Digital is the clay with which marketing will remodel business

IBM recently announced a $100m investment in its Interactive Experience arm. Essentially, this is IBM’s global digital agency. It’s not IBM’s traditional territory but in Econsultancy’s upcoming Top 100 UK Digital Agencies, you will see names such as IBM, Deloitte Digital and Accenture Interactive ranking highly.

Ashley Friedlein

What is interesting about this trend, apart from the challenge to current agency propositions, is that these management consultancies are selling to marketers. They seek to persuade digital marketers, ecommerce practitioners, marketers more broadly and the chief marketer in particular, that they are the ‘future fit’ choice of partner.

The bigger game is that digital transformation is part of marketing transformation, which itself is part of business transformation. This is the big prize these organisations are chasing and digital is their Trojan Horse that gets them inside the walls.

Although digital is the catalyst and driving force behind change, particularly for organisations whose business models have been most disrupted, it looks like marketing as a function within business is to be the primary agent of change.

As marketing is so customer-focused, this may not come as a surprise. But we as marketers should recognise that we are undergoing changes that are at the vanguard of a movement that will change the entire business. Which is exciting, if also challenging.

There are various ways you can grapple with transformation and change. One model is to look at it across strategy, people, process and technology. So how might marketing transform your business across these four axes?

Let’s take strategy first. More companies are looking at growth and many of them are seeking to grow by reinventing the customer experience across all channels, driven by digital, to align with changing customer behaviour and a shifting business model. Marketing is clearly in a good position to lead these changes.

Historically, capital expenditure has largely been focused on property, infrastructure and ‘big tech’. We are increasingly seeing evidence of capital expenditure moving towards intangibles like data, content and code. The move to the cloud, remote working and so on, means investment can be redirected towards intellectual property and the customer experience. This should be good news for marketers.

Second, people. I have written previously on the subject of ‘pi-shaped’ people – marketers with a broad base of knowledge in all areas and capabilities in both ‘left brain’ and ‘right brain’ disciplines ( – and what it means to have a digital culture. The types of people who are most in demand are those who underpin the kind of marketing outlined in our Modern Marketing Manifesto. But the hallmark skills of these people – customer-centricity, collaboration, transparency, multidisciplinary teams, data-driven decision-making, etc – are increasingly being sought across the entire business, not just digital or marketing..

The way we work is also changing, which brings us to the third axis: process. Most obviously, ‘agile’ processes are escaping just software development and being applied to digital product development and, increasingly, marketing. Likewise, there is much effort to create more ‘social enterprises’ that are more porous and better at sharing and communicating. Physical environments are changing to support these ways of working.

Lastly, technology. You may have noticed a trend towards marketing technology ecosystems, or ‘marketing service providers’ (MSPs). Everyone has their ‘marketing cloud’ with a suite of services. A new marketing technology operating system is emerging. At its heart is data. Wrapped around that are various applications that speak to each other via application programming interfaces (APIs) and build customer experiences using the new building blocks of marketing: design patterns, user experience frameworks, metadata and content-as-a-service.

Over the coming years, there is the opportunity not only for marketing to reinvent itself but for marketing to be the change agent that transforms the entire business.

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