Leading the digital evolution with Econsultancy

It’s no secret. Marketing has changed.

To better understand the organizational factors driving positive results for companies in today’s technology-enabled marketing environment, we partnered with Econsultancy to complete field research and to find out how the digital marketing capabilities of the Global 1,000 have evolved.

The final product, Leading a Digital Marketing Evolution: Lessons in Transformation, Culture and Technology from the Global 1,000, is a detailed look at the challenges that large companies face in being responsive, efficient and innovative today.

I sat down with the one and only Stefan Tornquist, Econsultancy’s VP of Research for the US, to discuss the research.

Q: Marketing has evolved so much—largely due to advancements in technology and the rise of digital. Going in to this project, did you expect the Global 1,000 to be struggling with tech integration?

Just being big doesn’t solve all of your problems. Sure, the global 1,000 have enormous advantages in size, scale and resources, but they have to pay a price in complexity. You see different challenges in technical integration for this group than you do in the midmarket. For example, global companies will have issues of internationalism and internal issues where one department has access to specific technologies and others don’t.  In this type of situation you could see one product line using social listening systems or messaging automation while others don’t.

With all of the moving parts inherent at this kind of scale, getting all of the marketing applications that produce our bounty of data to speak to one another in machine languages they can all understand is a tremendous challenge.

What did surprise me is the strength of the connection between a marketing organizations’ technology and their overall success. The most successful companies, a group that we call “leaders” throughout the report, see their tech very differently from the rest of the sample. They are far more likely to say that their digital marketing technologies empower everything they do, while most companies feel impeded by it much of their time.

Q: What finding was the biggest shock for you?

There’s a lot of interesting findings and even a few shocking ones that I guess you could describes as falling under “self-delusion.” For example, if you were to ask the global 1,000 C-suite, you’d get pretty close to 100% saying “digital is a top priority.” But when you ask the upper and middle management that same question, less than half say that their C-suite really “gets” digital.

Another example is strategy. I’m fascinated by the gap between intention (strategy) and execution and where the connection breaks down. You can see this inconsistency when you move from general questions to more specific ones. For example, we asked whether marketing leaders thought that their strategy was easy to apply to everyday questions and their response was overwhelmingly positive. But when we approached it from another direction and asked whether everyone on the marketing team could describe current strategy, the response dropped dramatically.

Q: Which finding do you think is most important for marketers to take note of?    

That’s a tough one because it’s going to depend on who a company is and where they are in their own digital transformation. But one of the most universal goals across sectors is to become more “customer-centric” and the study exposes what I think is a significant disconnect in this area.

First, less than half of all responding organizations say that they’re able to understand and measure the financial impact of being customer-centric. Second, only about one quarter report that customer satisfaction is part of the compensation equation for any of their executives.

To me this goes back to whether something is a strategic priority or just a good intention. If a company doesn’t understand how being customer-centric affects financial performance, then it can’t know how to invest or prioritize. At a more granular level, and I hope this doesn’t sound cynical, but how can executives be expected to prioritize customer centricity when their own outcomes aren’t attached to it?

Q:  What are some of the key factors separating the leaders from the followers in the evolution of digital marketing?

We spoke earlier about the role that technology plays a leading organizations, but it’s also important to note that they place a greater emphasis on how their people affect success. We see leaders as much more likely to have defined career paths within digital and to have an emphasis on skills evaluation and training. This attitude pays off in how well they practice marketing, and in employee retention; they are much less likely than others to have difficulty in attracting and keeping top technical digital talent.

Q: Any other last words for our blog readers concerning the report and its findings?

I think the place to start with this report is for readers to figure out where their own organizations sit on the spectrum. If they’re leaders they can look for inspiration on how to push the envelope further and identify the gaps that remain. How are they different from others in the leader category and why?

Mainstream companies can look at their best opportunities to move into a leadership position.  It’s not just about addressing weaknesses, but also about taking areas of competence and turning them into strengths. Change is built on small successes proving a point, and giving rise to larger changes.

Those at follower organizations have to ask themselves whether they think there’s an openness to change. If there is, people who champion a digital shift have huge career upside. If the answer is no, then people need to ask hard questions about how their companies and their careers fit for the future.

Download the full report below.