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The elusive capabilities every marketing team wants but are struggling to build

I recently sat down for breakfast with a marketing leader of a services company. As they eloquently articulated the challenges ahead of them, the conversation was all too familiar. The business has appointed a new CEO, business and digital transformation are key priorities, with a strong focus on the customer - the marketing function needs to have greater influence over the organisation's agenda but the organisation doesn’t truly grasp the true value of marketing. The team is junior and even at more senior levels there is a lack of experience and skills to drive a new agenda forward. The leader is battling on many fronts – trying to lead the strategic charge and continue to keep the BAU wheels turning. Sound familiar?

What organisations expect and demand from marketing today is different from years gone by however unfortunately many marketing teams have failed to adapt and evolve and are now scrambling in the face of change.

The elusive capabilities of Australian marketing teams

In our recent Marketing State of Play research report, we asked marketing leaders across Australia to identify the 3 capabilities that they felt were most important to realise their marketing ambition and of those which ones they were finding most challenging to develop. Unsurprisingly much of the top 6 were dominated by disciplines which have dominated industry discussion over the past 5 – 7 years and are perceived as important capabilities of any modern marketing function. But despite the hype around data driven marketing, personalisation, MarTech (and the list goes on) – material progress has stalled.

So why is it that marketing teams are struggling to build capability in key areas like data, analytics & MarTech? Some might argue that for too long much of the strategic thinking and technical execution has been outsourced to agencies. And whilst agencies play an important role – some of that capability now needs to exist internally.

But in reality, it’s slightly more complicated than that.

Data and analytics

Data skills and expertise are just some of the many challenges holding marketing teams back from building data and analytics capability. From our research we found, two in three marketing leaders feel that their marketing functions lack strong data literacy skills. So, it comes as little surprise that 36% are struggling to build capability in data strategy & management and 25% are struggling to build marketing & customer analytics capability. Over time, marketing teams have attempted to “hire” the expertise from outside the organisation to plug the gap but the limited talent pool makes it difficult to attract and retain staff to build sustainable capability. What’s more, often hiring specialist expertise is not coupled with upskilling the broader team – creating pockets of expertise rather than resulting in true capability build.

But it isn’t just data literacy and knowledge that is stifling progress. Focus and attention are also key inhibitors. In today’s busy marketing departments, we find ourselves struggling to keep our head above water. Performance measurement can sometimes be seen as optional, not necessary and injecting analysis and data into decision making can be perceived as stifling creativity, not enabling it.

Accessibility can also inhibit capability build in areas of data and analytics. In fact, our Marketing State of Play study found that more than one in five marketing leaders are struggling to gain access to data. Whilst managing risk is important, a healthy balance needs to be struck to empower marketing teams to leverage data to play its role.

As we move into a privacy first future and brands are pushed to build first party data assets, the lack of capability in data and analytics will become even more apparent and will challenge marketing departments in ways it never has before.

marTech capability

MarTech is often sold into organisations as a turn-key solution which is where the problems start as the business underestimates what it will truly take to derive value from the platform and deliver on anticipated outcomes.

When it comes to MarTech there are a number of factors at play that are inhibiting capability build within marketing teams. Over-reliance on external vendors to do the heavy lifting is one. Whilst external vendors play a vital role particularly in the initial implementation phase – marketing teams need to consider what knowledge and expertise they need to embed overtime, to effectively leverage the platform. A lack of investment in people and skills and an inability to embed marTech into everyday working rhythms are also some of the key factors impacting the build of MarTech capability which is ultimately impacting implementation success rates.

Building capabilities that stick

Its nice to take comfort in the fact that some of the capabilities you are seeking to build are not just challenges for your team but the marketing community more broadly. We see a stack of money being thrown at MarTech investment that is failing, as well as investment going towards data models and analytics which aren’t operationalised. To truly transform your team and build capability that sticks what do you need to consider?

1. Go beyond hiring; True capability builds when knowledge is embedded across the team not simply residing with a specialist. Think about how to cross-skill and upskill team members more broadly to have everyone pulling together to achieve the key outcomes.

2. Be clear on which capabilities you seek to build – When articulating your strategy, think about the 3 – 5 core capabilities you seek to build to focus your efforts. Share these with your team so they understand what is important and co-create a plan and roadmap to build the capability over time.

3. Crawl before you walk or run – One of the biggest mistakes that is often made is the assumption that capability can be built in a matter of a few weeks or months. In some environments it will take longer than others so give consideration to how you can crawl / walk then run – building capability overtime.

4. Be prepared to stay the course – Building new capability may take 18 months – 2 years to do so and so you need to be prepared to stay the course, learn from the journey and pivot accordingly.

Looking to build marTech and Data or other modern marketing capabilities, find out how we can help with our digital strategy & transformation or our marketing transformation & performance advisory services.


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