Are we witnessing a reverse takeover of marketing by digital?

Ashley Friedlein article

It is now just over two years since we published the final draft of our Modern Marketing Manifesto. At the time we were trying to articulate a kind of marketing where ‘digital’ was not separate. We identified twelve constituents of this ‘modern’ marketing each with associated tenets.

So how has our manifesto weathered two years of reality?

The tension between digital being separate or fully integrated has not gone away. Most agree that digital should be fully integrated and we can exist in a “post-digital” world. Forrester predicted that this would happen in marketing in 2013 and nine months later P&G’s global brand building officer Marc Pritchard called the end of the digital marketing era.

Whilst there are earnest attempts to make this a reality, we are very far from that yet. Indeed, digital has extended far beyond the customer-facing worlds of marketing, sales and service and the talk now is of ‘digital transformation’ that fundamentally changes business models, working practices and cultures. Brands are struggling to become digital fast enough and far from integrating digital are variously buying start-ups, getting into corporate venturing, firing up Labs initiatives, and opening offices in Shoreditch. In the world of media and advertising many brands are setting themselves targets to become more programmatic (i.e. digital), even 100% so in some cases.

All of which makes me wonder whether, rather than seeing a dissolution of ‘digital’ back into marketing, we are actually witnessing a reverse takeover of marketing by digital? In the end I cannot see how this can be called anything other than ‘marketing’, so digital will indeed die, but not before it has fully infected the mothership. We see these convulsions being played out not only in corporate venturing and innovation initiatives but in new job titles and organisational structures. Chief Digital Officer seems somewhat stillborn as a job title, at least in the UK, but Chief Customer Officer is still on the rise and often this role is not just about customer-centricity but is also an attempt to fuse digital and marketing in one position.

The manifesto also focused on the rise of data and technology in marketing. No real surprise that this continues to be a hot topic. The world of adtech (advertising technology) has expanded into madtech (marketing and advertising technology) and straight martech (marketing technology). Whether Gartner’s 2012 prediction that the CMO would have a bigger tech budget than the CIO by 2017 actually comes to pass we do not yet know but certainly that was prescient as a direction of travel. Once again emerging job titles tell the story: marketing technologist, creative technologist, smart creative, data scientist, growth hacker.

Despite the importance of technology the manifesto of 2013 also emphasised the criticality of creativity, particularly around product and service design. The ‘return’ of creativity and design was one of the three digital mega trends I highlighted for 2015. In the intervening years we have seen everyone from brands to agencies to consultancies bolstering their design capabilities: Accenture acquired Fjord, the service design consultancy, and IBM announced a $100m investment in building its Interactive Experience arm. If you look at some of the cutting edge digital marketing approaches at the moment, for example programmatic, the challenge on everyone’s lips, apart from talent, is not a technology one but a creative one.

Personalisation was also one of the twelve constituents of our manifesto. In our Digital Trends for 2015 research with Adobe personalisation came out second only to Customer Experience (also in our manifesto) as the most exciting trend both for 2015 and in five years’ time. Personalisation is still more talked about than effectively executed but there are promising green shoots. At our Marketing Week Live event recently Jennifer Day, Shop Direct’s head of customer management and personalisation (spot another job-title-as-lagging-indicator-of-trend), talked about the sales impact personalisation is having and said it would drive £20m of incremental revenue this year.

Someone asked me recently whether the modern marketing manifesto needed updating. An even more modern one. New and improved. I don’t think so. But what do you think?

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