Less Than Half of Marketers Say the C-Suite "Gets" Digital

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The long road to digital marketing leadership starts with organizational alignment, a study finds.

Companies identified as “digital marketing leaders” in the latest marketing study from Epsilon and Econsultancy tend to have better alignment throughout their organization about the digital marketing strategy, as well as better financial performance and customer retention, than their peers.

According to the study, Leading a Digital Marketing Evolution: Lessons in Transformation, Culture, and Technology from the Global 1,000, only 44% of the more than 400 marketing executives surveyed say that the C-suite executives in their firms understand digital marketing and are developing effective strategies.

“The global 1,000 want to be customer centric and digitally capable, but there's a long way to go to putting these goals in practice,” says Stefan Tornquist, Econsultancy's vice president for research in the U.S. While many of those surveyed believe they have company cultures that promote decision-making through experimentation, few truly learn from failure or give innovators room to work.

One fifth of the marketers surveyed were identified by Epsilon and Econsultancy as working for market leaders who are part of the change or disruptors in their sectors; 40% were cited as mainstream that are “not winning the game, but getting better”; and the rest as followers that aren't investing in digital technology and lack in agreement between marketers and the C-suite about how to proceed with digital marketing.

The leading companies have more communication between the technology and marketing departments and between those departments and the C-suite, according to Kim Finnerty, Epsilon's SVP of research and insights. “Marketing and technology need to work together seamlessly for [digital marketing] to work. The leading companies let marketers be the marketers they want to be. They excel in building relationships with customers.”

“The marketers with the leading companies do those things that you want them to do with the technology,” Tornquist adds. “They use the technology to help the company succeed. [Yet] one of the real-life issues with marketers is that they can't always make full use of the technology that's available.”

This tends to occur in the “follower” companies, as well as in the mainstream firms, as marketers struggle to overcome the objections of CEOs who may not understand digital technology, and therefore don't embrace digital marketing strategies. Some of these CEOs may be limiting their firm's digital marketing strategies because they're afraid that their marketers are pursuing the newest marketing technology simply because it's new, Finnerty says. “The followers tend to see technology as a barrier to marketing,” she says. “They see marketers as chasing after the newest bright object, the newest app.”

Tornquist and Finnerty add that marketers who think they're being deterred by the C-suite from pursuing effective digital marketing strategies should demonstrate to executives the benefits of technology to prove that what they want to do (or are already doing in some cases) will work. Marketers need to demonstrate the value of digital technologies to prove that they're not just focusing on a shiny object.

Among the report's other findings:

  • Nearly 75% of marketers surveyed are analyzing the differences between desktop and mobile customers.
  • “Leaders” are 43% more likely than “mainstream” companies and 77% more likely than “follower” companies to be growing faster than the sector average.
  • Nearly 40% of leaders say their technology “empowers everything we do.” That figure drops to 6% for mainstream and 1% for follower firms.
  • Just over half (56%) of mainstream companies said that all marketing team members understand their digital marketing strategy well enough to describe it.
  •  Nearly two thirds of mainstream companies and more than 70% of leader companies have some framework in place for assigning value to social media.
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