We all know marketing is changing. Signs of the transformation can be found everywhere – the ever-changing ways in which we consume news and information, new technology platforms that expose us to brand messaging in different ways, rising expectations around customer experience, and of course, the role of marketers themselves. Gone are the days where you could reasonably expect to assemble in-house or agency expertise across the full spectrum of marketing channels and opportunities – there’s simply too much ground to cover. And the Four P’s we learned in college? We’re way past that. Today’s CMO often has to function as the chief digital officer, the chief strategy officer, and sometimes even the chief information officer. So how did we get here? Today on the blog we focus on some of the key factors driving transformation of the marketing function, and what it may mean.

Technology has ushered in the era of specialization.

We’ll start with the most obvious. The explosion of technology platforms and ways to consume media and information has created a staggering number of ways to reach customers, often with an unprecedented amount of data involved. It’s also significantly raised the bar for engagement. When customers realize you should know a lot about them, they’re not likely to let you get away with broad messaging that doesn’t feel personally relevant. The Marketing Technology Landscape, launched at this year’s MarTech conference, revealed the marketing vendor landscape has grown from approximately 150 vendors in 2011 to nearly 5,000 this year, covering nearly 50 categories of specialization. If you’re trying to hire talent to cover all of those bases, you’ll be spending most of your time (and money) interviewing and hiring expensive talent. More likely, you need to find balance and prioritize, understanding areas that need to be a core competence (e.g. in-house) versus those that can be outsourced. Part of that includes placing the right short and long-term bets to drive results now and into the foreseeable future – if at least some of your marketing efforts aren’t testing new or exploratory channels, you’re probably not doing it right.

Work is changing, and it’s not just the millennials.

Millennials are often cited as the cause for all that is good and bad about our changing world landscape. While those perceptions are often based on millennials having grown up in a digital world, thus shaping their expectations, it’s not just that generation changing the future of work. For starters, the rise of specialization as outlined above has resulted in a dizzying array of niche functions that lend themselves well to freelancing. Take the Salesforce or Magento technology platforms as two such examples – who could have predicted the network of independent professionals that would be spawned by either ecosystem?  In the era of specialization, someone who can do one thing very well is suddenly of high-value to those in need of that skill, and in many cases, that need may not be full-time.

Second, the places we work are changing. Coworking spaces have popped up everywhere, with industry leader WeWork even achieving “unicorn” valuation status. Similar business communities and incubators have also become common. For some, the corner office is still a status symbol, but for many in marketing’s “creative class”, the status symbol they now aspire to is the power to control their own schedule or work environment. If you’ve ever worked for a startup, chances are some level of flexible autonomy was implied without ever needing to be discussed; it’s already baked into the cake of expectations. While big companies still struggle with the concept of telecommuting and how to effectively deploy a consistent policy across a diverse workforce, many see the financial benefits of a smaller physical footprint, and are mindful of appealing to high-performing talent, including those in the above-mentioned millennial cohort. Marketing straddles this divide. On the one hand, technology has made much of the work easily able to be done remotely, yet collaboration on things like messaging and execution can still be critical.

Startup culture is becoming work culture.

Sure, there are plenty of examples of business verticals where startup culture may not be the norm; finance and legal are two such examples that quickly come to mind. But there is plenty of evidence that companies across a variety of industries are realizing they must embrace the spirit of innovation, or risk ceding ground to those that do. Most companies were once a startup in some form, and many are turning to focused innovation or “intrapreneurial” teams that can help them continue to evolve, even well after the maturity stage. Coca Cola’s Venturing & Emerging Brands division seeks to identify new brands with billion-dollar potential. AT&T operates multiple foundry locations aimed at collaborating with the broader technology ecosystem. Even Google, seemingly a poster child for innovation itself, has developed several intrapreneurial programs over the years to maximize this type of thinking. How does this impact the marketing function, specifically? Culture has become synonymous with brand, and why this may include shared ownership internally with other functions such as HR, the critical outward-facing component is more often the domain of the marketing leader.

There are obviously other factors at play in today’s marketing transformation – for one, we’ve barely touched on analytics and big data. Today’s business landscape is a challenging environment in which to compete, and not unlike the initial digital revolution, the marketing leaders who embrace the transformation now underway will get to help define it.

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