I often get asked what it means to be a modern marketer. Is it indicative of a unique skill set, different from that of marketers ten years ago? Does it require special training? Is it just a frame of mind?
At its core, great marketing is today what it has always been – the creation of meaningful connections between brands and consumers. Sometimes the outcome is a sale; sometimes it’s something softer. But either way, driving these connections is every bit as important today as it was in the past. What’s different today is the diverse and rapidly-expanding toolkit we’re now using to establish these connections, along with our expectations for the form those connections ultimately take.
Over the past few months, I’ve challenged myself to think beyond the traditional and venture into new territory. Taking risks, failing fast, learning, and finding new success.
While I still have a toe in my traditional roots, I know the future of marketing innovation comes from us. Marketers that innovate and shed stereotypes. Marketers who aren’t afraid to try, fail, learn, and evolve.
With this in mind, here’s what I believe it means to be a modern marketer:
Forget the Funnel.
The waning importance of the traditional sales/marketing funnel is hardly a new concept. In fact, thought leaders from various industries have voiced concerns for years about the dangers of following a traditional funnel model. In a 2014 Harvard Business Review article, “Marketing Can No Longer Rely on the Funnel,” authors Mark Bonchek and Cara France assert that according to the many, high-profile marketing leaders interviewed for the article, “the primary problem with the funnel is that the buying process is no longer linear.”
The validity of this claim has only increased over the last four years. A clean path from awareness to consideration to decision simply no longer exists. Prospects now embark on self-guided tours throughout the process, often choosing to leap between stages or hang out in a single stage indefinitely.
As marketers, we must evolve our thinking from linear to cyclic flows and from buying processes to more intimate, commercial relationships.
Craft the Stack.
There’s an ongoing debate surrounding the question of buy versus build when it comes to the best MarTech solution. It’s my opinion that a successful MarTech stack is one that’s crafted, not bought.
Why? Quite simply, there is a remarkable array of specialized solutions available in the market today that allows one to build a custom stack from a variety of best-in-class technology. Cherry-picking MarTech solutions allows businesses to meet unique, specific needs without paying for features it neither wants nor needs.
Shorten the Plan.
The great customer journeys of the future will be adaptive. Technology has dramatically shortened the time it takes to engage with consumers, and, as importantly, receive feedback from the interaction. The ability to adapt and evolve based on both the positive and negative aspects of customer interactions has long been a hallmark of a successful marketing program. But instead of the process taking months – sometimes years – to complete, today’s marketers must produce, observe, and react in days, hours, and/or minutes.
The takeaway in all of this is that the annual planning cycle is, at best, highly ineffective in meeting the needs of a modern marketer – at least when it comes to tactical planning and execution.
While annual plans may still have relevance for financial forecasting and in establishing long-term goals and objectives, a tactical plan that is locked beyond 90 days just no longer makes sense.
Give “Best Practices” the Boot.
The concept of “Best Practices” relies heavily on long-term data that supports generalized outcomes. Neither have much relevance for today’s marketer.
While such aggregated data certainly has importance, its value lies in its ability to help drive understanding of macro market trends and mass outcomes, not to help us define the highly-targeted strategies needed to find success in today’s market. Today’s marketer must embrace the highly-customized, somewhat-volatile wants and needs of today’s consumer. And for that, there simply is no “best practice.”
Focus on the customer.
Ask most companies today, and you’ll hear all about how customer-focused they’ve become. But to be truly customer-centric means more than just placing a priority on customer feedback. For many, it means taking a hard look at internal organizational structures and re-evaluating the fundamental ways in which the company operates.
Product-centric and channel-centric go-to-market approaches are deeply embedded in the core culture of many companies. Think for a moment about how most companies organize their sales and marketing groups. It’s not at all unusual to find unique groups managing different sales channels and product lines, each with independent profitability goals and organizational structures. To become truly customer-centric requires shifting focus from high-value channels or products to priority customers (and segments of customers).
By identifying and prioritizing high-value customer segments, profitability can be optimized across products and sales channels to align with the wants and needs of the most important customers.
Fast and agile.
In our new, tech-driven marketing world, the only real constant is change. Embrace it. A modern marketer is required to deliver, assess, and optimize tactics in real time, often with reliance upon cross-functional stakeholders. To do so requires a corporate culture of open-mindedness and flexibility – and a desire to deliver big success via a multitude of small failures.
Marketing campaigns no longer have clear beginnings and endings, and the fluidity of on-the-go learning, especially within the context of social media, has given rise to more adaptive campaign development and execution.
To quote my friend, agility expert Anthony Coppedge, “In order to respond quickly to change, marketing teams are embracing agility to deliver faster and shift away from rigid planning to adaptive campaigns so that they can quickly test, measure, and validate outcomes through team-based collaborative workflows…Outcomes are the new metrics for delivering value, and Agile Marketing focuses on those outcomes.”
Salesforce published an infographic a few years back asserting that modern marketers must be “part artist, part scientist,” and I believe this has become even more relevant over the last five years. Trust data, but don’t ignore your gut.
The dynamic nature of modern marketing tools, technology, and customer expectations affords amazing opportunities to experiment and validate a wide array of consumer assumptions, making it possible to deliver more influential, meaningful interactions than ever before. Shortened plan cycles and non-linear customer journeys allow marketers to take risks and try things that would have been too dangerous or inefficient to implement ten years ago.
Modern marketers must change views around risk-taking, both inside the marketing org and out. Controlled risk-taking is an asset that successful companies will learn to use often and adeptly.
For the modern marketer, change is the only constant – and success will ultimately be defined by how quickly and adeptly one evolves with the industry.