Richard Robinson: It’s time for marketers to start a bonfire of the legacies

Marketing is changing; 2017 will be the year we see a tipping point between marketing as we know it and marketing of the future, says Richard Robinson, managing partner at Oystercatchers.

“Things done changed on this side. Remember they used to thump but now they blast, right.” A seminal line from Dr Dre, which, if you ignore the gun violence connotations, pretty much sums up the challenge we face as marketers in 2017.

Everything has changed. The distant thump of the past decade, as the customer moved from analogue thinking to digital normality, now blasts loud and clear for all to hear. Blame it on tech disruption, millennials on the verge of workplace domination, the rise of populism.

Chief marketing officers have got the WhatsApp message that today’s customer is real-time and never-off, and marketing has to adapt. We need to wake up to reality: 2017 will be the tipping point between marketing as we know it, and marketing as it will come to be known.

But in making the leap to modern marketing, many outdated temples to traditional marketing and organisational design created by our analogue ancestors will need to burn – those that fail to connect with the modern customer. For instance, planning that focuses on the possible, rather than what we must make possible. Customer-centricity hardwired to benefit the company first. Digital allowed and encouraged to sit outside the marketing department. Training that considers the individual before the brand. Communication planning that is sometimes- rather than always-on and assumes 9-to-5 marketing departments as the unquestionable norm.

2017 will be the tipping point between marketing as we know it, and marketing as it will come to be known.

The leap away from these bodes well for forward-thinking marketers, their agencies and customers alike as communication and product innovation return to focusing on how to delight, inspire and excite their audience, delivering new value against modern-day unmet needs. Examples of success include Lego’s total reimagining of children’s playtime, Domino’s paradigm-changing approach to home delivery and Nike owning what needs to be done to ‘Just Do It’.

Start the transformation

For CMOs at the helm of companies and brands born before digital, there’s one challenge: set a date to start transforming your marketing function from the core. Proactively identify and burn legacy systems and accepted beliefs that hold you back from thinking like Elon Musk and taking the hyperloop forward for your brand and career.

Here are four marketing legacies ripe for modernisation:

  • Organisational team design based on what’s already there versus what needs to be there.
  • Non-marketers and HR directors ruling the roost on marketing training, deciding the generalist skill sets needed to meet the specific challenges of unique marketing plans carefully crafted by the CMO.
  • The genesis of a new hire anchored in the expectation of receiving CVs through a reactive system, versus proactively being in the spaces and places to inspire the right talent to join before need becomes apparent.
  • Ways of working repetitively focusing on the principle of hard skills first, rather than having the human user experience that is vital to inspire a team to work at peak-performance, so as to influence people inside the company and customers, both in store and online.

So what is the way forward? Earlier this month, Oystercatchers undertook a discursive piece of research with 25 well-placed senior marketers across brands including Avis Budget Group, Aviva, BlackRock, Kellogg’s and TfL to understand what they need most to succeed in this modern world. The similarities couldn’t have been clearer in the top three needs revealed: help, guidance and capability.

If you were to start your business today, you would build out from the customer.

The first two are precisely what you might expect a great leader to demand from their teams, but the third speaks volumes to the blast being felt right now by marketers as they examine the structures, processes, talent and skill sets inherited from the analogue legacy of brands before digital.

If you were to start your business today, you would build out from the customer. Every touchpoint available to connect would be yours for the taking. You would assume personal responsibility for finding the diverse talent to make your brand sing, decide the specific marketing training to unlock and exceed your unique plan, and become the architect of the behaviours and principles that would fuel your way of working.

It would be simple, bold and reborn. Ask yourself: what purpose does marketing hold for your company today? The answer will tell you whether you are setting up to be the architect of the future or settling in to be the estate manager of the past.

As your year unfolds think on the words of The Notorious BIG, who added his own context to Dr Dre’s line, rapping “don’t ask me why I’m ************* stressed, things done changed”.

This will be the year of ‘business unusual’ for marketing capability. So don’t get stressed, get started and ignite your bonfire of the legacies.



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