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Is your marketing organization ready for what’s next? As marketing leaders, we often ponder this question during our annual planning season when we’re forecasting our goals, themes, campaigns, and budgets for the coming year. If this sounds familiar, in the spirit of Adam Grant, I invite you to: “Think Again.”

Marketing has never been more complex. Sweeping advances in digital marketing, AI, ML, and privacy have revolutionized and fragmented our discipline, while social issues have raised expectations for marketers’ global impact on society. This combination of diverse forces has transformed how the marketing function must work, requiring that it become more agile, interdependent, and accountable for driving company growth.

Transforming your marketing organization is much more than an exercise in retooling technology or reshaping structures. It’s fueled by continuous practice of rethinking how a changing environment can enable your team to create new types of value. Like most transformational initiatives, meaningful change and lasting value start and end with the human change agents doing the work—your team.

One of the most enduring outcomes from the last year is an acceleration of existing trends—catapulting our organizations to the year 2030. Just as an earthquake produces a sudden release of pent-up force, the economic shock set off by the pandemic sped up and intensified trends that were already underway. For example, if a B2C company entered 2020 without a modern ecommerce strategy, it’s highly likely that it struggled or is no longer in business. Along with the quickened pace of change, however, comes a unique opportunity to unlock big strategic moves to ready your marketing organization for what’s next.

While marketing is complex, building a modern marketing organization doesn’t have to be. Let’s look at traits of a successful modern marketer in three areas: head, heart, and hands. Before we start, I’m not suggesting that you try to create a mash-up of the perfect marketer in a Frankestein-esque exercise. Instead, analyze your team across these characteristics to bolster skills, address gaps, and prepare them to capitalize on growth opportunities.

Head—Help wanted: Whole-brain marketers

Modern marketers are neither right-brained nor left-brained. They are whole brains with a balanced mix of left-and right-brained skills. This means content producers who are comfortable using data, and data-driven marketers who are willing to think outside of the numbers and move closer to customers.

As an example, if your email marketing team consistently creates beautifully written prose and design, but doesn’t understand email insights beyond open and click-through rates, you have an opportunity to elevate your program with key engagement insights for better personalization. Conversely, if your website team is seriously dangerous in Google Analytics, but doesn’t understand your ideal customer profile and the business pains your solution solves, you may struggle to develop an effective customer journey and experience. According to McKinsey, marketing organizations staffed with a team of whole-brain marketers deliver better business results, finding that companies able to successfully integrate data and creativity grow their revenues at twice the average rate of S&P 500 companies.

Strategic move #1: Cultivating a team of whole-brain marketers is a journey of continuous learning. If your marketing budget doesn’t include a line item for learning and development for every member of your team, go to your CFO and add it as soon as possible. In parallel, evaluate your current marketing program structure, and make sure you have a diverse set of creative and analytical team members partnered for each initiative.

To create an always-be-learning culture, embrace the 70/20/10 learning model. This theory points out that only 10% of the knowledge we retain happens during structured learning time. Twenty percent takes place when we learn from others, and the remaining 70% happens when we’re learning from experience. So, to enhance skills development in your organization in a way that excites and engages your team, you need to support hands-on, continuous practice outside of structured training to make things stick.

Heart—DEI eats bitcoin for breakfast

While I’ve tried very hard to understand bitcoin, despite my best efforts, I have cursory knowledge at best. I know just enough to predict that organizations who effectively operationalize diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in every part of their business will outperform every bitcoin company in the next five years. As the voice of the business and champion of the customer, marketing should take a leading role in your company’s DEI initiatives. While it’s 100 percent the right thing to do from a societal and human perspective, DEI done right will empower your entire organization to realize new growth opportunities and improve business performance. Check out these stats from Gartner:

  • 75% of organizations with frontline decision-making teams reflecting a diverse and inclusive culture will exceed their financial targets.
  • 40% of Americans report that they have researched a brand’s DEI efforts prior to making a purchase, and of those, a quarter decided against making that purchase based on what they found.
  • By 2055, the US will have a majority-minority population.

Strategic move #2: Cultivating a diverse and inclusive marketing organization starts with the people on your team. Impactful diversity spans gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, age, backgrounds, experiences, and more. Engage your HR Business Partner to intentionally recruit a diverse talent mix, and once they are on your team, take proactive steps to invest in their professional development, give them a real seat at the table, and leverage their insights company-wide. Additionally, take a critical look at your supplier ecosystem—from agencies and production houses to marketing technology vendors. As your business partners, they are an extension of your brand, and their business practices should echo your commitment to DEI. As marketing leaders and stewards of brand purpose, it’s our responsibility to leverage our power and platforms to affect change, given our unique ability to influence hiring, media spend, internal stakeholders, and external partnerships.

Hands—Agile marketing isn’t a buzzword; it’s mainstream

In a recent Forrester and Agile Sherpas survey, Agile marketing adoption jumped 10 percentage points in 2020, with 51 percent of respondents indicating that they use an Agile marketing approach to manage work, including daily standups, a backlog, Sprints, a kanban board, etc. The same study found that of the 49% not currently using Agile, 47% plan to implement it, and 59% plan to implement it within the next 6 months.

Agile marketing is now a proven modern marketing strategy to help organizations adapt to changing priorities, improve productivity, and accelerate the delivery of campaigns and programs. Optimizing campaign delivery is critical for every modern marketing organization, especially in bringing email campaigns to life. In fact, the majority of marketers shared this sentiment with us in our Annual State of Email Report. 50% of marketers said optimizing email workflow is a priority and 60% of companies have 4 or more people involved in email review and approvals, creating untenable bottlenecks that stifle operating speed and marketing effectiveness. In addition to productivity gains, the business benefits of an Agile marketing practice are hard to beat. McKinsey calculated that even the most digitally savvy marketing organizations have experienced revenue uplift of 20 to 40 percent by shifting to agile marketing.

Strategic move #3: Before you embark on an Agile marketing journey, it’s important to first understand the basics. Small teams of people, called squads, work in the same area and have decision-making authority to execute highly focused tasks. Organizing squads around specific customer objectives ensures that everyone on the team is connected to the customer. Giving squads clear KPIs, such as a volume of new customers or specific revenue goals, ensures that everything is measured and evaluated.

Scaling Agile marketing, however, entails more than flattening out an organizational chart or establishing cross-functional collaboration. Squads need to have supportive participation from legal, IT, finance, and often agency partners as well.

Just as you depend on agency partners to support your digital marketing, you may want to enlist the support of Agile marketing experts. To help jumpstart your initiative, check out the Agile Marketing Quick Start from Agile Sherpas and learn more about their online foundational courses to get smart on the basics.

The pace of change in the marketplace continues to accelerate, making it the right time to transform your marketing organization and be ready for what’s next. By adopting new marketing practices, you’ll harness the full capabilities of the business to provide the best experience for your customers and drive growth. Delivering on this promise requires a new approach and guides the design of a marketing organization for our time—one that puts people first with their beautiful heads, hearts, and hands as our true north.

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