April 5, 2023 | Article
By Anna Checa, Cayley Heller, Eli Stein, and Jamie Wilkie, all from McKinsey Consultancy.
About the author(s)
Anna Checa is an associate partner in McKinsey’s New York office, where Cayley Heller is a consultant. Eli Stein is a partner in the Bay Area office, and Jamie Wilkie is a partner in the Boston office.
The authors wish to thank Jacob Ader, Thomas Buchte, Katie Finnegan, and Rehaan Kaul for their contributions to this article.
The business-as-usual approach to marketing is no longer sufficient. To succeed in modern marketing, professionals must develop broad skillsets and prioritise collaboration.
In today’s world, marketing organizations are expected to do more with less. Budgets are carefully scrutinised, teams are leaner, and CEOs are looking to CMOs to drive the next wave of growth. While there is tension between growth and efficiency, they should not be thought of as mutually exclusive. To boost the impact of every dollar spent, organizations must create more personalized and meaningful connections with customers across every interaction. Leaders who successfully do so can drive a 10 to 30 percent increase in marketing spend efficiency and contribute two to three percent incremental enterprise revenue.
Delivering effective modern marketing remains the holy grail, but many organizations are still struggling to find the correct approach. Consistently delivering data- and value-driven marketing requires a customer-centric paradigm and the appropriate tools and capabilities to activate it at scale. Companies are falling short because their marketers are not trained to use the tools available to them, or to collaborate in truly impactful ways (Exhibit 1).
While the holistic re-thinking of employee skills is not necessarily at the top of a CMO’s agenda, it is often a missing step for building and activating modern marketing capabilities.
This article emphasizes why today’s marketers need to be both a master of their domain and a jack of all trades, and how to get there from pilot to scale. We also highlight six multidisciplinary competencies that can enable marketers to drive the future of their sector.
Sometimes things go wrong
A global consumer company recently decided to improve its capacity to gauge the impact of its campaigns and customer-facing features. The company hired a respected data scientist from an iconic brand. His charter was to build the company’s marketing attribution and micro-segmentation capabilities, and to enable personalization and more efficient marketing spend allocation. But the company’s existing teams of data scientists often did not understand the problems that brand marketers were trying to solve. The models they created were far too granular or identified variables that marketers couldn’t act against. At the same time, brand marketers did not know how to translate business or market questions into data science, so they were unable to guide their data-science partners on how the models would be used to stimulate changeable customer behavior. The respected data scientist’s efforts gained little traction and, after nine months, he left the company.
Stories like these are not uncommon. They occur in myriad flavours:
- Traditional marketers know that data science can be important, but don’t fully understand, trust, or appreciate how it can help them make better decisions. They continue relying only on surveys, focus groups, and other qualitative consumer research, losing out on rich behavioural insights.
- Performance marketers miss the forest for the trees. While highly versed in data science and measurement models, they fall into the trap of thinking everything can be solved with micro-optimisation and disregard the value of brand building.
- Cross-functional teams struggle to make decisions because individuals do not know enough about what is happening in other channels or phases of the customer journey. They work with disparate systems and data sets and lack the language to communicate.
- Investments in new tools and technology go underutilized because the skills to activate them are limited to a core set of team members. Other team members do not realize the possibilities of these tools or know how to access them.
An effective “T-shaped” skills model
Marketing that creates deeper customer connections will not happen without new levels of collaboration and coordination across marketing’s wide range of functional partners. Dynamic personalization and rigorous measurement, for instance, can’t be applied in just one channel. They must be always-on across the spectrum of customer touchpoints—from paid channels to a brand’s own properties. The right cross-functional collaboration and effective use of the available data and tools requires marketers who understand the full breadth of marketing functions.
At its heart, the modern marketing opportunity is a skills and talent challenge. Although most individuals in a marketing organization will continue to have expertise in one specific domain, people can no longer be good at just one thing. The new marketing superpower is multidisciplinary competency across six core capabilities: customer centricity, full-funnel marketing, agile operating model, multichannel excellence, measurement, and customer data and marketing technology (Exhibit 2).
By using these capabilities, marketers will be able to develop a “T-shaped” skill set, with deep, domain-level expertise and an education across the broad spectrum of skills. The goal isn’t to turn data scientists into brand marketers or vice versa. Instead, the aim is to form bridges of understanding and to enable better communication, more creativity, quicker problem solving, and synergistic impact. In this new paradigm, brand marketers, for instance, become comfortable using automation tools to activate and measure campaigns. IT and analytics teams learn what customers want, how to reach them, and what important questions about them need to be answered.
Consider a leading global brand’s efforts to dramatically enhance its customer centricity. Although the company prided itself in having customer data from across its sales channels, it lacked a holistic view of the customer. Information from different channels was not linked together and critical behavioral data were missing from their interpretation of customer behaviors. There was significant, untapped potential in identifying the best ways to prioritize and reach customers.
