Digital Doughnut Contributor
Digital Doughnut Contributor 1 September 2014

Everybody must become a Modern Marketer

There is a great deal of philosophical discussion about how marketing is changing. ‘Modern Marketing' is beginning to seriously question some of the old orthodoxies and present serious challenges to senior marketers

There is a great deal of philosophical discussion about how marketing is changing. ‘Modern Marketing’ is beginning to seriously question some of the old orthodoxies and present serious challenges to senior marketers. Trying to understand how the new reality is reflected in the strategy and team structure of a marketing function has become one of the major challenges faced by CMOs and Marketing Directors.


Among many themes in that philosophical discussion are three ‘new philosophies’ of marketing that fundamentally challenge the strategy and structure of existing marketing teams:

  •          Linear campaign strategy and execution is no longer a useful way of thinking
  •          Modern marketing is about participation and conversations
  •          Listening is the ‘new black’

Ditch the funnel – linear campaigns are dead

The funnel is a much loved tool of the marketer. The diagram that shows how audiences are moved from one state to the next in a logical linear fashion has been the comfort blanket of marketing theory for over a century. But funnel theory does not and has never accounted for the vagaries of human nature. It has always been an artefact driven by the difficulty of obtaining real-time insight into the behaviour of individuals and a consequent reduction to common denominators in large groups.


In addition to the historical issues with tunnel theory, the increasing fragmentation and multiplying of potential touch points and communication channels creates its own issues. It becomes increasingly difficult to recognise the steps of an individual customer’s journey and to be confident about where in the funnel they might be. The multi-channel/multi touch point world removes the transparency to be confident about linear behaviours


Digitised market places also offer more immediate gratification & fulfilment. Consumers can go from research to buying mode very quickly (or very slowly indeed). It becomes almost impossible to predict what the drivers of purchase are for an individual, and simplifications across groups of individuals become increasingly inaccurate. The hand-off from one platform or channel to another following internal pre-determined business logic becomes less and less appropriate as does a marketing team structure that reflects this internal logic.


Brands are faced with democratic and vocal audiences

The mechanics of influence and persuasion are changing. The growth of social platforms and channels allows people to go back to relying on the advice of their own trusted networks at the expense of central broadcasters. This is true whether they are making decisions for themselves or for their business.


Potential purchasers are making their decisions based on reputation and word of mouth to a far higher degree than was previously possible (they always did these things but the technology gap made it difficult to find out the requisite information upon which to make the decision). What’s more important is that reputation and word of mouth are not being driven by what brands themselves are saying.

Business spenders are increasingly treating their budget as ‘their own’ money and are demanding the same levels of service and value that they expect as consumers buying goods for their own homes. As part of that process they are demanding the same ‘democratic’ rights that they would demand for their own purchases.


Conversations are as much about listening as talking

A great deal is talked about social and or brand listening and a plethora of ways in which this can be done. Few people go beyond these statements to understand how profound the change in marketing approaches and teams should be.


Listening is a key part of any conversation. It feeds and directs the next statement and allows a conversation to develop along mutually beneficial lines. Senior marketers have to ask themselves whether their brand’s ‘listening’ is merely paying lip service to this broader idea of it being one essential part of an ongoing dialogue with their customers and their potential customers.


Customers want to feel that the conversation is symmetrical and sympathetic. They also want the conversation to be relevant and personalised (one of the key drivers of relevancy is timeliness). Communication from a brand has to assume that there will be a response and assume that that response has to be incorporated in future communications. These assumptions have implications for how teams are structured and the skill sets in those teams.


A habit of continual listening and evaluation will also help in other areas. Good brands recognise that market research is a constant activity not a ‘one-off’ set piece and the habit of continually listening and feeding the results back into the organisation market research will ensure that rapid continual small changes are possible. This moves brands with their markets and allows or even encourages them to be more flexible both in their product delivery and their communication.


The listening function of a brand’s activities is not just a market research tool but one side of a very important conversation. Marketing teams have to be given the capabilities and the freedom to respond and to ensure that the learning or insights from those conversations are incorporated in brand thinking. Marketing authority within a business devolves down to relatively junior levels.


How does this affect strategy?

The core structure of strategy remains the same – where a strategy should lay out:

  •          Where are we going?
  •          How are we going to get there?
  •          How do we know when we’ve got there?

What changes is the rigidity of that strategy. It is no longer good enough to go into a planning cycle in August for a strategy adopted in October that takes you through to the end of September the following year.


In Modern Marketing, flexibility of strategy is an essential component of driving customer conversations, it frees up the planning and execution phases to be more appropriately reactive. Strategy should be bottom up – the question for a marketer is not ‘how can marketing best serve the business’ but ‘how can marketing best serve and communicate with customers and prospective customers’. And the answer has to be unequivocally ‘on their terms’.


This requires that strategy is, at least in part driven by the experiences of the people who have most contact with customers. The sales people and the social experts who are talking with the audience every day have to be tasked with collecting the information needed to build the strategy – and should be able to put their insight into the process on a regular basis.


Marketing strategy has to be constantly tested and re-evaluated in the light of new learning. The core questions remain the same, but the answers will change, sometimes quite rapidly. Senior marketers have to put in place the mechanisms within their teams and their own thinking that allow for an iterative and on-going modification of strategy as required.


Execution also changes

Siloed teams of experts are not suitable for the interlocking and converged nature of modern communications. As business move away from linear marketing thinking, linear project and communication management becomes less and less valid. There are a lot of examples of brands responding brilliantly to what, at first glance, would appear to be brand nightmares. What they tend to have in common is that tone of voice, copy, channel selection and campaign execution of the response have been done by agile cross-functional teams working together in tight timescales.


Those teams are made up of ‘T shaped’ marketers. Individuals who have a good broad understanding of all the marketing functions – what they do and how they fit together - and can use that knowledge to ensure their own deep knowledge of particular discipline meshes with their colleagues. Teams made up this way are much more integrated. The hiring policy that creates these types of teams looks not just the individual in the light of a particular skill set, but how well that individual will be able to work with people who have different skills.


There is also an implication when it comes to choosing 3rd party vendors and partners. Whilst it will remain consistently true that a 3rd party may have skills that are not in-house, especially in niche skill areas, 3rd parties being brought into a marketing organisation will have the same responsibility of ‘cross-border’ understanding incumbent on the in-house team.


There are lessons to be learnt here for more formal set piece communications. Don’t let agencies or in-house teams pitch a ‘big idea’ campaign that may be delivered 6 months hence. Encourage them to pitch an approach that will allow the business to be sure of producing content and communications that are appropriate to the audience at the time of delivery – to produce marketing that is relevant.



Modern marketing is not just something triggered by social media changes or something that is happening at the fringes of communication. It represents a profound shift in thinking and one that is led by customers and consumers themselves. All businesses have to react and that reaction has to encompass every part of marketing from strategy to execution and from team structure to the hiring of individuals.






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