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Data vs. Creative: Marketers Peer Into The Digital Future

Life is complicated for marketers, who are struggling to understand their customers and provide them with digital experiences that will turn them into loyalists. So said a panel of experts who gathered to discuss the future of digital experience as part of Adobe’s Think Tank program at Advertising Week. (Note: Adobe is CMO.com’s parent company.)

“Marketers are tasked with growth, but they’re challenged by the data and insights,” said Julie Hopkins, managing vice president at Gartner and moderator of the Wednesday afternoon panel, in New York City. “They have a commitment to data, but the commitment to develop the data is shallow. There’s also a huge skill gap that exists in being a modern, data-driven marketer. There are issues in hiring, finding the right talent, and training for the skillsets needed to [be brought] into the organization.”

By 2025, 30% of all CMOs will come from the data and insights function, said Jamie Punishill, former Forrester analyst and former head of marketing at TIAA-CREF.

“No modern marketing organization can live on the creative function alone anymore,” Punishill said. “The data is important. That’s why [statistician] Nate Silver is the new hero, because he can see what others cannot see.”

The 30% number seemed too low to Megan Burns, consultant and former Forrester VP of customer experience. But that doesn’t mean creative should take a back seat to data, she said. Marketers are going to need to be more balanced, juggling knowledge in the data realm but also having a humanistic view, Burns said. “People won’t be so single-threaded,” she said.  

It will be interesting to see who owns the digital marketing function by 2025, said Rana June, founder and CEO of Lightwave. “Will it be the CDO, the CIO, or the CMO?” she asked the audience.

Whoever it is, that person will need to realize there is no such thing as digital marketing, said John Coyne, head of campaign and marketing experience at Adobe. It is all just marketing. “To me, the best marketers are those who understand the strategy and insight but can also create great content and marry it with the data and insight. Marketers will need to fuse them both together,” he said.

According to Jon Hackett, senior vice president, emerging technology, at Nurun, the agency world already gets it and has been, for some time, building data and insights operations internally that work closely with creative. “The agencies are already thinking of ways to reshape the big ideas and using data to guide creative concepts,” he said.

Organizations that work through the data conundrum and find and cultivate the right talent have an opportunity to create great loyalty, added Jackie Huba, loyalty expert and author.

“The word loyalty is a bastardized word in marketing,” Huba said. “A lot of marketers think loyalty means repeat purchase or a program with points. But loyalty could also mean someone who advocates for you on social media, who loves your brand and loves to come back and tell people about you. So it’s not only those who just buy. It could be folks that are evangelizing the most. The data tells you who those folks are.”

Punishill forecasted that by 2030 50% of all marketing creative will be created on the fly because of consumers’ expectations for real-time digital experiences. Burns agreed and said this will push marketers to get comfortable with ambiguity.

All of the panelists agreed that the No. 1 focus for marketers working on improving the digital customer experience should be people: hiring more and developing those you already have.  

Beyond that, Burns said, partnerships with higher education should be a priority, because that is the only way to get schools to produce the type of talent that the marketing discipline needs. 

“Instructors need to know and actually have experience in the current marketing landscape,” said Lincoln Stephens, co-founder and CEO of the Marcus Graham Project, who works with young people in the industry. There will be 1.4 million marketing jobs to be filled by 2020, he said, and those coming out of college and even business school aren’t prepared for the real marketing world.

Added Burns: “There needs to be a move toward more adjunct professors and more business professionals in higher education.” 

Click here to watch the panel discussion. 

Read related article: “What Makes For A Good CX? Experts At Adobe 'Think Tank' Respond

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