic, but because of that it’s highly flexible, creative and innovative. So the winners are those who have either excelled in their stated aim, perhaps using traditional methods, or are the ‘unconventional pilots’, the entrepreneurs and small businesses who probably don’t even think of themselves as ‘marketers’. They’re grabbing opportunities as they arise, just getting ‘out there’ and successfully connecting with their customers. Mis-quoting Bill Clinton’s campaign slogan, “it’s the customer, stupid”.

Looking ahead

Are there any specific trends you think will transform marketing strategies over the next 5 years?

Businesses need to develop their digital strategy beyond a set of tactical actions. It’s not necessarily a case of having a standalone digital strategy, it’s more about how digital can enhance your overall marketing strategy. As I mentioned earlier, companies need to understand the strategic implications of the disruptive digital environment, and above all marketing strategies will need to be even more responsive than ever before. Power has shifted even further to the customer. Our hearing has to be more acute than ever before; we need to listen to the customer and respond quickly, because if we don’t, someone else will.

And finally…

The membership sector has been particularly affected by the rise of digital technologies, with social networks making peer-to-peer networking and knowledge-sharing easier and more accessible than ever before. As a membership community itself, how has CIM managed to remain relevant and deliver value in the face of competing resources?

The word ‘member’ doesn’t appear in our mission statement, which is “To develop the profession and those who work within it for the benefit of the economy and society”. One can argue that the term ‘membership’ is an outdated concept in the 21st century but what membership can deliver remains highly relevant: keeping up-to-date. CIM engages with the wider community of marketers, increasingly offering bite-sized access to our resources. We also support the marketing community as a whole with reports such as Keep Social Honest which is open to all, members or not. Our new qualifications now include more choice and flexibility. There are three modules to gain the Diploma in Professional Marketing or you can complete just one module to gain an Award, such as the Digital Strategy Award. You’re right that knowledge-sharing is easier than ever, but trust is the key and CIM is a trusted brand, so our members know that they can rely upon our resources. Ethics and standards are vital if marketing is to retain its power, which is why the Professional Marketing Standards lie at the heart of everything we do. CIM is the only body which can award Chartered Marketer status. So marketers who wish to develop their personal brand will want to demonstrate that they adhere to our professional standards and are working to gain or maintain their Chartered Marketer status.

Back over to Box UK

We’d like to thank Richard for sharing his thoughts; if you’ve enjoyed this digital discussion please watch this space for future insights. Additionally, if you’d like to contribute your own opinions, get in touch with us today or leave your comments below.

About the Author

Emma Willis

During her time at Box UK, Senior Marketing Executive Emma Willis has supported the planning and execution of a diverse range of cross-channel campaigns. Writing compelling, informative copy designed to maximise engagement, Emma has developed an impressive portfolio of content covering a wide variety of digital marketing and technology-focused topics.