Last month, I heard two brilliant lectures on what it means to be a new-age marketer. One of these speakers was Harish Manwani, who was the Global Chief Operating Officer of Unilever, and one of the finest marketers India has produced. The other speaker was Prof Mohanbir Singh Sawhney, noted academic, author and consultant from the Kellogg School of Management. Both of them were speaking at the Annual meet of Chief Marketing Officers of the Tata Group and they were amongst the most insightful speakers I have heard in a long time.

Licence to operate

One of the key topics that both of them touched on was the need for marketers to reinvent themselves in the new age of marketing that is upon us. Harish Manwani spoke of the yesteryears, where marketers “made a very good product, a great television advertisement, created awareness and reach, ensured widespread sampling, and, voila, you had success”.

Today, he said, all this has changed. Consumers are offline, online and often in both spaces at the same time. Products, advertisements and content are being launched so fast, consumers engage every moment, leveraging the power of digital and data. All this needs new capabilities, which constitute the licence to be a marketer today. Are marketers investing in building these new capabilities, rapidly and deeply enough? And he left behind a powerful question for each of us to consider: Do you have the licence to operate as a marketer today?

Mohanbir Sawhney spoke of how marketing is all about transforming the way the marketer thinks and works. Because customer expectations have changed so dramatically, he said, it is essential that marketing also changes itself to align to these new expectations.

For instance, new-age customers seek double-quick response from the brands they use. This is only possible if marketers invest in agile marketing, and the right digital and other interfaces working round the clock. He urged marketers to create a personal learning agenda for themselves, and also develop the capability to sense weak signals, which are early evidence of emergent changes to technology, culture and markets. Reflecting on these two stimulating sessions, I have asked myself — What gives marketers the licence to operate in today’s world? What are the important dimensions on which marketers should necessarily reinvent themselves? Here are five dimensions of reinvention which, in my view, are essential.

Mastering Digital

We cannot be successful marketers in today’s world unless we have deep understanding of the fascinating new world of digital, and how best to leverage the digital platforms that our consumers engage with. Consumers now live in an omnichannel world, constantly flitting between online and offline as they please, seeking the best of both and so marketers have to master this world if they are to stay relevant.

For instance, do you know the levers that drive successful search on Google, sustained customer engagement on Facebook or Instagram, creation of brand advocates on social media, lightning quick response to customer complaints on Twitter, or how best to interface with your Company’s digitised sales and distribution platform? Often, the best insights on these fronts are possible only if the marketer is herself experimenting with some of these digital platforms all the time. So, set aside time for learning and mastering digital. It is the default medium of our age.

Making data dance

To understand customer needs, engage customers meaningfully, and create personalised customer experiences, marketers need to make their data dance in front of their eyes. Today, there is virtually infinite data all around us, but the magic lies in relevant and sharp analytics. By applying analytics to a combination of structured data (such as sales or shopping numbers) and unstructured data (such as video and speech data), marketers can build a holistic understanding of their customers, which can then serve as beacons to guide the right actions.

By no stretch do data and analytics replace human empathy or judgement. On the other hand, they serve to build a robust foundation on which these invaluable human skills can express themselves thoughtfully, beautifully.

An agile agenda

The days of making a television advertisement once in six months, long gestation market research studies, and their relaxed counterparts, are dead and gone. Today, marketing content is created and disseminated every minute, often by brands, but equally often by their consumers. Insights are synthesised from multiple data points all around us. For marketers to be successful, we have to build speed and agility into everything we do. This means ever shorter cycles of learning about customers, constantly experimenting with new products and communication, improving effectiveness through iterative cycles, and unleashing the power of engaging with customers every single day. Senior marketers in particular need to throw out the rulebooks that produced their successes years ago.

A new curiosity

Excellent marketers have always typically been curious people. They are curious about areas such as consumer behaviour, social and cultural trends, products and design. Today, marketers need a new curiosity, extending well beyond conventional areas. They also need to understand basic tenets of technology-inspired areas, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, chatbots, cloud, wearables and 3-D printing. They may not need to master these subjects but a clear understanding is essential, because these areas constitute powerful tools that their teams can leverage.

Leading millennials

Finally, all marketers who lead teams and engage with agencies need to understand how to lead and inspire millennials, who are at the leading edge of so much digital, design, content and creative work today. Millennials seek a cool work culture, but they also strongly seek purpose through the work they do. They are digital natives who communicate in the pithy language of Instagram and Facebook, but they also want to work for brands that do good to society. Chief Marketing Officers who fashion millennial-first organisations, cultures and partnerships will win the war for this incredible young talent pool.

If you are a marketer, pause here, consider the five dimensions listed above, and answer this question. Do you have the licence to operate in this exciting new world ?

Harish Bhat is Brand Custodian, Tata Sons, and author of “The Curious Marketer”. bhatharish@hotmail.com.

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