Brand strategy, data and customer experience are marketers’ new priorities

The fundamentals of marketing are the same as ever despite changing media and consumption habits, but new Marketing Week research shows customer experience, data and brand strategy have gained in importance while advertising has become less of a day-to-day priority.


Innovations in technology and the rise of digital have changed the way marketers communicate with consumers and their growing number of agency partners on a day-to-day basis. They have also vastly widened the net in terms of skills needed and tactics used.

The role of a marketer today is as much about strategy, data and business development as it is about advertising and communications, but while the remit of the job has expanded and the methods used may be different, has the core purpose and function of the discipline shifted?

“Many of the appearances of marketing have changed but the fundamentals quite clearly have not,” argues Mark Evans, Direct Line Group’s marketing director.

He says the role of marketing and the CMO is to “represent customer needs in the business and turn that into commercial opportunity”. To do that he states “you need to find out what consumers want, challenge the business to deliver that and tell consumers they can have it”. He reckons those three requirements will “always be the same”.

Same principles, new challenges

However, Evans agrees that the way in which marketers do their job and the weight they give certain elements is evolving. He adds: “There is no doubt that some things are changing radically in the world, which pulls [the role] in slightly different directions. It’s the increased complexity in the world, which challenges the ease with which you can do [those three] things.”

“The same principles of marketing exist, it’s just how you go about using them that has changed”

Jo Moore, Lenovo

After introducing a new brand identity and repositioning to appeal to younger users last year, technology company Lenovo realised it would also need to approach marketing from a different angle in order to connect with this audience.

Rather than going straight to an agency to come up with a concept, the brand instead used crowdsourcing to create a video campaign based on user-generated content.

Despite the change in approach, “ultimately the practices of developing amazing breakthrough content are still the same as they were 50 years ago”, claims Jo Moore, Lenovo’s worldwide brand director.

Speaking at Marketing Week Live last month, she said: “It’s still about finding a very relevant message that is rooted in a deep insight that matters to who you are trying to talk to; so I think the same principles [of marketing] exist, it’s just how you go about using them that has changed.”

While marketers’ core responsibilities and the fundamental aspects of marketing remain the same, as Moore suggests, the role has had to expand to accommodate the changing nature of the world that brands operate in.

Customer experience and data analysis play a bigger role, and marketers today spend more time focusing on the wider business strategy than they do on advertising, according to a survey conducted by Marketing Week.

Experience is now the priority

The vast majority (83%) of respondents believe customer experience is now more central to their role than it was five years ago, 54% say it’s much more important, 29% suggest it’s somewhat more important and just 15% report no change. “Any CMO worth their salt is looking after customer experience,” says Evans.

The survey also finds that 79% of marketers reckon data analysis has become more important, while 74% believe brand strategy plays a bigger role than it did five years ago. By comparison, just 30% of marketers believe advertising has become more important. Indeed, 27% believe advertising is actually less central to their role.

“Any CMO worth their salt is looking after customer experience”

Mark Evans, Direct Line Group

This is despite the fact that that emerging media channels are winning more advertising spend, requiring marketers to strike a balance between these and traditional channels. The latest ad spend figures from the Advertising Association and Warc show internet ad spend increased 17.3% to £8.6bn, with mobile accounting for 78% of that growth.

TV ad spend continues to grow too, rising 7.3% to £5.3bn, with spot expenditure rising 6.7% and video-on-demand increasing 20.7%. Much lower growth in ad spend was recorded for other traditional channels such as direct mail (up 1.4% to £1.9bn), out-of-home (up 3.9% to £1.1bn), radio (up 2.9% to £592m) and cinema (up 20.8% to reach a new high of £238m).

But while the shifting advertising landscape demands attention, there is rising frustration among marketers that the terms ‘marketing’ and ‘advertising’ are often used interchangeably.

Marketing is not advertising

Chris Daly, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), reckons it’s “common to confuse advertising and marketing” but reiterates that “advertising is just a single component of the marketing process”.

He argues that “marketing now has a wider definition”. “It’s about representing the customer’s voice within the business and anticipating and satisfying their requirements. It’s more about developing products, services and new markets as opposed to just ‘selling’ products and services through promotional activities such as advertising.”

Following the news that Haymarket Media Group title Marketing will be incorporated into its advertising-focused Campaign brand from this week, Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson argued that the publisher had forgotten that marketing comes before advertising.

This is not to say marketers don’t need to be experts in the media channels they use. The growth in popularity of social media and other interactive digital channels has forced marketers to shift focus very firmly onto how customers want to interact with brands. At mobile network Three, for example, while traditional channels are an important part of its overall strategy, using digital channels has enabled the brand’s customers to get involved with its marketing.

“There are some channels that remain important,” says Lianne Norry, director of brand and communications at Three. “TV for us means we can generate reach and create big impact – it’s still the biggest channel we use to create awareness – [but] consumers want something that differentiates us.”

Referencing Three’s ‘Dancing Pony’ and ‘Sing It Kitty’ campaigns, which involved user-generated content, she says “the growth of digital, content and consumers wanting to contribute to your brand” and “take the role of the marketer” have expanded the marketing function.

