The future of marketing careers? Marketing, data, tech and digital in harmony

After a year under lockdown, many marketers are turning to thoughts of next steps and new ways of working.

Career Choices generic picThe pandemic has changed everything’. ‘We are all in this together’. ‘Unprecedented’. ‘Pivot’. ‘The new normal’ and, my personal favourite, ‘you’re on mute. Yes, there are lots of things that Covid has triggered – including phrases that I wish to never hear again as long as I live.

Having gotten my pandemic harrumphing out of the way, there is one outcome of the pandemic that I think in many ways is good: it’s got marketing folks to consider their future careers.

Yes, for some, it was forced on us through redundancy. For others, it’s been the tough year working from home navigating the challenges of kids, Covid and careers that has forced us to ask a few questions.

The question that many of us are asking is, “How can I make the career choices that are right for me, for my career and for where the world is heading?”

While I am not an expert on careers, as a practicing marketer I have direct experience of crises forcing me to consider my career choices – and seeing what happened next.

Right now, given that a lot of my deep industry knowledge in marketing relies on topics that are both red-hot and ice-cold (eCommerce and travel), I am also going through a thought process about setting myself for the next phase of my career. From my conversations with marketers from all over the world during the past year, I know I am not the only one.

Software ate the world and now it is ‘eating marketing’

In 2011, Silicon Valley venture capitalist and creator of Netscape, Marc Andreessen wrote an essay called Why Software is Eating the World in which he described how new companies built on software were ‘eating’ existing and disrupting previously dominant corporations.

Andreessen was prescient. He wrote that “over the next 10 years, the battles between incumbents and software-powered insurgents will be epic” and specifically mentioned the likes of Google, Netflix, Square, Spotify, PayPal and Salesforce.

The idea that some of these companies that embraced software in 2011 would be market leaders and dominate the stock market would have been hard to get your head around. Equally, the notion that these same firms would dominate the discussions in marketing 10 years later would have been laughed at.

The pandemic has fast-forwarded the fact that ‘software is eating the world’. Andreessen wrote in 2011 that “Amazon is a software company — its core capability is its amazing software engine for selling virtually everything online.”

Andreesen has been proven right – even in marketing. Most things we ‘do’ in marketing is related to, tied in with or made up mostly or entirely of software. The most junior marketer has more tech tools, more information and more computational power than the CEOs of the world’s biggest companies did just two decades ago.

In 2011, Scott Brinker of the Chief Martech blog tried to capture all the marketing technology firms that Scott could find. He created a kaleidoscope of over 150 logos of marketing technology companies to “to better express viscerally the awe-inspiring explosion of software in marketing” according to Brinker.

Then things got out of hand! From just 150, Scott believes there are now over 8,000 companies that he can find selling marketing technology. From 2011 to today, that is a 5,233% growth of this marketing technologies.

As Scott points out, Europe now has as many marketing technologies companies as the entire world did back in 2016. Adobe Marketing Cloud, SalesForce Marketing Cloud, Google Marketing Platform – they did not exist in their current form 10 years ago. Now they run marketing departments.

Forecasting – especially of the future – is hard!

It would have been hard to predict how much software and tech would ‘eat the world’ in 2011. Most predictions of what could happen are based on wishful thinking and cognitive bias. Forecasters are quite safe in the knowledge that no one is going to ring them up in 10 years’ time and tell them they were wrong.

Is there any way to plan our career without listening to fantastical thinking from fake soothsayers? I think there is some evidence that can help us. Let’s start with what we can guarantee from technology.

In 1965, Gordon Moore, founder of Intel, made the prediction – now Moore’s Law – that computing power doubles every 18 to 24 months – and/or halves in price. Moore observed what had happened to transistors since they were invented in 1958 and has been proven right: in just 40 years, transistors experienced a 100-billion-fold improvement.

Moore’s Law has also been found to be true for most other information-based technologies such as chip, cloud computing, sensors, robotics and genetics. This means that the future will not be linear – direct – from where we are today.

