Digital transformation brings marketers into the boardroom

The Adobe 2021 Digital Trends Report revealed an increased demand for marketing to contribute to overall business strategy.

Three-quarters of senior executives said the role of marketing in setting strategy expanded in 2020, yet many businesses are still in reactive mode. Companies are looking for marketing to help respond to the burst of digital customers, but many have not yet committed to an experience-driven approach to growth.

Experience-driven organisations, where marketing teams have command of the data to understand the digital-first customer, were empowered by their agile response to the rapid change in customer behaviour.

I recently had the opportunity to discuss the changing landscape for marketing executives with Peter Weill, Senior Research Scientist and Chair of the Centre for Information Systems Research at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

We unpacked some of the findings from the 2021 Digital Trends Report, along with Peter’s own research into the ‘digital savviness’ of boards.

Here are three key takeaways for marketing leaders from our conversations.

Data is powering marketing’s move to the boardroom

According to the 2021 Digital Trends Report, CFOs at companies where marketing has strong capabilities in gaining accurate insights and testing them in the field were twice as likely to recognise the importance of CX compared to those with weak capabilities.

Most companies are rich in data volume, but only 23 percent of executives rated their organisation as very strong in their speed of gaining accurate insights.

Peter notes companies want three things from marketing: better customer experience, improved operational efficiencies in serving customers, and experimentation with new business models.

He shared an example of Singapore’s DBS Bank that has embraced digital transformation to deliver on all three of those objectives, helping its customers live more and bank less. The bank has put digital at its core, enabling it to innovate and enter new markets like India.

The ability for marketing to turn insights into actions at speed will be a key driver for success through 2021.

Collaboration across the C-suite is key to digital transformation

While we often talk about the burgeoning CMO-CIO relationship, Peter suggests there are six key executives that need to work together to deliver truly impactful experiences.

He says the CMO, CIO and CEO are the obvious drivers but also points to the influence and impact that the CFO, Compliance and Communications can have. Compliance, for example, plays a significant role in an area like ethical data use: “that’s an area that is very difficult to get right,” Peter says, “And so Compliance has a big role to say not just ‘no’ but ‘we could do it this way’.”

He also mentions the Head of Communications’ role in promoting, influencing and educating customers, investors and employees on the digital transformation journey and business impact shouldn’t be underestimated.

Now is the time to be bold and innovate

Customers now have higher expectations of integration than ever before, so innovation of the CX must now become the status quo.

“You have to be bolder than we have before, because doing defensive will just lead you to slowly reducing margins,” Peter says.

But he emphasised the importance of breaking down siloes within the organisation to maximise efficiencies and deliver impactful customer experiences.

“One of the downsides of this great innovation that has occurred from COVID is we’ve created more siloes and spaghetti.”

The pandemic didn’t create new trends so much as accelerate them. For years traditional companies have been under pressure from new customer behaviour and digital native competitors trying to exploit market inefficiencies.

Clearly, innovation is key to the future, not just for marketers but for enterprise organisations as a whole.