Forging a path: What marketing success looks like in 2016

by Megan Wright and Samantha Waterworth

Innovate or die. It’s a marketing mantra thanks to the disruptive influence of game-changers like Uber and AirBnB. Innovation is one thing – but how do you stay relevant? 

If you don’t innovate and change, somebody else will do it and change your market.

Lee Tonitto, the head of Australia’s peak body for marketing professionals has witnessed competition across all sectors heating up and it’s breathing new life into the industry.

AMI research reveals one in two working adults have a marketing component in their roles, Tonitto says.

Look even further down the road, and the number of marketing professionals is set to grow. “According to ABS statistics there’s 60,000 marketers in Australia, with current trends indicating those numbers are set to double by 2020,” she says.

She believes these are exciting times for people who find themselves – either by design or chance – forging a career in marketing.

The challenge is the profession isn’t getting any easier. According to the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), just 28 per cent of Australian marketers believe their organisations are effective at content marketing – one of the hottest marketing disciplines during the past few years.

So what will it take to survive, and thrive, as a marketer in the future? We spoke with Australian business executives to get a full picture.

It’s all about the customer

Red Balloon’s CEO Nick Baker, believes that despite disruptive and innovative change, storytelling remains the most powerful way to connect with people.

“We all sat on our mother’s and father’s knees and learnt from stories and I don’t know why we suddenly got away from that,” Baker says.

Filtered Media’s Senior Content Director, Jeanne-Vida Douglas, echoed his sentiments on a recent episode of The CMO Show podcast with Emma Sharley, a brand marketing expert.

“If we look back 85 years ago when brand was effectively invented by Neil McElroy, he spoke about the importance of understanding where you are in the market and understanding what the customer wants, and what the customer is looking for,” Douglas explained.

Sharley agreed, noting customer-centricity remains a priority for marketers to this day: “To have that insight almost 90 years ago is quite incredible, because obviously, that’s such a priority for business today – looking at what the customer wants and then delivering them that.”

AMI’s Tonitto agrees, noting the fundamental principles of marketing remain unchanged. “Marketing activity will always be the same in terms of meeting unmet customer needs,” she says. “It is how marketing is executed that has changed enormously.”

Marketing has transformative powers 

Looking ahead, she says marketing will always make a difference. “When you’ve been in the company of marketers you’ll always leave in a better place than where you started. That’s the transformative power of marketing.”

And it’s this power that is impacting the bottom line, giving marketers a seat in the boardroom and businesses a direct channel to their customers.

“I think CMOs are well equipped for today’s world because people naturally run towards big ideas, symbolic ideas that can ignite companies and transform businesses,” Baker says.

“CMOs really are guardians of the customer, and if you understand that your business is driven by the customer then it doesn’t seem such a long step to have a head of marketing – who is really a head of customer – as your leader.” And Baker should know, having made the move from CMO of Tourism Australia to CEO at Red Balloon in early 2015.

Sharley is equally convinced adding, “businesses are now understanding the importance of a customer-led strategy and marketing teams are essentially the custodians of that data and that insight.”

“Marketers have a seat at the table which they may not have had ten years ago.”

Adapt to thrive

While the modern marketers toolkit is growing and diverse, there is one skill that will set you in good stead above the rest. “Make change your friend. Be adaptive and able to reinvent yourself with ease, and renovate your abilities regularly,” Tonitto says.

It’s this adaptability that will give marketers, be they seasoned professionals or recent graduates, the edge when it comes to getting ahead in the agile and innovative marketplace.

What’s more, self-disruption of both industry and roles is of increasing importance for survival in the current media climate – and you needn’t look beyond the brewing battle between Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram to recognise that.

For Sharley, this has been a first hand experience, and one that led to her decision to become a consultant and help businesses and leaders adapt their brands. “In marketing, from what I’ve seen, the best marketers are very curious and very willing to learn and adapt,” she says.

For Tonitto, it means remaining relevant: “The dynamic nature of the [marketing] profession is that if you want to be a part of it you need to be relevant and create value.”

In Baker’s view the focus is constantly striving for innovation: “We’re seeing value created and value destructed at speeds never before imagined. The only way to get past that is to constantly innovate, to self-disrupt.”

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