How CMOs Can Navigate Digital Disruption

May 11, 2017
Contributor: Chris Pemberton

Craft a compelling vision and prepare stakeholders for digital change

Disruption and rapid change are the new normal for marketing. Platform providers such as Amazon and Apple change the equation for reaching and engaging customers while disruptions such as machine learning and virtual assistants add enormous complexity to delivering the brand promise. CMOs are often the executive responsible for leading digital transformation amidst this backdrop of disruption and change where agility, speed and execution are the currency of success.

CMOs simply can’t do it all. To deliver on their increased responsibilities, CMOs need to create a compelling vision for the future of marketing in a digital world. The vision needs to be built on a foundation of urgency, opportunity and data. Elizabeth Shaw, Gartner for Marketers research director, discussed strategies for CMOs to lead their organizations in the age of disruption during the 2017 Gartner Digital Marketing Conference“Define what digital transformation looks like for your organization and develop a narrative that acts as a north star,” said Ms. Shaw.

To be effective change agents during times of rapid change, CMOs need to start with their vision. Too often a brand’s marketing future is immortalized in a glossy, or crumpled, vision statement gathering dust on a conference room wall. CMOs needs to evangelize, activate and mobilize the vision. In short, CMOs need to walk the talk.

Create a compelling vision

Start by looking at the world around you. Use the STEEP acronym to first understand the context within which the vision will be created.

Social – What social trends are at play?

Technology – How is technology changing the marketplace?

Economic – What economic changes are likely to impact future opportunities?

Environmental – What environmental considerations need to be considered?

Political – How will the political climate impact a brand’s room to maneuver?

Visions are not “set-it-and-forget-it” exercises. They need to be updated and alive. Answering these questions will help marketing leaders address the common pitfalls of change initiatives such as identifying what has to be done now as opposed to what can be started now that will deliver an outcome later along with the consequences of doing nothing. Many transformation efforts fail because leaders create a vision that’s too lofty and cast too far in the future. Narrow the scope to increase the chances of successful adoption.

Narrow the Scope

Craft the vision through the lens of three key constituents:

Develop a deep understanding of the customer. How have their behaviors, decision processes and expectations changed? Collect and share customer feedback. Take into account that the ubiquity of competitive information leads to more self-directed buying journeys.

What specific investments are competitors making to better respond to customer needs? Consider that the “Internet of Me” means competitors are placing users at the center of every digital experience.

How are new entrants threatening to disrupt your market or industry? Factor in that in the sharing economy, disruptors are changing price/ value equations.

Use case studies to create your narrative (of urgency)

Find, examine and share examples and case studies of disruptive changes to make your vision more realistic. Use the case studies to compare and contrast, not to judge. The examples help you paint a picture of what the future will look like. It’s an exercise of ‘Here’s where we are now and this is what we need to look like in the future.’ “This is important for CMOs,” said Ms. Shaw, “because all successful leaders need to create a sense of urgency. Build your case for change and show why change is necessary now.”

Look for case studies along the entire Buy-Own-Advocate customer experience journey. Amazon’s attention to selection and availability outlines their hyper-focus on the buy phase of the customer experience. Sephora focuses on deepening engagement with existing customers through tools and technology so the customer is more comfortable and purchases more. The cooler brand Yeti built a “Yeti nation” of advocates and influencers to spread the word and activate their advocates.

Make an honest assessment of your need for change. What aspects of the marketing function are lagging and which are leading? That will provide much needed data and truth about the need for (urgent) change.

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