Why Marketers Increasingly Have to Adjust at Warp Speed to Cultural and Technological Change

'You don't need six months to plan something great'

The online marketing industry is like a statistical minefield nowadays. Getty Images
Headshot of Christopher Heine

There was a ton of talk at this year’s South by Southwest about digital transformation and customer experience, the buzz terms of 2017 so far in the marketing industry. Yet, SXSW speakers’ underlying message was fairly simple: Every brand has to to move faster while maintaining strategies.

Victor Lee, svp of digital marketing for Hasbro, may have made the best declaration.

“You don’t need six months to plan something great,” Lee said, speaking on a panel about livestreaming. “We need to get out of the Don Draper [mentality]. The agency folks are probably going to hate me for saying that.”

Live video demands a particularly nimble mindset, Lee said, and social media directors have to discard any notion that they can schedule content six months to a year out.

“If you preplan that,” Lee said, “you’ll never be interesting.”

During a panel about retail innovation, Kohl’s director of technology Garima Agarwal hinted about wanting to use machine learning to build an “under-the-hood” system that helps her team constantly navigate the technological and societal changes that occur at rapid speed nowadays. When Adweek asked her offstage whether her brand was developing such a system, she declined comment.

“I’m a big machine learning fan,” Agarwal said onstage. “Smarter machines are definitely a reality, and it’s important for us to embrace that. Machine learning can truly transform your business.”

Marketers should, if they can, embrace a “fail-fast” mindset, she said, continuously testing to “see what’s working versus not working. If you are taking months … “

That’s too long because consumer behaviors would have already changed. The pace of change “is phenomenal,”Agarwal said. “We have to evolve; we cannot just be satisfied with the status quo.”

“Growth and comfort never coexist,” Ginni Rometty, IBM president and CEO, contended on Monday. “When you are most at risk, you are learning.”

More specifically, the days of taking a couple years to build a new system, even for complicated customer experience design initiatives, appear to be over. It will be pocked with irrelevant features, marketers say.

“We have to deliver digital products in a much faster way,” said Gela Fridman, managing director of technology at Huge. “It’s part of a shift. You have to have a strategy, a plan, and you need an infrastructure that enables the vision. A lot of the conversations we are having with clients is where we are helping them shift from infrastructure they used to have to cloud-based services, which enable the flexibility and speed to adapt to the change.”

It’s not just about product and social media, either, as brands have to be more nimble when it comes to campaign strategies, attendees said.

“As marketers have to deal with the change that surrounds them in the marketplace, it’s not about any one thing,” said Gwen Throckmorton, U.S. head of industry entertainment at Facebook, when chatting about how her company is mindful of the challenges that modern advertisers face. “It’s about how it all comes together to ultimately inform their business.”

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.