Customer-centricity is key

Marketing “isn’t a branding exercise any more”, Norry argues. Work around Three’s partnership with musician and producer and his new wearable ‘Dial’, for example, will see the watch launch exclusively with the network and won’t be overtly branded.

It will veer towards creating “moments where people can get involved” and will include a concert with that will “celebrate the partnership” rather than a heavily branded campaign. “The demands of the consumer mean we have to really think about what their expectations are and how we tailor to them and not over-sell,” says Norry.

Three also puts the consumer at heart of data analysis. “Customers now expect you to know them,” adds Norry. “They know you have their data, they know you have access to information that couldn’t have been conceived 10 years ago, [so] they want you then to be highly relevant and to know them and [therefore] be appropriate in that messaging.”

Creating highly targeted video content certainly taps into this change in consumer behaviour. “Smartphone usage has literally exploded and as a consequence of this online video has become the critical ad format of our generation,” claims Ed Couchman, head of agency relations at Facebook. “It reflects the seismic shift in how consumers now prefer to consume content.

Couchman says 100 million hours of video are viewed on Facebook every day, while the time people spend watching video on Instagram has increased by 40% over the past year.

He also argues in favour of this customer-centric approach. “For me, marketing is, and always has been, about brilliant storytelling that feels personal,” he says. He adds that platforms like Facebook and Instagram have “democratised marketing so that it is now available to everyone, and not just those with a TV budget”.

Couchman adds: “The best work and most effective campaigns we see are built with platform and people front-of-mind. Creativity is what unlocks the power of technology and with so many richer formats now available it is more important than ever.”

Brand is central to business

While many of the strategic challenges for marketers today remain the same there are certain attributes of their job that are gaining in importance. Strategic thinking is the most important aspect for 81% of marketers, according to Marketing Week’s survey, which 68% believe is more necessary today than it was five years ago. Commercial acumen (60%) and analytical skills (57%) are also critical, with the majority of marketers in each case suggesting that these attributes have gained importance.

When asked about what marketers should be known for, Norry says: “As marketers we need to be much more strategic; we need to be balancing how we contribute to the [long-term] growth of the business and maintain the commercial focus of the here and now” by ensuring it hits short-term commercial goals.

“What’s changed for the better is the ability of ‘marketing’ to be the business challengers,” says Zoe Burns-Shore, head of brand and marketing at First Direct. “To be seen as a thoroughly commercial department who absolutely understand the business and have earned their seat at the top table, making the kind of strategic decisions that drive growth and change.”

Burns-Shore believes that marketing is also about “owning the customer and asking ‘will our customers thank us for this’ however uncomfortable that might be”.

Daly at the CIM believes that new challenges and the changing consumer landscape continually reshape the nature of marketing. He agrees “a real interest in the customer is now a pre-requisite for those looking for a career in marketing as marketers need to understand how customers think, feel and behave”.

But Daly also points out that there is a lack of support and understanding from leaders. He says: “One particular challenge is the need for marketers to encourage business leaders to embrace their brand’s vision and ensure that it’s filtered down through their organisation.”

The CIM’s Brand Experience study finds that more than half of marketers are concerned that employees have a severe lack of understanding of the vision and direction of their organisation.

Daly adds: “It’s a constant battle for marketers to get the wider business to appreciate the impact and influence their efforts have on the business’s bottom line, in both the short and long term. If those at the top fail to see the real purpose of a strong brand identity, the rest of the workforce will follow their lead.”

He advises marketers to set expectations early on and be clear about what success looks like from a business perspective, then communicate results effectively.

Marketing 2.0 vs marketing 101

For Direct Line’ Groups Evans, the fight for talent is not a case of choosing; it’s not about hiring digital or tech savvy marketers over the more traditional ones. He says: “If marketing 2.0 is at the expense of marketing 101 then you will forget the insights that are hiding in plain sight, you will forget the big idea that can galvanise a whole organisation, and you will get lost in execution.”

He adds that it is as much of a challenge for digital natives to understand ‘marketing 101’ as it is for people that have not grown up in a digital world to learn some of the executional tools that exist in the ‘marketing 2.0’ world.

“It’s not that one is easier or harder, better or worse, it’s the reality that wherever you start from you are challenged in your skill set as a marketer,” he concludes.

There is a case for arguing that the popularity of digital channels, the appeal of new technology and the changing nature of the way consumers buy, interact and endorse products and services have altered the marketing discipline. But amidst news headlines that hail a paradigm shift, what marketers are actually experiencing is an expansion of their roles and responsibilities rather that a complete overhaul.

The fundamentals still exist; brands are just finding they have different, targeted, data-driven ways of making a product or service appeal to a customer and drive business performance.



There is one comment at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Max Eaglen 11 May 2016

    Agree with so many sentiments in this piece including the importance of “representing the customer’s voice within the business” and “developing products…as opposed to just ‘selling’’. At Platform we have found many of our clients are commissioning us to design and build bespoke places – ‘Customer Experience Centres’ – to do just this. Dedicated to collaboration, they allow customers to co-create the brand evolution, ensuring that “customer-centricity” is at the heart of the process

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