Agility Will Rule in the Era of Engagement Marketing

Engagement Strategies


I’ve frequently said that marketing has changed more in the last five years than it has in the past 50. And, I think it is going to change even more in the next 5. Change has become the new normal, and as marketers, we need to adapt. Today’s customers have a 24/7 mentality. And our success is no longer just based on how clever we are, but how adept we are at connecting with customers at the speed of today’s digital world.

When I’m on stage, I sometimes tell the story of my most recent move. I had a long list of things to do—like everyone else. There I was—in the passenger seat while my wife was driving—and I thought I would knock off one item off of my to-do list by trying to secure a mover. I searched on my phone, landed on some broker page, filled out my information, and off it went to 52 different moving companies. I got a call back in 5 minutes from one company. Then, over the next 2 weeks, I got 51 other emails and/or phone calls from the other companies. Which one do you think I gave the business to? The game was over before the other 51 companies even got to the stadium.

The internet never sleeps. When we go to bed in California, people are eating breakfast in Norway. When Birdman won the Academy Award for Best Picture, everyone knew it within a matter of minutes. Trending hashtags, viral videos, SnapChat—all of these provide ways for people to relay information within seconds. We have entered into a real-time marketing environment. Keep up or perish.

Marketers Don’t Create Customer Journeys…Customers Do

This is the world I keep talking about—the Era of Engagement Marketing. When we are on the receiving end of real-time information from customers, and from events around the world, marketers can’t afford to be last. Marketers cannot be deluded into thinking that they “map out customer journeys” and that customers dutifully follow those paths—on the marketers’ timeline. Anyone suggesting that is doing marketers a great disservice. For one thing, the idea of mapping a journey is so 2000-and-late, and…slow. Marketers must be able to have a conversation in real-time. I often will describe it in talks as the equivalent of mapping out your conversation flow before you go to a cocktail party. Try sticking exactly to that script. How do you think your evening will go? Why would someone think it any different in interacting with customers?

For the second thing, and even more importantly, customers create and guide their journeys—they have access to so much information, in so many places, that they are self-directed. Marketers have to be able to move with the discussion whenever and wherever their customers are—in real-time. We, as marketers, have to be always on—anticipating the start of the race and pacing ourselves to guide and react throughout the journey.

In the Economist Intelligence Unit’s conversation with Jim Stengel, former CMO at P&G, a different metaphor came up. If marketing used to be an assembly line, with marketers coming in at the end to figure out how to sell a product, they are now in a trading room, he explained. Marketers need to be able to respond to events as they happen. A much discussed example is how Oreo responded during the blackout at the 2013 Super Bowl with “you can still dunk in the dark.” It was quick, witty, and memorable. It seized the correct moment. Even a day later, and that response would have been DOA and utterly forgettable.

If you take a look at data from “The Rise of the Marketer,” a survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit on behalf of Marketo, you can see these ideas emerge in the numbers.

New Skills and Structures are Vital

More than 80% of marketing executives believe we will need to restructure marketing to better support business. Think about it—in an always-on, Marketing First world, how will our current marketing departments measure up? Most marketing teams aren’t equipped yet to respond to information 24/7, let alone proactively be communicating in an integrated way 24/7 When marketers need immediate responses, they won’t always be able to act based on a pre-established plan or journey that they dictated for their customers to follow. They will need to think quickly, and respond appropriately, in the right channel, at the right time and with the right messageat scaleMy last post highlighted salient statistics on this score—that when CMOs and other marketing leaders were asked what skills were the top areas they needed to develop, the #1 answer, at 40%,  was “digital engagement”, and the #2 answer, tied at 40%, was “marketing operations and technology.” Furthermore, 38% of marketing execs are looking for strategy and planning skills in the next 3-5 years. Among companies that see an urgent need for change, the number is even higher, climbing to 44%. Marketing leaders are recognizing that living in a real-time world requires much stronger strategic thinking as we all seek to adapt.

As the way customers prefer to communicate evolves, marketers need to respond with speed and agility. And to do this, we need to invest in skills and technology that allow us to meet customers on their level, in real-time. In the next era of marketing—Engagement Marketing—agility will rule.

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