Despite being alive and well and being a professional marketer in 2011 with a big brand and a big marketing budget, there is no chance that I would have said that the crappy martech that I saw back then would be a ‘thing’ – there was no line from 150 martech firm to 8000+ companies in 10 years that was anyway credible.

Now this is a problem: we all think in linear terms because that is what we’ve observed in how the natural world operates and it’s how we’ve made predictions about the future for millennia.

Many people readers will poo-poo this idea about an exponential world, believing that since the overwhelming majority of things in the world do not grow exponentially and, even if they did, cannot grow indefinitely. But there is evidence (ie, software and how it scales) that our beliefs are simply not true.

To make it easier (and more fun) to understand, think of the iPhone. Many of you might remember the original iPhone when it came out. If you were like me, you laughed at it and said, “I’ll stick to my Blackberry Pearl”, given that this is what the cool kids had back in 2007…

The first iPhone in 2007 had a 3.5-inch screen, was just 2g – with no apps and no camera. 3G came in 2008 as well as the app store and the camera in 2010. The chip set contained almost 1bn transistors.

Whip out your own smart phone now. My 6.7-inch iPhone 12 Pro Max with an A14 Bionic chip that has 10 times the number of transistors of the toy-like first iPhone.

In 2011, roughly one-quarter of the globe, some 1.8bn people, were connected to the Internet. In January 2021, 4.66 bn people around the world use the internet, up by 316 million (7.3%) in one year. Global internet penetration now stands at almost 60% – with much of this on smartphones with high-definition screens.

If you read the marketing and advertising press – and examine that corner of Twitter that is populated with people who profess to be marketers, you might think that this reliance on tech and digital marketing is a bad thing. That sort of thinking ignores the real world of incentives: the incentives to measure and manage marketing by CEOs and CFOs. CEOs and CFOs can’t manage ‘creativity’ or ‘bravery’, they can only deal with outcomes. And they like measures as that is how they are both judged and incentivised.

Might this emphasis on tech lead to bad marketing and huge waste? Easily. Will this emphasis on efficiency through technology mean less marketing effectiveness? Possibly. But since there are no Marketing Gods to pray to, CEOs and CFOs will still continue to follow their own incentives, which are more correlated with efficiency and less with what marketers believe. Marketing is not a rogue state who can escape this.

Talking to a friend of mine recently who works in adland, he told me that they had not one ‘traditional’ brief from a brand in the last year. The genie is not going back in the bottle.

The only things we can guarantee in the next 10 years in marketing

  • Even more technology driving every business
  • Even more technology driving marketing
  • More technology driving even more measurement and accountability
  • More people on the Internet accessing it through mobile phone screen
  • Less linear TV

The TV commercial break with a defined length was very artificial in its origin. In the early 1950s, the President of NBC, ‘Pat’ Weaver (father of Hollywood actress, Sigourney Weaver) invented the ‘spectacular’, lavish shows of more than an hour that would fill an evening, and what Weaver called the ‘magazine’ format.

As the author of two of the most wonderful books on advertising ‘The Anatomy of Humbug’ and ‘Why Does the Pedlar Sing?’, Paul Feldwick told me: “Advertisers could buy into these shows not by sponsoring the whole thing but by buying the airtime in blocks of one minute, enabling the network to offer a much more expensive, quality show.

“The choice of a minute as the time length for sale was arbitrary; this shift in the nature of TV advertising was not driven by any intention to make the advertising itself more effective, but by the goal of increasing audiences and advertising revenue through funding more expensive programming.”

Fedwick continued: “British TV adopted the minute as the basic unit, which over time became more and more fragmented in smaller lengths as ITV was strictly limited to a certain number of minutes per hour. Thirty seconds became the norm.”

What we thought of being one of the cornerstones of how we advertise our wares turns out to be contingent and arbitrary.