To connect the dots, the company designed a new tech stack—a robust database merging all channels, an analytics engine to support prioritising and targeting customers, and journey orchestration tools to personalise customer journeys. Segmentations were shifted to be customer-based rather than product-based, and a new operating model was designed to bring different marketing domains together in win rooms. Brand marketers, e-commerce talent, analytics experts, and creatives collaborated using new measurement tools and a test-and-learn approach. The result: millions in incremental revenue.
Although this outcome was impressive, the company knew it was not enough. To capitalize on the new analytics and measurement tools, the test-and-learn culture, and the agile operating model, new capabilities had to be built and spread across the organisation. The company created a comprehensive digital skill-building program that included on-demand digital learning, interactive workshops, practical fieldwork, and playbooks. These were not only for the marketers who sat within the agile pods or used the new tools, but for broader teams that would be critical to unlocking the value of those advancements at scale.
Steps on the path to success
Companies that succeed in developing and sustaining modern marketing capabilities prioritise the development of new skills and strive to give marketers a clear sense of what is possible. Although it is tempting to do quick capability building by hiring a leader or acquiring a smaller firm, these spikes are almost always insufficient and often unsustainable. The most effective approaches leverage a triad of hiring, acquisition, and upskilling—with the heaviest emphasis on upskilling and training. These successes follow several key principles:
- Making marketing capabilities a first-rate strategic priority. Developing or strengthening capabilities can’t be an outsourced afterthought or auxiliary employee benefit. Company executives and marketing leadership will want to quantify the value at stake and declare it a revenue imperative, not a cost.A multinational consumer goods company set out to strengthen its capabilities by educating the entire organization in effective digital marketing. This learning journey was mandatory for all employees, including top executives such as the CFO. This signaled that the effort, which started in North America and was then rolled out globally, wasn’t a matter of checking boxes, but was an important strategic initiative for the company.
- Connecting the dots across teams. It is not just digital team members and traditional brand marketers who need to be upskilled. Leading companies extend their learning programs to include other key stakeholders and cross-functional partners, both internally and externally.A global restaurant brand invited their agency partners to participate in online training and in-person workshops that its in-house marketers were taking part in. This program—first deployed at the global level and then in markets around the world—helped their partners understand the new modern marketing capabilities and ways of working they would deploy.
- Curating a program that leverages best practices for adult learning. Any learning program should not only support the acquisition of new skills, but also help marketers apply these skills and knowledge in their jobs, and give them the peer reinforcement or reminders to sustain these new practices and habits in the long term. Hybrid modes often work best, with learning journeys including some combination of self-paced digital learning, live workshops to practice and apply new concepts and tools, fieldwork tied to day-to-day challenges, and on-the-job training and coaching.In its comprehensive digital marketing learning journey, the multinational consumer goods company provided basic, accessible online learning modules for everyone—including how digital supply chains work, how search algorithms function, and what information smart TVs can collect—and then offered deeper, next-level learning to help marketers apply the new knowledge to their roles. They also offered “lunch and learns” and seminars where marketers could engage in discussions with experts ranging from their own organization’s marketing technologists to leaders from streaming platforms.
- Testing and learning into a nuanced program that fits. While some of the demands faced by modern marketers are universal, there are subtleties as to how they play out across regions, industries, and organizations. Without a one-size-fits-all answer to lean on, it is important to pilot the learning journey with an initial audience to be able to refine the program before scaling more broadly.A global food company designed a learning journey based on a newly established aspiration for its marketing organization. By piloting it in a single market, the company was able to identify additional content needs and tailoring opportunities before scaling the program more broadly. The company then adapted it for deployment in a second market, while continually fine-tuning the program. The globally-scaled program drove a significant increase in participant satisfaction when compared to the initial pilot.
- Viewing capability building as an ongoing journey, not an event. Learning new marketing skills isn’t a one-and-done endeavor. Since customer journeys and expectations are constantly evolving, so too is marketing. Companies need to prioritize building upon existing knowledge, as well as evolving programs and developing new resources, learning modules, and apprenticeships as requirements rather than nice-to-have options.The multinational consumer goods company’s capability-building program continues to “follow the consumer” by adding topics like commerce media to its learning modules based on new trends. The company also evolved its program to include experiential learning, such as having employees make purchases on new commerce media platforms.
- Celebrating wins to drive cultural change. Even when marketers are savvy about the full range of marketing capabilities, collaboration and the use of new tools and processes do not necessarily happen on their own. People need to see the possibilities for themselves. When marketers understand the value of doing something differently, they are more likely to want to change how they work.At a consumer brand, a cross-functional agile team was assembled to devise a new type of product offering. As sales for the product grew, marketing leaders emphasized that a large part of the team’s success was due to the careful testing and measuring of different versions of innovative content in the marketplace. This helped narrow the canyon between “numbers people” and “creative types” and highlighted how creative risk-taking could be linked to tangible impact.
- There is no universal solution to marketing capability building. Finding the right approach can help organisations see significant improvements in campaign execution time, customer engagement, and cost savings—all of which are critical for boosting marketing performance. Effective programs can serve as an investment in both the success of the marketing team and the general health of the entire company.