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Live from MarTech: What every CMO should do to go digital

Last updated on August 17th, 2017 at 11:30 am

What’s the number one worry on the minds of CMOs in the digital age? Fear of losing ground, of falling behind in digital savviness, of becoming irrelevant. No marketing executive ever wants to hear anyone say, “Sorry, but what you’re offering just isn’t relevant anymore.”

Social and mobile are the air we breathe these days. Brand irrelevancy is an ever-present danger CMOs strive to avoid at all costs. But how can you break the compromise between relevance and scale?

That’s precisely what Patrick Spenner, managing director at CEB, the world’s leading member-based advisory company, has spent the better part of a year researching.  He recently spoken at MarTech in San Francisco, where the B2BNN was live covering various sessions on marketing, analytics and advertising.

During his talk, he said his research found there are six common steps CMOs should take to close the digital gap:

  • Boosting investment in marketing.
  • Hiring digital savvy talent.
  • Training existing marketers in digital.
  • Forming partnerships with specialist digital agencies.
  • Establishing digital centers of excellence.
  • Creating digital labs.

These steps are aggressive and, or so the conventional wisdom posits, effective means of maintaining relevance. But what Spenner found was quite surprising. Despite the inherent value of all the aforementioned steps, his research concluded they aren’t really working as advertised, Sure, they spark short bursts of relevance. A breakthrough campaign with a viral element, perhaps. Or maybe the occasional killer app. But that’s not the kind of scaling CMOs ultimately desire.

The CMO of a Fortune 1000 company told Spenner that they wrapped up a campaign with a “big social component.” Good news, to be sure; and that company’s marketers demonstrated that social can drive incremental foot traffic. But the campaign left the company’s marketing team utterly exhausted. This is not sustainable on any grand scale, Spenner adds.

So what does it take to break the tradeoff between relevance and scale? Spenner cites Xiaomi, a Chinese firm which has risen to become the world’s third-largest smartphone distributor despite being just five years old, as a company excelling in recognizing the underlying “soft” aspects of marketing. Those are the unwritten rules, structures and human relationships conducive to bridging the digital gap.

Instead of rolling out new products on a scale measured in years, Xiaomi does it in months, even weeks. Even more incredible is the fact that Xiaomi employs exactly zero full-time marketing staff.

“Xiaomi has transformed the softer underlying components of their ‘operating system,'” explains Spenner. “A critical role [for CMOs] is to catalyze soft changes.”

Be like jazz!

Spenner uses music as an analogy to illustrate the difference in ‘operating system’ cultures at different companies. Traditionally, marketing departments have operated like orchestras, with each person assigned precise, pre-scripted roles to play in a symphony. To succeed in the digital world, Spenner asserts marketing departments should become more like jazz bands—less scripted, more improvisational and softer.

Among major companies, Spenner points to Coca-Cola, more specifically its Content 2020 initiative—which emphasizes a shift from paid to shared media—as an example of how to accomplish this end goal. Spenner calls Content 2020 nothing short of a “new marketing manifesto.”

“In a digital world, shared trumps paid,” notes Spenner, presenting a blueprint for successful system change: Content is designed for share-worthiness and conversation extendability, while new content and conversation management structures enable extensions of customer conversations. Shared value orientation unlocks greater consumer engagement potential, while iterative, co-creative posture among brand marketers, central marketers, agencies and third parties drives conversation agility.

Spenner stresses that a “bolt-on” approach will not work going forward. Only transformation from symphony orchestra to jazz band will do.

Read our other MarTech coverage on product design here


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