A few years ago we were working with a well-known telecommunications company and Doug got a call from one of their people to give feedback on some copy. In the next 10 minutes. as his shoulders slumped like Atlas and his lips thinned like Clint Eastwood with a pistol under his poncho on a bad day, I knew she was extracting every last shred of humanity, edge, fun and attitude from the piece; every bit of juice, in fact, that would have made the campaign fly. Doug finally plucked up the wherewithal to ask the person who she was. Flabbergastingly, she was the company’s legal counsel.
I was reminded of the interaction (and our incredulity that any firm would let their legal counsel pontificate on marketing at all, let alone down at the sentence level) when I was briefed by someone with the title “Marketing Operations Director” at a new prospect the other day. Don’t get me wrong, the fact that this company even had someone called Marketing Operations Director is a big, positive tick in the box in our client selection process. We specifically want to work with clients that take measurement and having the right infrastructure seriously. This is a job title I hope we start to see a lot of at our clients in 2013 and beyond.
But it did raise some alarm bells. Via a slight detour, here’s why.
It’s hard to remember that B2B companies only began to embrace the scientific approach to marketing in significant numbers about 18 months ago. Nobody would have bought Eloqua for almost $900m in 2010. Velocity’s first exposure to marketing automation was in 2007 with a company called Shipserv who were the first user of Salesforce and Marketo in Europe. Driven by B2B Marketingmeister John Watton, the Shipserv experience showed us that we’d entered a completely new world, one where buyers didn’t buy the way they used to and where marketing experimentation wasn’t an expensive indulgence, but an essential part of the plan. Instead of being drab wallflowers at every party organised by Sales, marketers suddenly had the potential to become the hot date, the one responsible for the revenue. All revenue. And best of all, we could measure and test and optimise everything and embark on continuous improvement like the other serious departments in the company.
This culminated in 2012 with Gartner predicting that within five years, CMOs would spend more on IT than CIOs (you can read how Forbes Magazine covered the story here). This caused a stir and the analyst, Laura McLellan followed that paper up later in the year when she said that 72% of companies surveyed already had a Chief Marketing Technologist (another term for marketing operations) with 87% expected to have one by 2014. Putting aside Gartner’s relentless need to find complex enterprise technology niches to part their subscribers from their money, the predicted trend does make sense to me – even if I think progress will be much slower than McClellan predicts.
In 2007, most B2B CMOs didn’t know what CMS stood for and probably didn’t need to. Today, they need expertise in CRM, marketing automation, analytics and business intelligence. They need to understand how to deploy social media and personalisation platforms and use mobile and location based marketing applications. They’re getting stuck into behavioural targeting, search and God knows what else.
Larissa de Carlo, the head of a company called Marketing Operations Works says that this tech explosion has seen the trade association, MOCCA, grow from just 50 or so members a few years ago to over 1000 today. This is probably because integrating all these different best-of-breed platforms and getting them to provide something useful to marketers is very difficult. Maybe Gartner really is onto something. Asking a normal B2B marketer to do this work would be like… asking your legal counsel to review marketing copy.
So why the red flag when I met my marketing operations contact? The prickling feeling on my neck was because he was on his own in the room with me. While I think a strong marketing operations capability is vital for the success of B2B marketing at our clients in future, I’m not sure that, except in very special circumstances, decisions about which creative agency to work with - or even the briefing of a bevy of agencies – should be devolved to marketing operations.
As Doug has pointed out brilliantly only recently, we are just about to be deluged in crap content marketing. Part of this shitstorm will come from an impulse to justify the investment made in marketing tech and infrastructure. As the number of white papers, eBooks, landing pages and emails in the world expands to infinity, the last thing we should do is devolve decisions about creative to the people cranking the handles of the machine.
B2B marketing stands on the threshold of a truly great thing for the first time: we have the tools and infrastructure to ensure that we only deliver great work to our prospects and customers. And I don’t mean ‘great’ in the traditional advertising sense of ego-fuelled flights of creative fancy. I mean work that really turns the marketing dial, that engages our prospects because it’s just what they need.
That will only come from an ongoing alliance between the marketing artists and the marketing scientists, one that is based on mutual respect. At Velocity we try to have both skill sets available to clients.The artists have been waiting for the technology to arrive so we can prove what works and what doesn’t. It’s here now and the best marketing will come from a symbiotic relationship between the two.