Data and analytics are the biggest source of opportunity for marketing and communications, according to a new poll of C-suite executives and senior marketers. However, only half believe their companies are well prepared to take advantage of the changing face of marketing.

Three-quarters of respondents globally choose data and analytics as a significant creator of opportunity, coming ahead of new technology and two-way customer communications as the most popular of the 16 options presented. But only 17% strongly agree and 33% slightly agree that their company is in a position to manage and capitalise on changes in the field of marketing. That means just 50% in total – and 53% of C-suite respondents – are confident their organisations can respond. They are more positive about their personal preparedness, with 62% of all executives (61% of C-suite) strongly or slightly agreeing that they are individually able to perform this task.

The survey of 208 Financial Times (FT) readers, including 152 C-suite executives and 56 senior marketers from across business sectors and territories, was conducted by media agency Maxus Global. “The pace of change in all industries is only intensifying with technological progress,” says FT global insight director Enzo Diliberto. “Developments come fast and often, and are almost exclusively driven by factors that are out of our control. The study among FT readers highlights a concern: even if most leaders identify the opportunities presented by change in consumer behaviour, many large organisations are not prepared to capitalise on these.”

Executives’ belief that their organisations are not in a position to adapt to the marketing requirements of the near future is perhaps partly caused by their biggest business hurdles being variables they cannot influence. They see legislation, economic factors and political factors as their greatest challenges. These also receive fewest votes as sources of opportunity. The pessimism around companies’ readiness is important because 58% of executives expect the rate of change in marketing to increase substantially in the next three to five years, while two-thirds also believe it is substantially faster now than five to 10 years ago.

“What’s interesting is that we are now seeing three dimensions of change: complexity and sophistication; sheer breadth and range; and staggering velocity,” says Maxus Global chief development officer Richard Stokes.

New technology is the biggest driver of change in marketing and communications, executives believe, with 64% saying it has ‘high impact’. Consumers’ access to information (48%) and their expectations (44%) rate as the next most important factors transforming the industry.

Most companies appear aware of the need to respond to the increasing rate of change, as 96% of executives say the topic is discussed internally, while most also acknowledge that their own business needs transforming; less than a fifth believe their company requires little or no change.

Priorities to address

For the majority of respondents, people skills and company culture are considered the two biggest barriers to achieving change, though middle managers are more likely to observe this than the C-suite. These are also the top two priorities executives feel they must address in their efforts to adapt.

Yet these priorities do not go so far as to encompass new HR models or specialist job roles, which only a minority of executives consider important. Instead, they are focused on taking agile and experimental approaches to marketing.

Looking closely at agency relationships is not considered a particularly important task, but the data suggests executives should be devoting more attention to this. When asked which areas have delivered positive results in capitalising on changes in marketing and communications, ‘managing agency partnerships’ sees the joint-lowest number of respondents saying they have seen high or very high success levels. Adopting new HR models ranks lowest, followed by using specialised job roles.

What is more, only 2% of executives believe their agency partners do ‘very well’ in helping them manage change, with more than a third calling them just ‘average’. Marketers do not appear to be communicating the value of agencies to their boards, since 30% of C-suite executives do not know how well their company’s agencies are performing.

But Stokes’ Maxus is hopeful: “Marketers are perfectly positioned to deliver on drivers of change, and so the role of marketing is greatly enhanced. Our focus has evolved beyond creating awareness of products or services. Now, we have opportunities to influence purchase, skew outcomes, drive loyalty and forge long-term relationships enhanced with micro precision relevance and targeting. Ours is an exciting discipline to be involved in on both sides of the fence and, importantly, agencies need to stand and deliver in this context.”