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digital marketing professional

Emerging trends in digital marketing

6 takeaways from the Gartner Digital Marketing Conference

May 26, 2016

By Karsten Scherer



Think you’re the only digital marketing pro struggling to bridge omnichannel marketing, the customer experience and ROI? Not at all. Last week’s Gartner Digital Marketing Conference provided excellent content and context for marketers facing similarly steep, scary and stimulating challenges.

In her opening keynote, Yvonne Genovese, managing VP for the Gartner for Marketing Leaders analyst team, framed digital marketing’s present and future along three main axes: emerging trends, the increasing importance of data to successful marketing and the criticality of customer experience. Six major themes stood out to me as being particularly actionable or interesting to CMOs and other digital managers.

1. No pressure: CMOs are increasingly on the hook for results

Jake Sorofman walked attendees through Gartner’s 2015 CMO survey results, and every indicator points to Marketing’s newfound status among executive decision makers has solidified. Marketing budgets were up 11 percent in 2015 compared to 2014, and almost two-thirds of CMOS expect their budgets to expand again this year. Given the primacy of the customer in marketing today, technology budgets have increasingly shifted outside of core IT functions and into the CMO’s domain.

However, to butcher Stan Lee’s iconic Spiderman line, with great power comes great accountability. Marketers now have three main directives: drive profitable growth, ‘show me the money’ on the budget spent and creating customers for life. As Sorofman deadpanned, “Effectively, CMOs are under no pressure at all these days.”

How does this manifest itself in marketing’s day-to-day?

  • 73% of marketers today either outright run their own P&L or share that responsibility with another function
  • CMOs are expected to be innovation drivers for their entire company—71 percent of marketers now have a discrete innovation budget
  • That budget is up 5 percent from last year and averages out to 10% of overall marketing spend.

TL;DR? CMOs have almost all the cool toys now, but they’re also being held accountable for clearly showing the value derived from them.

2. CX is still the differentiator … but

In comparing 2014 CMO data to 2015, Sorofman noted that while customer experience remains the new battlefield for differentiation, it lacks a clear mandate. Two years ago, CMOs indicated CX was their top martech investment priority, but in 2015 it slipped to fourth place behind social marketing, digital commerce and marketing analytics, and it has dropped slightly in mean percentage of overall budget allocation.

As Sorofman says, “CX is the sum of all customer experiences pre and post-sale, not just a moment in time.” CMOs are on the hook more than ever, according to Sorofman. Given the increased expectations on CMOs to produce growth rather than just page views, their increasing concern with the systems that create, track and analyze customer engagement should be no surprise.

3. Data-driven marketing displacing marketers’ “gut feelings”

Survey says … almost three-quarters of marketers state most of their decisions will be quantitatively driven by as early as 2017. In Genovese’s words, “Going from the gut is going, going…gone.”

In her CrossFit-themed session on Big Data and data science, analyst Christi Eubanks made it clear the two are not identical, saying, “If Big Data is the equipment, data science is the actual workout.” With marketing now requiring more analytics firepower than ever, CMOs need teams that can balance the art and science of pulling valuable nuggets from the increasing amount of zeroes and ones they have access to. In the Venn diagram of analytics, you’ll find data science in the center.

This creates a steep learning curve for digital marketers as to exactly how to do that. Eubanks delivered my favorite line of the week during another session, a customer panel on metrics: “Marketing measurement is like white denim ... just because you can doesn't mean you should."

All is not lost to the marketing Skynet, however. Kirsten Newbold-Knipp offered a supplemental perspective on where creativity still has a home in data-driven marketing by juxtaposing two politically themed TV shows, one formulated entirely in the data test tube, the other born of a mix of data and intuition. A lay-up question followed: Which one of these shows is on your DVR?

4. Omnichannel remains a chimera for most

Omnichannel, the engagement across channels and devices to provide seamless CX, has long been the considered a Holy Grail of digital marketing. But results so far fall on the Monty Python side of the scale. In a session subtitled ‘The Power of a Few Good Channels," analysts Julie Hopkins, Mike McGuire and Adam Sarner leveraged that CMO survey to examine this gap. In Sarner’s view, most marketing organizations simply aren’t there yet: "[Omnichannel marketing] is just not today’s reality, it’s more like finding Sasquatch or the Loch Ness monster.” Instead, the analysts advised, CMOs should nail a few good channels and make them do most of the heavy lifting.

In examining digital and traditional channel effectiveness, marketers clearly choose digital as more effective. Mapping that across the entire buying cycle revealed the symbiotic relationship between, for example, social media and a company’s website as buyers move through its stages, and each channel plays both a prime and supporting role in creating conversions.

5. The digital marketers talent gap

Every one of these marketing trends requires skilled people to move an initiative from milestone to milestone. Chris Ross examined how the gig economy is affecting the nature of marketing work, as well as CMOs’ opinions on their current vs. ideal mix of internal and external competencies. Given what we’ve covered so far, it should be no surprise that CMOs stack-rank these as their most critical skill sets:

  • Marketing analytics
  • Digital commerce
  • Social media
  • Mobile capabilities

Worth noting is that those are the exact skill sets they struggle the hardest to recruit qualified candidates for. This naturally leads to the mentality of ‘if you don’t have ‘em, buy ‘em’; while over half of CMOs rely heavily on agencies to get work done today, over 65 percent want to rely entirely or for the most part on in-house talent.

Why do CMOs take the third party route, then? Because many think their in-house talent doesn’t measure up on delivering large-scale projects—agencies deliver better quality, and the span of skills and experience is both broader and deeper outside of their organizations’ firewalls.

6. IoT is coming to marketing: Are you ready?

While it’s no secret that the Internet of Things has already impacted virtually every industry, what has gotten less ink is its potential impact on marketing. Given the data that our homes, cars, phones, wearables and everything else generates, IoT stands to provide entirely new ways of engaging with and providing service to the customer in real-time.

Charles Golvin put IoT into context: By 2020, the number of IoT endpoints will number 20 billion, a quarter of which will be for consumer applications. While the challenge is real, Golvin noted that digital marketing has already helped prepare a path there; marketers are already leveraging the increase in channels to interact with customers as well as the increase in data driven by those channels and other sources. His advice to marketers?

  • Choose your IoT pilots carefully
  • Figure out which data you plan on collecting and what its value is to you, your customers and other players in your ecosystem
  • Above all, avoid crossing the creepy IoT line

In closing, the marketing discipline has morphed into a new beast. Sorofman succinctly described that transition when he said that with the vast majority of CMOs merging their digital and offline marketing, “digital marketing has now evolved towards marketing in a digital world."

Given top senior management expectations of marketing leaders—innovation, growth, strategy and digital commerce—marketing now sits at the heart of most organization’s digital transformation efforts. CMOs have more tools in their arsenal than ever, and with opportunities like IoT on the horizon, they’ve got their hands full.

One thing’s for certain, though: The odds that you’ll get bored at work are slim to none.

Related reading

How not to fail as a digital CMO

Karsten Scherer leads influencer relations globally for TEKsystems. He’s interested in the intersection of business, IT, marketing, society, all things digital. 


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