Digital marketing leaders are responsible for everything from driving growth to customer acquisition and retention – objectives that involve and require collaboration with other leaders in the organization. It’s no surprise that successful marketing leaders are adept at fostering and maintaining an active, cross-functional network and leveraging this network to achieve goals.

You Can’t Go it Alone

“The CMO or digital marketing leader really can’t go it alone,” said VP Analyst Noah Elkin, Co-Chief of Research for Gartner’s Marketing and Communications Practice. “That’s not an option.”

An expert on digital marketing strategy, techniques and technology, Elkin shared highlights of Gartner’s 2021 Digital Marketing Survey with ITWC CMO Fawn Annan in a July 2021 installment of CMO Talks, a podcast series designed to showcase strategies for gaining a competitive edge through the intersection of marketing and technology.

Top Challenges

Noah Elkin
Noah Elkin, Co-Chief of Research for Gartner’s Marketing and Communications Practice

Commenting on changing marketing challenges, Elkin focused on two areas that saw significant year-over-year (YOY) increases from 2019 to 2020: delivering personalized experiences to customers, which saw the greatest YOY of any of the areas that Gartner has surveyed, and related to that, mapping digital marketing messages to audience channel preferences.

“Disruptions related to COVID possibly exacerbated those challenges, but the absence of COVID doesn’t make those challenges go away,” said Elkin, describing personalization as a long-term marketing effort. “Being able to align and understand the preferences of customers and deliver targeted, relevant communications based on the organization’s understanding of those preferences will continue to evolve.”

According to the 2021 Digital Marketing Survey, the role of the CMO is also evolving, as marketing and digital become more interconnected. Elkin described an increasingly digitally oriented remit in terms of managing the budget and meeting strategic digital marketing priorities, hiring and nurturing top talent, selecting and managing tools that support the digital marketing strategy, and meeting key objectives around customer acquisition and retention.

A Fine Balance

Attracting and retaining customers is a balancing act, said Elkin. Although COVID tipped the scale more to retention, he believes the balance may shift back to acquisition as consumers enter the recovery phase and begin looking for ways to spend money they didn’t spend at the height of the pandemic. “The key issue we talk about with our clients is when to really tip the balance in one direction or another,” he said. “And regardless of when that moment happens, how do we work on trying to acquire new customers without doing it at the expense of maintaining and retaining existing customers and growing those customers over time.”

When asked by Annan to reflect on the use of emerging technologies by digital marketers, Elkin said we are starting to see more of an emphasis on things like voice assistance and voice interfaces, with some experimentation around augmented or virtual reality and chatbots. He cautioned that success isn’t necessarily driven by adding more channels to the mix, saying “It’s better to execute well on a few channels than to execute in a mediocre fashion on many more.”

Returning to the topic of marketing personalization, Elkin opined that data stewardship has moved from something that is nice to have to something that is essential for the modern marketing organization. As the privacy landscape changes, and consumers change their expectations around the use of their personal data, he predicted the digital marketing leader will be at the epicenter when it comes to keeping pace, or even staying ahead of, those expectations. “The tide is really turning solidly in favor of transparency,” he stated.

As key takeaways for the podcast, Elkin said that digital marketing leadership is now synonymous with marketing leadership. He also touched on the increased responsibilities that fall to marketing leaders and the fine balance between retaining and acquiring customers.

“It’s important to think about the success of marketing initiatives in a larger, organization-wide framework,” he said in conclusion. “That’s where building and maintaining those collaborative cross-functional ties is going to be increasingly important.”

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