Have you read one of the many articles proclaiming that marketing is dead? It’s been replaced by “growth hacking,” “data-driven marketing,” even “customer relationship management.“
No doubt about it, something has changed.
We marketers know it by the rising complexity of our work and the increasing demands and responsibilities of our departments. We have felt the change coming in the rise of digital marketing and the expectations for better accountability and budget allocation, the increased authority this ability has given us, and in the still accelerating pace at which we’re expected to make sense of it all.
This new reality of marketing is fueled by the seemingly endless array of marketing technology at our fingertips, which has only begun to feed the voracious appetite we and our companies have for marketing data collection, analysis, and presentation.
How we do marketing is changing, which means we as marketers have to change too.
Here’s a guide on how to adapt:
Out: Marketing Strategy
What’s Changed: Annual Marketing Plans
The New Reality: Monthly Marketing Objectives
Marketing plans? What are those?
Only those with enormous budgets and large staffs are planning on a 3-5 year basis.
In technology, even the largest marketing teams are never planning more than one year ahead. Most startups are thinking 3-6 months ahead; early stage startups think week-to-week.
To manage cash flows, companies want to preserve optionality and leverage changes in the marketplace as quickly as possible. That mentality is moving through the market into larger and larger companies, not just in cash-strapped startups.
How Marketers Must Change: Think like a laboratory – dream big, then test and measure weekly
Marketers themselves must evolve in this environment to leave behind the lengthy and academic de-risking approach expected to work with big creative bets.
Think about marketing spend the way a lab thinks about science: create hypotheses, test and measure them rigorously, then implement and measure the results, again and again.
If you’re a small, nimble agency specializing in flexible channels like digital advertising, your future is bright. If you’re about selling ads in long lead pubs, or years long consulting engagements, look out.
The types of people best suited to be in-house right now are more often subject matter experts: data analysts, copywriters, graphic designers, and user experience researchers. As always, marketers who remain in-house must add value by creating the themes and strategies that weave these disciplines together.
But in the new world, ideas can come from anywhere and can be measured by anyone, so the marketer is no longer a chief executive stand in, but a volleyball coach and cheerleader.
Instead of risk managers and “brand police,” marketing leaders now need to be brave risk takers and team champions, willing to test anything if it’s grounded in a good argument and backed by data and/or sound reasoning.
In: Marketing Operations
What’s Changed: Lengthy Planning, “Spray and Pray” Execution
The New Reality: Target, Test, Measure Carefully, and Iterate
Most big companies spend about a quarter each year in annual planning, but when it comes to actually executing on those plans, they often fall back on generalized tactics, or on repeating offline tactics in an online world.
Too often, marketing’s goal is “more sales.“
When marketing tactics were limited to television, radio, print, and mailings, a direct connection between sales and marketing spend was an easier thing to see. But with the proliferation of marketing channels and the increasing usage of multiple devices, this connection is getting harder to see on a channel by channel basis.
So marketers are solving this problem by going deeper into each channel.
Exhibit A: Email “Blasts”
In the past, it was about getting a big list and hoping the laws of large numbers would work out.
Today, the best practice in top marketing teams is to define the customer target as specifically as possible and then optimize the emails to that customer.
They don’t just “improve” email click through. They maximize sales by increasing the right visitors to the website, as measured by click-through, and increasing that rate and that number every month or quarter.
Exhibit B: Paid Marketing
Another example: paid marketing.
Today, marketing teams think of AdWords and banner advertising as something that must prove its worth, rather than being a default spend. New marketing options such as content marketing, social media, and effective and affordable SEO can provide perpetuity in cash flows, even if they are less trackable from a click tracking perspective.
But most companies don’t think through HOW how they’ll get to their success metric, and so in many cases, they default to paid advertising because that is what they understand and it’s what’s most easily trackable (even if that tracking isn’t as accurate as we would wish).
The best marketers now do paid marketing last – only after non-paid options have been applied.
In other words, “more sales” isn’t specific enough to be an actionable goal for a marketing team.
The best marketing teams are choosing specific milestone metrics based on channel, such as engagement rate (social media), click through rates (social media and email), time on site (blog posts and landing pages), conversion rates (funnels), cost per click (paid spend), and cost per acquisition (paid spend) are better choices because they are leading indicators for sales and profitability in that channel.
By incrementally improving on the milestone metrics for your company, you can move the ball down the field on your key metrics, like sales, each month and each quarter.
How Marketers Must Change: Dive Deeper, Hire Specialists
Top marketing teams now have marketing operations groups. Their role is to gather the technology stack, maintain horizontal tools and relationships (email service providers, web analytics tools, inbound marketing technology, and customer databases).
However, every marketer, not just the marketing operations team, needs to think in terms of execution as much as strategy on a per channel basis, which means spending more time on HOW they will get results, to a much more granular level than before.
Most marketers know that 95% of marketing is execution: grinding out the copy, proofreading, design, targeting, media buying, printing, measuring, and distribution of those messages.
But new marketers know that if they spend time understanding the data points and strategy for each channel, individually is the only way to get affordable, consistent results.
This means the end of “spray and pray” and ushers in a new era of necessary focus and discipline. When not all channels can be pursued, then choosing channels is now a critical step in the marketing process that requires more effort than before.
In a nimble, hypothesis-driven marketing world, the faster a team can execute and iterate, the faster it can meet its goals.
Great marketers have always been able to take responsibility, demonstrate good judgment, and think systematically about how to take a problem like poor email click through rates, and create a testing plan around them.
That starts with understanding the metric itself–its drivers and origins, as well as knowing when and how to call out vanity metrics like impressions or social media likes, or efforts that aren’t supported by data. The difference is that this is now happening to great depth on a per channel basis, not just at the executive level.
New Marketing Talent Will Come From New Sources
Keep in mind that experience in a given channel and the ability to go deep into that channel can be far more important to your company’s success than traditional measures of human potential, depending on the speed, drive, and channel focus you need.
That ace writer and social media guru may never have graduated from college, let alone have an Ivy League MBA.
One scrappy startup hired a car rental salesperson, who had an undergraduate degree in design, as a customer support representative. 3 years later, that person became their head of product.
When it comes time to spend, marketing executives, you don’t allocate millions of dollars to one channel without a steady stream of testing and optimization. Getting the measurement right is harder than it looks; proving the ROI even harder.
Forcing each channel to work for its supper requires discipline and patience, and careful management of your executive staff’s expectations. A CMO’s job now is to find the right – probably different -people, and give them time and resources while they diligently labor to solve for growth.
That’s a lot different from the way things were done in the past, and it’s our job now to help our companies evolve, too. I wrote more on the subject of hiring a growth marketer, here.
Timeless: Customers and Profit
The rumors of Marketing’s demise are greatly exaggerated.
Knowing the customer cold and orienting all activities towards sales and profitability will continue to be the essence of great marketing. How we do that has changed, and that change is where great opportunity lies for anyone willing and able to adapt to it.
Those who can learn to thrive in a nimble, disciplined, measured, and creative way will only see their careers grow in the years to come.
Marketing is the part of an organization that interacts with customers, and that won’t change, no matter what trendy title it gets. No matter how the ways we learn about, engage with and persuade our customers evolve, when we talk about marketing, we’re still talking about how to interact with customers.
Here’s a little secret: Marketing is very much alive. It’s just the WAY we do marketing that is dying. The good news is that the seeds of unprecedented opportunity lie in the ashes of the forest fire wrought by change.