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Why the marketing department is a priority target to transform?

Part one of our marketing transformation series

A recent report by McKinsey found that the COVID-19 pandemic has hastened the rate of adoption of digital channels to interact with customers by three years, with a seven-year acceleration in the rate at which companies develop digital products and services.

Whilst this sounds impressive, and to a certain degree it is, we know that many organisations still lag behind the market and COVID was a catalyst to kick start investment. And whilst material gains have been achieved, it is going to take a concerted effort by organisations large and small to maintain momentum and build maturity.

Whilst digital transformation is an enterprise-wide strategy, one of the primary focusses of any digital transformation is the employee and customer experience. It therefore stands to reason that departments like marketing are the priority targets to be transformed, if the broader enterprise is to be successful.

A 3-speed economy of marketing transformation

A recent study of multinational companies by the WFA into marketing transformation, found that whilst more than 20% of marketing teams are well advanced in their transformation efforts the vast majority (close to 4 in 10) are at the beginning of their journey. Whilst the survey sample size was small, it indeed holds many truths around what is holding marketing teams back from transforming in the ways the organisation needs them to. And many of these hold true no matter if you are in a medium sized organisation right through to a big corporate. In part one of our marketing transformation series we take a closer look at what is hindering marketing transformation efforts.

Five core barriers impacting marketing transformation progress

Whilst there is a myriad of issues that are hindering marketing transformation efforts – from all the work we do in the Marketing Transformation space and what we have learned over time leading transformation, we believe there are 5 core barriers holding marketing teams back. These are;

1. A lack of clear direction and commitment; The recent study by the WFA found that 82% of those with well advanced organisations have a clear plan and roadmap. Whilst a clear plan and roadmap is vital, we would argue effective marketing transformation needs much more than a clear plan and roadmap. It needs commitment. It takes years to transform a marketing function and requires strong leadership to stay the course and reinforce the direction along that journey. Knowing when to pivot is of course also important, but too often transformations are de-railed by tactical pivots that undermine the longer-term direction.

2. Inability to focus on the bigger picture; Spend enough time around marketing leaders and you will find that 9 out of 10 times they will say their biggest challenge is the ability to straddle short- and long-term priorities. Unfortunately marketing departments aren’t back office functions, they drive and influence an array of short-term business metrics (alongside long term) and they are not afforded the time to stop what they are doing to invest and build for the future. Many marketing departments have also been trained overtime to respond to the urgent – which makes it difficult to re-prioritise and refocus energy to build for the longer term. The urgency around short term priorities, leads to a stop start approach to marketing transformation – as it is easy to de-prioritise tasks and initiatives that don’t have immediate benefit. This is further exacerbated by some marketing teams chasing the newest and brightest object rather than invest time and energy in the things that really matter. All of this results in transformation being worked on as and when time affords, which impacts momentum.

3. Talent and expertise to drive the change; Whilst its people not technology that remain the foundation of a marketing department – several studies indicate that marketing teams lack enough concentrated effort and focus on building and evolving skills vital to a modern marketing . A study in the US found that more than 60% of marketing teams are investing little more than $500 on upskilling their teams and 1 in 5 are not investing at all. Whilst a recent study by CIM in the UK found marketers over the age of 44 were receiving far less training than their younger counterparts with nearly one in two aged 44 – 54 receiving no training at all.

To drive marketing transformation, marketing leaders need to place more focus on developing their wider teams as opposed to simply procuring specialists to fill key roles. Whilst new talent is important it needs to be combined with development of the broader team to enable successful transformation and avoid the formation of silos forming within the department.

And it seems that the proof is in the pudding when it comes to investment in training and department with WFA research showing a third of organisations with well advanced marketing transformations have invested significantly in training & development vs 4% stuck in the early stages of transformation.

4. Buy in and active support; If marketing is to effectively transform and become a growth driver for the business, its role within the organisation needs to dramatically evolve. CX, eCommerce, NPD, data and other disciplines are increasingly being owned and driven by the marketing function. As many of these disciplines require marketing to work cross-functionally it requires marketing teams to shift historical perceptions of the role of marketing and to be seen as the rightful owners of such remits. For marketing teams to be seen in this light they need the support of the wider executive. In fact, the WFA research found that half of well-advanced organisations have active support from the C-Suite vs just 4% of organisations at the early stages of transformation. This demonstrates the value and importance of buy in and support from leaders across the organisation. Unfortunately for marketers however, the buy in and support doesn’t occur overnight – it’s a journey and ongoing education process which can take many months or years, so persistence is key. Usually such a journey needs to occur simultaneously as marketing transformation is occurring in order to demonstrate, marketing has the ability to play its role.

5. Mindset; Transformation lives and dies by the people who are driving it and there is overwhelming research that suggests culture and mindsets are normally the number one driver of transformation success or failure. Part of the mindset challenge, is the ability for the leader and the team to embrace change. Too often, resistance to change will be so prevalent that it results in teams reverting back to the old ways of doing things in order to maintain order and cohesion. Sometimes however that resistance isn’t just from team members themselves, it can come from the marketing leaders at the top. As marketing changes and evolves, it means those who have built up years of experience need to evolve their skill sets and knowledge in order to remain relevant. This requires the leader to be vulnerable and honest with themselves about where they are at and what needs to change for them to be successful and some are not willing to make that leap. This puts the marketing team at odds with the organisations needs and direction.

Finding it difficult to kick start your marketing transformation efforts? We are here to help. Find our more about our marketing transformation advisory services here.


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