Marketers and the Beanstalk

In the old English fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk, young Jack’s cow stops giving milk and, on the way to the market to sell her, a man (Is that Marc Benioff?) gives him some magic beans. He plants the beans, a giant stalk grows, he climbs it, and finds himself in the lair of a giant counting his money. He steals a bag of gold and climbs back down the beanstalk. Then he climbs back up and steals a goose that lays golden eggs. On his third foray, he steals a harp that plays itself, but this time he is caught. The giant chases him and will surely kill him, so he cuts the beanstalk down.

Not a bad allegory for the advent of digital marketing, is it? Marketers have been showered with magic technological tools allowing them to erect towering new business platforms seemingly overnight. But the tools are so many, and the platforms so unwieldy, that few are able to keep it up and many may even daydream about—like Jack—chopping it down.

“We have this big responsibility on our shoulders now. It’s going to make us or it’s going to crush us,” said Liz Miller, SVP of the CMO Council.

This week the CMO Council released a report based on input from 268 senior marketing executives that placed them in two distinct camps as concerns digital marketing. Split almost 50-50 were the leaders who saw themselves ably working the system and the laggards who admitted they’re adapting slowly or not at all.

“If you look at marketers’ job descriptions today, they’re doing a billion things. It’s become a huge, massively important job,” Miller said. “Senior management has embraced digital and is saying, ‘Hey marketing, here are your nine million tasks for today.’ So you have a lot of marketers reverting to their comfort zones, just grabbing the walls for a second.”

The poll indicated that marketing executives were in a tizzy managing the three legs of the digital stool—the API economy, the emergence of the digital enterprise, and the looming explosion of the Internet of Things (IoT). One of the most noteworthy findings was that leaders assigned all three of these areas high importance, while the laggards didn’t. Asked what technology would “very significantly” impact customer engagement, only 28% of laggards named IoT compared to 89% of leaders. Three quarters of the pace-setters awarded similar status to digital enterprise and APIs versus only 43 and 24%, respectively, of slow adapters.

The dearth of digital proficiency among marketers became clearly apparent when they are asked how well they executed multichannel campaigns. Only 5% said they did it “extremely well,” and just 14% rated themselves “very good.” More than a quarter (27%) said they were slowly evolving in multichannel and 18% admitted they were “not good at this time.”

“Each one of these areas is complex,” Miller noted. “The access to third-party plug-ins through the API economy seismically shifts the very direction of commerce and data. All of a sudden one in-store experience in Best Buy also impacts Whirlpool. That leads directly into IoT, where it’s not just my fridge telling me to pick up OJ, it’s people sending out important data through their pacemakers or insulin monitors. And digital enterprise is not just about marketing, it’s about supply chain.”

Miller said that this report, among the many reports issued by the CMO Council, sounded a singular alarm to her. “I got this overwhelming sense of marketers saying, ‘We’re doing moderately well.’ The fact that it’s now seemingly okay to say ‘We’re evolving a little bit’ was terrifying to me.”

She wants to tell all those marketing Jacks and Jills running away from the giant to steel themselves, turn around, and face him. If they don’t, they could well miss being a part of history.

“We’re changing business! Marketing, the coloring-in department is changing business!” Miller exclaimed. “Those laggard marketers are going to go the way of brand marketers if they don’t change.”

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