“Disruption” has become a blanket term to encapsulate the massive changes affecting businesses.
But the term’s overuse and broadness have obscured what really matters to marketing. Often
missing in the debate is a clear-eyed look at the causes of disruption to help marketers make better
decisions regarding what to do about them.
The quest to provide more clarity into disruptions was the catalyst for a new ANA (Association
of National Advertisers) survey “Marketing’s Moment: Leading the Disruption” of 374 client-side
marketers.1 What came through loud and clear is that marketing leaders are deeply concerned
with the “three C’s of disruption”: content (cited by 81% of respondents as a disruption), complexity
(80%), and connected and empowered consumers (74%). Underlying those concerns is the pace of
In response, marketers are already on the move. Some 77% agree that within the next three years
they need to have clearly defined customer journeys to understand where they need to focus
their marketing programs, although only 50% have these capabilities today. And while two-thirds
understand the marketing disruptions they are dealing with and are, at the very least, building that
understanding into their strategy, only 13% have reached a point where they’re taking action and
achieving measurable impact.
The underlying issue is that most marketers continue to labor within frameworks that inhibit true
transformation. In our experience, systems, processes, budgets, and metrics are still designed
largely around mass campaigns and promotions, the decidedly old-school methods of broadcasting
to customers. More broadly, the functions outside marketing’s control, from finance to the contact
center, are similarly locked into models built to manage and measure products and services, not to
align with current customer dynamics. As a result, marketers’ aspirations far outstrip their operations.
Addressing this deeper challenge requires a new disruption, to the marketing organization itself.
The solution isn’t sexy. Real change requires digging into the more mundane but fundamental
necessities of operations, processes, and organization.
While the path is clear to many marketers, barriers remain. The survey uncovered five blind spots
that threaten to derail marketing’s transformation.
- A fractured customer experience
Continuously evolving customer expectations are a major disruptive force, but marketing is still
limited in its ability to shape the entire experience. Marketers are most active in collecting insights
that provide competitive advantage (86%) and helping to shape business strategy (82%). But
their role continues to lag in critical areas: CRM and loyalty (66%), customer support (66%),
and managing the entire customer decision journey (67%). This lack of responsibility—and
accountability—for the entire customer journey will continue to inhibit marketers’ efforts to develop
seamless and consistent experiences across all touchpoints. Even within marketing, silos inhibit
coordination, resulting in less-than-ideal customer experiences.
- Content primacy without strategy and operations
Brands are confronting a seemingly insatiable demand for fresh “content”—everything a customer
sees when interacting with a brand across every channel. Gone are the days of relying primarily on
advertising as the method of engaging consumers. Content has its own complexity.
There’s a mad scramble for content talent. The percentage of companies with formal contentstrategy roles has risen from 35% in 2013 to 71% this year and will increase to 84% by next year.
What’s astonishing, however, is that 84% of marketers do not have a formal content strategy
or underlying production and distribution processes. While marketers have been increasing
investment in content creation and distribution, the lack of true “content supply-chain
management”—involving the agencies, production houses, functions, and media companies that
create and distribute a brand’s content across all channels—will undermine efforts to positively
shape the customer experience.
- Disconnects between leadership and the front lines
While marketers overwhelmingly agree on the importance of test-and-learn methods as
a response to disruptive forces, they aren’t putting in place the agile processes to make
experimentation a core competency. Despite the rapidly changing landscape, 43% of marketing
leaders believe they are not empowered or encouraged to experiment and innovate. Even worse
is the significant disconnect between senior management and the front lines: While 70% of CMOs
say they employ agile marketing processes to analyze and iterate marketing plans and tactics as
frequently as needed, just 45% of marketing VPs and directors and 50% of managers agree.
For one survey respondent, marketing has faltered by “not making ‘disruptive’ a conscious part of
our integrated planning process.” That needs to change.
- Hiring talent – but not managing it
Bringing on new talent is one of the most important strategies for dealing with disruptions (91%),
essentially as important as investing in new technology. Marketers continue to add new roles
for digital transformation (77% plan to do so by next year, up from 43% last year), customer
experience (67% from 41%), marketing operations (74% from 56%), and, as noted earlier, content
Nearly nine in 10 respondents (89%) say training and skills development play an important role
in the response to disruptions, underscoring the need to upgrade the skills of existing marketers
while ensuring that newly hired talent continues to develop as the disruptions continue.
But are companies doing enough to nurture and accommodate dramatically changing skill sets,
not just within marketing but across the entire organization? Just 61% said executive education
programs were important for responding to disruptions, well behind those who cited investments
in new technology (94%), new marketing models (93%), and several other priorities.2 And only
35% are investing in new models for employee/worker management. Nearly half (48%), however,
plan to invest in new management models over the next three years, an encouraging sign.
- Decisions without data
There’s a gap between those who acknowledge the disruptions caused by the complexity and
fragmentation of marketing (80%) and those who are increasing investment in response to this
disruption (67%). Most marketers acknowledge that data and analytics are the key to addressing
a more complex landscape; 96% said the ability to make data-informed decisions is their mostneeded capability to respond effectively to disruptions. However, about a quarter of companies
are not using data to make decisions, and almost half say they still don’t have the right analytics in
place to measure the effectiveness of marketing investments. These companies risk falling behind
as their more data-driven competitors improve the pace and quality of decision-making.
How marketing can get ahead of the disruptions
We’re no longer on the cusp of massive change; we’re right in the middle of it. While just 16% of the
marketing leaders in our survey said their organizations currently have networked models (crossfunctional teams that collaborate more closely), almost 63% aspire to be networked within the
next three years. That’s a staggering 280% increase and a reflection of the scale of change that is
happening. The leaders of the new marketing organization must become masters of operations,
challenging themselves to unlock the blockages that impede them from aligning around customer
journeys instead of products. Marketing has the best view of customer engagement to drive the
enterprise forward, orchestrating resources, defining processes and governance, and building
the needed analytics and content supply-chain capabilities. It is not a small task, but it is the “all-in”
mobilization that will enable marketers to ride the wave of disruption rather than be swept away by it.