Richard Robinson: Marketing needs 24/7 capability

Consumers can now shop all 168 hours of the week but marketers only work for 37.5, so marketing leaders need to take charge of keeping their teams’ capabilities constantly switched on.

Busy business woman

There’s a sea change coming in marketing and it is being driven by the oldest metric of all: time. The ability for customers to shop transcends one of the basic tenets of marketing; namely that the industry works a five-day week, from 9am to 5:30pm with an hour for lunch. Put another way, there are 37.5 hours a week to make an impact.

Ecommerce changed the game. The mid-90s saw the liberalisation of Sunday trading hours coinciding with the arrival of online shopping websites such as Amazon and eBay, which are now global conglomerates with little love for traditional opening times.

As a result, customers can buy anything at any time during the 168-hour week. This gives rise to a strange and growing anomaly: for nearly 80% of the time people spend shopping, most marketers and marketing departments are closed for business.

READ MORE: ‘Marketers must do more to overcome capability gap caused by shortage of specialist skills’

We have a marketing industry promising tomorrow’s world, but constrained by one of the working norms of a bygone age. Startups and entrepreneurs aren’t held back by this outmoded principle and many deliberately bend time to steal a march on, if not destroy, traditional competition by rejecting outdated models laid down by their analogue ancestors.

Marketing capability needs to stretch to influence the modern shopper. To engage people 168 hours a week, marketers must take charge and forge bespoke capability programmes to deliver modern-day strategies in real time, which truly centre on how the customer shops today. Often CMOs ignore the pivotal role they need to play, allowing leadership of modern-day marketing capability to be usurped by sibling departments. In the process they unintentionally hold back their teams from understanding and adding real value to the needs of their customers.

For nearly 80% of the time people spend shopping, most marketers and marketing departments are closed for business.

Where are the game-changers who recognise that the customer no longer plays by the rules of the 37.5-hour week? Where are the innovators who have cracked the code of working more than one marketing shift in a 24-hour period to steal a march on rivals? What role should marketing capability play in enabling brands to succeed?

Progressive marketing leaders such as Zaid Al-Qassab, BT’s chief brand and marketing officer, are trying to move marketing capability to the top of the agenda in response to this new reality: “If I achieve that, I can upskill a whole department, which will have more effect than anything I could possibly do alone, and this is far more effective than hiring new talent with a new skill set,” he says. “Add to this the big issue facing marketing today – the chasm between ‘digital’ and ‘traditional’ people – and I have a greater need for building marketing capability than ever before.”

Yianni Papadopoulos, incoming head of marketing at Amazon-owned, feels the same way. “Marketing capability should sit firmly on the shoulders of the CMO and I feel real personal responsibility for this. Internal capability efforts rarely deliver against the needs of modern marketing teams, mostly because these evolve and change so quickly, and must be fine-tuned to the always-connected shopper.”

READ MORE: Why marketers are opting for upskilling

Marketing leaders are the new game changers, so they need to step up to the plate. To keep marketers one step ahead of the 168-hour shopper, a new approach is needed to modern marketing capability. There are three actions every marketing leader needs to consider to create capability that’s positioned for understanding, leveraging and delivering success today:

Take back personal responsibility for upskilling your marketers. Ash Tailor, global brand and marketing director at Britvic, says: “I can only grow my business through growing my people. Brands need to be built, nurtured and stay relevant; this is achieved only through skilled marketers.”

Be brave. Jenny Ashmore, president of the CIM, observes: “As a marketing leader, you need to know what mastery looks like and enable people to get the development from experts to achieve mastery. It takes courage to pull people out of the day job for training or strategy sessions, but the payback will come in big chunks.”

Believe in something bigger. Rebecca White, business lead for marketing, research and insight at Heathrow Airport, astutely says: “Strong marketing can change the world. If marketing wants to view itself as a profession, and not just a commercial discipline, we need to invest time and focus in building the skills and expertise of our future leaders.”

Marketers must take charge of time and invent marketing capability fit for the modern shopper.