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Marketers Urged To Become ‘Post-Digital’ At Forrester Event

The human factor will play a large part in the next evolution of marketing, according to speakers at Forrester Research’s Marketing 2016 forum, this week in New York City.

Even as digital tools multiply and become table stakes for operations, post-digital marketing will rely more than ever on humans and their intuition and curiosity to serve as a filter and a balance to all the noise generated by social media, mobile, and the Internet of Things.

Sessions at the event repeatedly encouraged marketers to “become a post-digital marketer” who assumes digital channels as the starting point of most efforts. But nearly every speaker noted that traits such as curiosity and emotional intelligence are as important or more to marketing chiefs than data or technology skills in order to keep up with a demanding, fast-moving consumer.

“Isn’t everything digital?” asked eBay CMO Suzy Deering. “We have to make sure to turn our brand inside out.” But, like most speakers, Deering noted the consumer focus is the overwhelming quality that drives marketers. While eBay started in the digital space, it continually adapts to the way consumers use the media, aiming for moments that matter to consumers, she said.

Digital media, and its empowerment of individuals, has made the marketer’s job more difficult, said Kathy Collins, CMO of H&R Block. “Everybody thinks they’re a marketer now,” she said. Block has 10,000 local offices, which can potentially have as many messages out in the market, she noted. As such, Collins said she sees part of her job as serving as a filter, or “brand cop,” who enforces a set of brand guidelines while offering “freedom within a framework” to those would-be marketers.

The growth in channels has brought an explosion of data that marketers continue to grapple with, speakers said. Dashboards and other visualization tools have helped organize the reams of metrics, but they don’t give them meaning, noted Mickey Mericle, VP, marketing insights, analytics, and operations at Adobe (CMO.com’s parent company).

“I need a dashboard for my dashboards,” she said.

Metrics can lose their value if they’re doing nothing but measure, Mericle said. Marketers need less information and more insights from it, she added.

“We are in a dysfunctional relationship with data,” said Joshua Reynolds, head of marketing and client consulting at tech company Quantifind. Data management suffers from “premature extrapolation,” he joked, before seriously explaining that marketers are asking the wrong questions from volumes of data full of irrelevant metrics. He proposed a “human-in-the-loop” approach to analytics, which starts with a clear question and goal, so algorithms can clear out the extraneous data and leave humans to study only the points relevant to the business questions they wish to tackle.

This requires both curiosity and intuition, which Reynolds likened to human algorithms. He noted Quantifind worked with a fast-food company that wanted to find out why its new breakfast menus were not more popular with teens. A closer look at the cleaned-up data found the chain’s new coffee was the culprit—moms hated it and wouldn’t drive their kids there in the mornings. After the coffee blend was switched, breakfast sales to teens doubled.

By leveraging the ability to produce those kinds of business results, marketers are in a prime position in this environment where business has to maneuver quickly and face constant disruptions, speakers said. As the voice of that empowered digital consumer, CMOs are in the right place to lead innovation in products and services that can be the difference between profits or losses, they said.

“We’re here to drive the business,” said Lilian Tomovich, CMO of MGM Resorts International. Marketers are “the tip of the spear” because of their consumer focus, said Carl Doty, VP, group director of Forrester.

Most CMOs on stage called for a redefinition of the role of the marketing chief in this new environment. Michael Williams, former CMO of Formula 1-Grand Prix of America, called the title “archaic” and proposed “chief engagement officer” as an alternative.

Williams, now president of sports, media, and entertainment at mobile platform Pypestream, warned that a “seismic wave of change is coming” along with the rise of the Millennial and Gen Z generations. Marketing to Gen Z will have to be immediate, personalized, and authentic to meet their standards, said Anna Fieler, EVP of marketing at media company Popsugar. Seven billion people are under the age of 30 worldwide, Williams said, and they process information faster and in different ways than previous demographics.

Product and technology life cycles are shrinking, and it’s almost impossible for marketers to catch up when they miss a technology cycle. They have to adapt their way of working to enable speed, said Michael Mendenhall, CMO of Flex.

“Most companies want to believe they’re digital and they’re innovative, but they haven’t adopted a culture of innovation,” Mendenhall said.

Some marketers have made an impact because they understand how to transform a company and have been recognized for their work, he said. Mendenhall singled out GE’s former CMO Beth Comstock as a marketer who pushed an innovation culture—one fully supported by her CEO—and also noted Comstock has since risen to vice-chair of the company.

Marketers have to assume responsibility for business results and form partnerships in areas that affect the direction of the company’s growth, such as product development, Mendenhall said. It is “critical” that CMOs participate in the executive-suite discussion; the discussion about CMO and CTO collaboration “is an old conversation,” he said.

“You’re part of a shared responsibility for product innovation in your company,” Mendenhall said. “You’re more about being a commercial officer.”

Consumers are in a “hyper-adoption trend” where they try new products and services at a pace never seen before, said James McQuivey, VP and principal analyst at Forrester. Marketers have to keep up and focus obsessively on the customer; adapting the customer experience can bridge digital disruptions, he said.

“Customer experience will change you, if you let it,” he said. “It’s a tail that can wag your dog to a better place.” 

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