Transformers: The Rise of the Marketers

When an organisation is failing its customers, transformation must happen. 

During the pandemic and the more recent economic recession, we saw many household businesses forced to close their doors. With accelerated changes in customer behaviour and the fast shift to digital platforms, businesses that didn’t adapt to a ‘new normal’ were lost. 

This threat confronts every business however old, however new.  The question is how do make sure the transformation happens and who should lead it? As a senior marketer who has led transformation many times, I’ve got some pretty strong views of my own and I talked with some other CMOs to get theirs. 

First off, when should we transform? 

“Transformations come when organisations/organisms are at a cross in the road; when they are no longer solving the right problems for people; and when they recognise this gap between what they do/make and the needs of the audience they serve,” Rebecca Van Dyck, former VP of Consumer & Brand Marketing at Facebook told me. 

OK, so how often is that gap likely to appear? 

With the internet comes intense, instantaneous global competition and a hitherto unimaginable change in tastes and fashion. Each second, it creates better informed and more demanding customers. It has relegated the concept of intellectual property to ephemera. 

Therefore, most organisations must be at one “cross in the road” or another. And the moment they choose a new direction, there will be another choice to make. As Martin Haering, former Global CMO at Finastra said, “Transformation is an evolutionary and not revolutionary step.” And evolution is a state of perpetual motion. 

So who will lead the transformation? 

A question most organisations face is who should lead this transformation? The CEO? Given that he or she will be rewarded for hitting relatively short-term EBITDA targets, the CEO will have more pressing items on the agenda. Should the CEO create “a centre of excellence” to innovate and drive transformation? Many do, but with limited success. I have seen that 95% of innovation happens outside the company. Go out and learn from the community. 

As the eyes and ears of the business, marketing is the first to see the need for transformation. 

It is for that reason, and others, that I passionately believe that business transformation can – and should – be led by the marketing function. Marketing has the eyes and ears of the organisation. Everyone else’s natural gaze is inward – maybe with the exception of sales.  But even here it is marketing that has the remit and skills to extrapolate the myopic, deal-by-deal view of individuals into a rounded observation of what it happening in the market. 

Here’s an example. 

One of my clients, a fintech firm based in APAC, was looking to develop its European presence. This direction had been made by the board as a next step in growth, and they sought out my expertise as a marketing advisor to build the strategy to make this new market a reality.  

I conducted a strategic marketing audit initially, that assessed the GTM strategy, resources, execution and capabilities, and analysed the company’s digital footprint. From here I could recommend market opportunities, as well as developing the GTM framework, messaging, customer journey, digital and content management strategy. No other department would have the knowledge to build such as wholistic strategy for entering a new region.  

The client is currently in the process of implementing the 12-18 month marketing operating plan I designed, which will achieve £500m revenue over 2 years with a shift to 80% digital marketing at 2.5x ROI.  

Own the number, own the transformation. 

My career as a marketer and now advisor has taught me valuable lessons. First is to hold yourself accountable for the sales numbers. In many large businesses what is fashionably termed “collaboration” can soon morph into a case for passing the buck. Only when you own the number are you in a position to look beyond the marketing brief back into the business as a whole – and have the remit to act upon it. All my strategies focus on the numbers that will be achieved through marketing.  

A quick look at this chart that I have developed shows the danger of Marketing owning the new revenue number and then relying solely on traditional marketing approach to hit it – assuming, of course, that the amount of marketing dollars remains constant. 

You have asked for the budget and committed to hit the number. You do brilliant work and from a pure marketing perspective (i.e. OTS, click through rate, enquiries, etc.) you hit the number.  But – and it’s a huge but – the business’ operations have held you back. And if the top line should have dropped during the lifetime of your campaign, you can be pretty sure where the finger will point! Furthermore, businesses driven by quarterly reporting will always cut the “non-critical” marketing budget at the first sign of financial trouble. Not only is marketing “not working” but the resources it gets to “work” are constantly being cut. 

If that’s the case, you might as well grip the problem in its entirety and start transforming those operations. 

To identify and then fix what is holding the business back takes a rounded knowledge of how the business works, what motivates employees and deft, yet fearless, political acumen. 

None of these traits and attributes are beyond senior marketers. Indeed, they exercise them to some degree every day just to accomplish the “marketing brief”. The key is to lift your head from that narrow brief and embrace the wider picture. 

Marketing is in the best place to identify the need for transformation and inherently has the skill to drive it. After all, the number one outcome of any marketing brief is to change the behaviour of customers. 

It is a small step, bravely taken, to change the behaviour of the business as a whole. But…what if it is marketing that needs to change?