As global leaders gather in Davos next week to try to create a shared future in a fractured world, what’s the role of marketers and creative agencies?
In this era of seismic disruption, technology is overturning entire business models and transforming the way that customers live, buy and think. Marketing today requires thinking well beyond ways to sell.
I often hear that marketers need to be more in the boardroom. Having been immersed in a broad spectrum of boardroom issues at EY, I believe this ambition is fitting, but it comes equally with the responsibility to understand boardroom issues better.
Now is a golden moment for marketers to be at the heart of the boardroom. They need to help their company seize the upside of disruption in this transformative age. Equally, they need to help their companies heed the call for a greater purpose beyond profit—hence the focus of the upcoming World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos on ‘creating a shared future in a fractured world.’
So is disruption friend or foe? As a new report from our global think tank EYQ makes clear, CEOs globally need support if they are to exploit the transformative power of disruption. Worryingly, half of the CEOs surveyed admitted that their companies were not prepared to take advantage of the opportunities emerging from disruptive change. This puts their market leadership and capitalization at risk.
To compound this, society is rightly placing greater ambition for inclusivity. Marketers have a natural role to play in both helping create new solutions for disruption, but also taking purpose-driven brand thinking into the boardroom.
Importantly, marketers work in one of the most innovative and creative business functions and can be highly disruptive themselves. Very few marketing and creative agencies haven’t dramatically shifted to a more digitally-orientated experiential approach. The fruits of that shift now offer us a wealth of data generated by various digital channels. We can combine this data with formidable new tools—from facial recognition software, VR and what’s become staple programmatic ad buying—to engage with customers in ways previously unimagined.
However, the real shift and opportunity for marketers is across the total singular customer experience, not just the traditional brand and demand generation. It is about reimagining the end-to-end customer journey across all products, services and touch points so customers get smooth, consistent and personalized experiences during every step of the process. Marketers need to think about how to use algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) in their customer interactions so that these innovations boost the company-customer relationship instead of possibly being perceived as a breach of trust.
As guardians of their brand, marketers understand the role that technology can play in cementing a reputation and conveying values and purpose. This matters in an age when people have lost faith in large institutions and government, demanding that companies do more than just deliver profits to shareholders. Growing inequality—and the economic, political and social volatility that comes with that—should compel all large companies to consider how they can use technology to drive inclusive growth.
At first glance, the WEF’s theme may not seem like natural territory for marketers, but in reality, creating a shared future is a crucial part of the role. We marketers should endeavor to solve some of the wider ethical discussions, particularly those arising from new technologies—from AI-induced job losses to the threat posed by the underrepresentation of women in the tech industry.
Marketers and agencies should be asking themselves these key questions as we head into 2018:
1. How can smart marketing thinking help your business navigate across the total customer experience through these transformative times towards a disruption readiness agenda?
2. How can you use marketing technology to connect with your customers in ways that earn their trust, rather than simply using it as a selling point?
3. How can you drive purpose into the business strategy—not at the brand level—for total stakeholder return?
4. How can you drive an inclusive growth agenda and embed diversity of all types (gender, ethnicity, sexuality and age) into your marketing and business so that you’re responsive to the needs of your shifting customer and talent base?
5. How are you harnessing the best creativity to inspire? (After all, consistent, creative branded content is still king, no matter the platform.)
In today’s world, it’s not enough to confine yourself to the business of selling and transacting. Instead, marketing should play a strategic part in helping companies play a broad and constructive role in society over the longer term.
That won’t happen simply as a result of the CMO sitting on the board, or marketers participating in board-level conversations. Marketers, agencies and the other industry players must collaborate to produce campaigns and other deliverables that use digital technology—not only as a force for disruption, but also as a force for social good.