What does the future hold for marketing? With gathering political uncertainty and constantly evolving technology, how will marketers continue to ride the wave of change? The odds are that marketing is due to become even more important.
Once upon a time, there was a marketer who worked for a shoe company. She was very talented and had lots of ideas. Unfortunately, none of the people in charge listened to her point of view, because they thought of marketing as an optional extra, not really something ‘serious’ like finance or operations.
Then, one day, a dark cloud gathered over the shoe company. Soon, the rain began to pour, and the street was flooded. Customers stopped coming to the shop. Neither the finance or operations managers had any idea what to do. Then, up stepped the marketer. She suggested manufacturing waterproof shoes, because she knew customers would visit the shop for something so useful.
Next morning, there was a queue of customers around the corner, all waiting to buy a pair. The owners turned to the marketer to congratulate her, but she had already been headhunted by another shop. They all lived happily ever after – apart from the original shoe company, which went bankrupt when it began to snow…
Uncertainty, risk and opportunity
The moral of this story is that marketing could soon become even more essential for organisations than it already is. The UK’s exit from the European Union will cause a major political – and possibly economic – shock. Businesses across the country will finally face this new reality in day-to-day trading, and, although opportunities will present themselves, there could be many new threats to contend with. Alongside the difficulties already experienced by high street retailers, this ‘cocktail of risk’ will certainly put pressure on organisations. How will marketers need to respond?
Changing customer needs
Chief among these pressures is the continually evolving demands of customers. If the past five years are anything to go by, customers will demand even more from brands, in terms of service quality, product reliability, and the degree to which they handle issues of data, privacy and social values.
Robin Collyer is senior director, marketing and decisioning, at Pegasystems, a US-based customer technology company. He believes that marketers will be essential in helping brands “think outside-in”, rather than “inside-out” by creating an offer that genuinely meets a need, rather than creating one for the latest design created by the development team.
“Artificial intelligence is now enabling brands to determine the ‘next best action’ for each and every individual at the point of interaction, at scale – with breath-taking results. But this requires fundamental change in the organisation and the recognition that it is customers, not products, that drive revenue.”
According to Collyer: “You’re either customer-centric or you’re not; there’s no middle ground. Are you really establishing a balance between the individual customer’s needs and your business objectives at that point of interaction, or simply pushing and hoping?”
Collyer believes that technology is the largest driver of change, and marketers are in the driving seat of this transformation in customer engagement. Indeed, it seems that the relationship between brands and customers will increasingly be defined by technology, with marketing acting as a crucial interface between the consumers and the business.
“The opportunities made possible by technology have accelerated and deepened,” suggests Gareth Evans, growth director at integrated marketing agency, Cogent. “This reminds us that transformation is not the domain of a few, tech-savvy outliers, but that its impetus, execution and success depends on the whole business’s ability to unify.”
Standing out from the crowd
According to Evans, successful adaptation “begins at the intersection of technology, market demands, business process and organisational culture. Marketing, perhaps uniquely, has direct involvement in – and influence over – all of these, and is therefore critical in unifying the business around the transformation vision, both internally and externally.”
Collyer agrees that marketing will be crucial in shaping the perception of the brand externally. “Brands must speak with a single voice – not from departmental silos or specific channels. As consumers, we expect a single, unified and coherent, conversation.”
This is another way in which marketing will become indispensable for businesses: by differentiating the brand offer. Consultancy Interbrand, which researches the financial power of brands across the world, suggests that brands influence consumer choice and create loyalty, attract and motivate talent, and lower the cost of financing. Marketers are the organisation’s leaders in understanding how to create a unified voice for the business, outwardly, through social media and customer relations – and matching this with an internal appreciation among the workforce for the brand’s priorities, aims and values.
Marketing: an indispensable future
The CIM’s recent Export Ready research, conducted in collaboration with PwC, indicates that many marketers are optimistic about the future. Around two-thirds of agency marketers expect a rise in turnover over the next three years, and half of in-house marketers anticipate budget growth in the same period. So, despite the UK’s uncertain economic destiny – and potentially challenging business conditions – marketers are determined to provide value and drive growth opportunities.
Those businesses that survive and flourish will be those brands that recognise the value of marketing, and embed a customer-centric ethos within the organisation. Marketers are already highly focused on acquiring the relevant new skills, and upgrading their competencies. It’s up to businesses to make the decisions, and up to marketers to demonstrate how their contributions matter. One thing’s for certain, if this tale is to end ‘happily ever after’, marketers must continue to play a leading role in the story of each organisation in the quest for prosperity and growth.