Want to Adapt Your Firm to New Media? Kick Bad Old Habits

Ring in the New With Training and Pilots, and Get Customer-Obsessed

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We all have bad habits. Not flossing. Letting water run in the sink. Throwing plastic bottles in the trash instead of the recycling bin. They may weigh on our conscience, but we persist because we don't see immediate negative consequences. Maybe that 's how marketers are able to persist in their bad (or should I say outmoded) marketing habits. But what if they find it so hard to change that they can't help but do things the way they've always have?

That question is at the heart of a Forrester study of 81 U.S. CMOs and marketing leaders done in August 2011 in collaboration with the CMO Club. The research revealed that 78% of marketing leaders are having difficulty transforming their companies into ones that can adapt to evolving market conditions and technologies. Based on composite survey scores, we classified marketers into four groups:

  • Inflexible marketers. They are bound by a rigid and complacent company culture, where defying convention is frowned on. In all, 22 % of marketers in the study earned this distinction.
  • Restricted marketers. They have made some progress in building adaptive organizations and processes, but they can't get their companies to commit to a revised vision. The majority (56%) fell into this category.
  • Progressive marketers. They've made significant strides toward becoming more agile and nimble by building a collaborative culture and a networked organization. Only 16% made it into this group.
  • Adaptive marketers.Thy have the vision to transform the company's culture, structure and practices, and they've gained executive support to redefine the mission and role of the marketing function. Just 5% are in this group.

Over the past two years, more-adaptive marketers reported higher performance in sales, customer satisfaction and innovation than rigid firms. How can you follow their lead?

Focus first on three habits that we found correlated most with success: piloting new media and technology, training employees in new technology and acting like a customer-obsessed company. To put these into practice, CMOs should:

  • Adjust the company's risk tolerance for new media and technology experimentation. Adaptive marketers aren't necessarily big risk seekers concerning technology but better at spreading risk across a variety of pilot programs. Coca-Cola, for example, has taken a methodical approach with mobile, trying dozens of tests to find the best ways to leverage it to engage with customers across the lifecycle. They have included social gaming, augmented reality, hyperlocal marketing and mobile commerce. Coca-Cola recently piloted Google Wallet with 200 vending machines in the U.S.

  • Bridge the digital-talent divide by equipping and training employees. Marketers face a generational talent gap in digital skills that must be addressed. Many companies are reallocating a significant part of their travel budgets to tools and training. Instead of sending employees to a hotel in Las Vegas, they are giving them devices like iPads and providing teaching to make them comfortable with new media and technology.

  • Develop customer-obsessed capabilities. To gain new sources of competitive advantage, marketing heads must be prepared to lead the revolution. That means shifting resources and budgets to build four pillars: just-in-time customer intelligence, holistic customer experiences, intelligent sales channels and digitized marketing.

    Procter & Gamble is harnessing technology across the enterprise to deliver on all four pillars of customer obsession. For instance, P&G is building more intelligent sales channels in part via smartphone technology to help its retail partners in local markets optimize their displays by getting real-time feedback from P&G merchandising experts via photo- and video-sharing.

    Now is the time to ask your marketing organization, "What bad habits do we need to shed in 2012 to become more adaptive?"

    Chris Stutzman is a principal analyst at Forrester Research.
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