Digital is not a downstream discipline

Back to marketing careers. The landscape is changing. Have a read of the following jobs spec from Marketing Director level roles:

  • Responsible for the leadership, strategy, and implementation of all marketing activities to include strategy development and execution, B2C and B2B marketing, marketing operations, creative advertising, marketing analytics and insights aligned with the corporate strategy and the digital transformation of our business. Be able to anticipate customer digital needs and expectations.
  • Develop and manage the performance marketing strategy, primarily through Paid Search, SEO, Strategic Partnerships, Affiliates and social media. Manage brand reputation both online (e.g. reviews, social media) and offline (PR) with continuous refinement of the brand messages and creative designs across all channels in order to drive long-term sustainable growth. Understand, track behaviour and build tailored, targeted marketing strategies across all channels.
  • Responsible for the European Digital Strategy for Search, Social, Search, Video and Programmatic and be able to deliver enhanced performance, spend efficiency and campaign consistency to support our digital transformation journey.

Each of these roles is from a household name brand. One is FMCG, one is retail and one insurance. While there is a selection bias, I am sure you can find similar. Indeed, finding roles that did NOT have an expectation that you had ‘hands-on’ experience with Adobe Marketing Cloud, Google Marketing Platform or Salesforce Marketing Cloud was a challenge.

I interviewed four recruitment agencies as part of my research for this column. They all say the same thing: the demand for great marketers remains, but the requirements for success are shifting. Companies are seeking talent that has deep digital and marketing platform expertise. They are looking for people with technical expertise in all aspects of digital. They are looking for do-ers – for hands-on people.

The future of marketing roles

Back to our original question being asked by marketers: “How can I make the career choices that are right for me, for my career and for where the world is heading?”

The future of marketing roles in the next 10 years is underpinned by the fact that strategy, marketing, data and technology are all intertwined. Marketing will be done through software-mediated channels, so marketers cannot abdicate their responsibility to understand technology and leave it to others. The market wants you to have expertise in marketing – but just as much in technology, data and digital, whether we like it or not.

To add heresy upon heresy, I would argue that the hegemony of FMCG marketing being seen as the apex of marketing is over: working at P+G, Unilever or Diageo will be interesting – but not as interesting as the person who ‘gets’ technology + data – as well as marketing.

If you don’t believe it, check out the job specs FMCG brands are publishing today – they are full of tech/digital/eCommerce jargon. If you don’t believe me, answer the following question honestly: you are offered two jobs – one in Apple and one in an ‘old school’ FMCG brand, which are you going to take, all else being equal?

This explosion of technology is a fairly new aspect of marketing, so it’s not surprising that we collectively do not have a grasp of how to harness and manage it. However, the answer is not to downplay technology. The answer is to get better at using it well.

The market has spoken: the jobs specs don’t lie

If you want to have a marketing job in the future, you must know that technology is just as integral as understanding the 4 Ps or segmentation or positioning. Digital is not a downstream discipline: understanding and being an expert at it is a centrepiece of the marketing discipline.

Place your best on the business and the brands that ‘get’ technology, ‘get’ eCommerce and ‘get’ digital. Develop an expertise in one of the marketing platforms. Know how software ‘works’. Embrace the fact that the tech giants will it: don’t reject it.

Now, looking 10 years out, does this mean the end of end of the world as we know and we should feel fine? Is this the end of the creation of great brands because digital cannot create brands?

No. Back to the Feldwick: “There was after all a pre-TV age in which so many brands were created. These brands achieved ubiquity and fame through an energetic combination of every kind of media then available to them, paid, owned and earned.”

Just like pre-TV, marketing will be the same. It is just that the channel (and the challenge) will have changed.

So, now that we have established that we think careers are going tech- and digital- driven, there are still more questions to ask: should I join an existing company or join a start-up? Should I join a B2B business?

Luckily, I have made both of those choices in the past – and might be able to point in the right direction. But that’s for the next column or two…