Michael Barnett: To lead the digital strategy, first you must be a digital expert

It’s impossible to argue you should be the decision-maker on digital technology unless you can demonstrate your knowledge of it and explain how it adds value.

There is no topic we have covered with as much regularity in Marketing Week – and none that inspires as much soul-searching among the marketers I speak to – as the question of how to influence others in your organisation and convince them that marketing is a function fit to lead the business strategy.

It’s a goal marketers have always fought for but it has never been more urgent than it is now and the reason for that is, of course, digital. Digital has fundamentally altered corporate priorities, and getting an understanding of how customers interact with businesses in every channel is at the very top of the agenda.

Marketers ought to be well placed to step up and provide that understanding. Former CEO of Kingfisher Group Sir Ian Cheshire told us in an interview last month that he believes marketing “is going to provide a lot more of the leadership of businesses” in future, together with colleagues in technology-focused roles such as IT, firmly avowing himself as a standard-bearer of marketing’s cause.

But as we reveal this week (12 August), many businesses have a long way to go before marketing is considered the natural owner of the digital strategy. What’s more, there is a constant threat of marketers being sidelined if they don’t demonstrate an unparallelled knowledge of this area. So, short of following enlightened CEOs such as Sir Ian from company to company, how do marketers stake their claim?

The first prerequisite is digital expertise: it is impossible to argue you should be the person governing how your company uses technology if you don’t understand what technology is available, what it does or how it adds value. Being an expert doesn’t necessarily mean being a hyper-intelligent polymath, but it does mean doing a better job than IT of explaining the commercial uses of particular technology platforms; a better job than operations of emphasising how those platforms affect customers; and a better job than sales of outlining how to use them to become more profitable.

Our feature provides a host of other tips on how you can make marketing the leading voice in the digital strategy debate. You’ll also find a wealth of insight and advice at the Festival of Marketing, taking place at Tobacco Dock in London on 11 and 12 November. You can find our exciting announcement of the latest world-renowned headline speaker here and can book tickets for the event at www.festivalofmarketing.com.

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