#StayWoke: Why marketers must ‘upskill’ to thrive in the digital economy by Efrain Rosario

LS International

This is a Guest Article written by Efrain Rosario.

In today’s fast-paced economy, change is truly the only constant, with consumer needs and habits, and companies’ response to those needs, consistently evolving with the emergence of digital technologies and the proliferation of data that accompanies it.

6.3 hours per day spent with digital media (more than TV & print combined)

(Source:  eMarketer 2018)

Digital transformation lies at the core of this change, but what does it represent to marketers?  If you’re wondering what “digital transformation” refers to, you’re not alone – marketers like you and me search that term 9,300 times every month (Source:  Brilliant Noise, 2018).

According to Capgemini, digital transformation is “the use of technology to radically improve performance or reach of an enterprise.”  In marketing terms, it’s changed how products are created, sold, distributed, and promoted:

With this change comes opportunity – marketers today have a wealth of new communication channels, tactics, and measurement metrics to reach and engage consumers.  The definition of ‘marketing’ itself has evolved … marketers must now bridge retail/brand and technology worlds, combining brand building fundamentals (e.g., positioning, purchase/consumption funnel) with an understanding of new technologies (e.g., data science, voice activation, programmatic ads) to succeed.


More data-centric, performance-oriented, and transformation-focused

This evolution has expanded the marketer’s role, with broader responsibilities reaching beyond traditional brand building (e.g., creative content development, marketing communications) into demand generation and advanced analytics, aimed at delivering new sources of growth.  When I was at Coca-Cola, Irial Finian, President of the Bottling Investments Group, always reminded us that there were two roles at our company:  those who sell and those who help them to sell.  To succeed, marketing leaders had to wear both a brand building and commercial hat.

How has this expanded role taken shape in FMCG?  Look no further than the executive suite, where CMOs have been challenged to deliver on new topics such as customer experience (CX) and digital transformation.

60% of executives believe they’re behind in digital transformation(Source:  Forrester, 2018)

In fact, several FMCG companies have replaced the CMO role entirely, opting instead for Chief Growth Officers (CGO) in the boardroom:


In March 2017, Coca-Cola chose not to replace its outgoing CMO, Marcos de Quinto, opting instead to appoint Francisco Crespo as CGO, merging marketing with commercial and customer teams.

Monica McGurk, previously CGO at Tyson Foods, succeeded Clive Sirkin as CGO at Kellogg’s in January 2019, who’d been in that role since 2014, tasked with deploying “a brand building model fit for our evolving digital economy.”

P. Justin Skala has been CGO at Colgate-Palmolive since June 2018, a role originated at the company in 2014.

Tim Cofer has served as Mondelez’s CGO since 2016, responsible for strategy, innovation, consumer insights, marketing, research & development and supply chain functions.


Follow the money

New or expanded roles, tasked with new responsibilities have also impacted marketing budgets.  Senior marketing leaders have shifted their priorities, with nearly ⅓ of their budgets allocated to marketing technology initiatives like email marketing, content management, and digital analytics platforms (source:  Gartner, 2019).


The straw that stirs the drink

So what does it all mean for frontline marketers?  Let’s start with data – the sheer volume of data available has increased exponentially.

90% of available data didn’t exist three years ago (Source:  IBM Marketing Cloud 2017)

But let’s be honest – shortage of data is not an issue for large FMCGs, with most marketers having a wealth of syndicated and proprietary research at our disposal.  The struggle has always been how to harness that data and translate into implications and action.  Faced with growing mountains of data, marketers, now more than ever with insights and research embedded in their function, must interpret data to create simple, easy to understand metrics that articulate not just the WHAT (i.e., an observation), but the SO WHAT (i.e., business implications or what we should do about it) as well.


Embrace tech

Which brings us to the next point – the dreaded T-word.  Some people fear that technology, led by artificial intelligence (AI), will become the dominant form of intelligence on Earth, with computers or bots wrestling control of the planet away from humans.


Freedom within a framework

Several years ago, I deployed an updated capabilities framework for shopper marketing strategy and activation – The Coca-Cola Way of Shopper Marketing.  When meeting with the various marketing teams around the world, I emphasized how process can drive creativity – creating standard processes to handle routine and mundane tasks frees up brainpower to handle the stuff most marketers prefer to work on – understanding our customers and crafting better creative that delights and inspires them to buy your products.

One could make the same argument today with regards to technology.   AI will not replace humans, but augment our existing capabilities by removing mundane tasks typically not in our wheelhouse and free us up to focus on tasks that require human judgment and creativity.  Combined with data science, it has the potential to automate several marketing tasks, such as content optimization (imagine real-time edits to key visuals and calls to action, with A/B tests to test & learn), precision marketing (micro-targeting), and merchandising compliance (planograms).


Upskilling for new collar jobs

So what does it all mean for experienced marketers?  Has everything we’ve learned over the years of our careers suddenly become irrelevant?  Are we all out of jobs?  Of course not – yes, in some cases traditional marketing constructs will evolve (goodbye 4Ps, hello 4Es), but relying solely on growth hacking tactics like SEO and SEM will leave brands devoid of any strategy (I’ve had this debate with several growth hackers).

How do we reconcile the tension between traditional marketing and growth hacking?  Experienced marketers would be unwise to bury their heads in the sand and discount these new tactics.  Instead, our teams must evolve from project managers that outsource all tasks to having their “hands on the keyboard” and lean into the analytics, insights, and creative development they’ll ultimately have more time to do, with AI and machine learning handling tasks that we as humans typically struggle with (math, memorization) and/or occupy most of their time (e.g., visual tagging creative content).

We must also shift our thinking from outsourcing jobs to outsourcing tasks to technology, focusing on building new skills to capitalize on the vast potential that the proliferation of data and AI and machine learning represent.  Skills around the interpretation and application of data, leveraging the new digital tools and communication channels at our disposal.


Go beyond traditional

Changes to organizational structures, titles, and budgets reflect the new definition of marketing.  So how will on-the-job training keep pace?

As mentioned above, “new collar” jobs will require the reinvention of skills and education, with retraining no longer handled exclusively through traditional means (e.g., diplomas from 4 year universities). It will also require larger companies to rethink how they view investment in employee training, with companies contributing, but not owning, employees’ long-term careers, as average tenures continue to shrink.

Marketers must take ownership of our training plans and explore a variety of methods, both traditional and new, available to upskill for success.

  1. Traditional learning:  explore live classroom courses offered through universities (many universities, my alma mater included, offer executive education and/or partner with companies on courses).
  2. Company training:  take advantage of opportunities internally to reinvent skills and education around key business initiatives.  For example, Credit Mutuel, working with IBM, trained 20,000 client advisors on how to use AI (Watson) to help create the bank branch of the future.
  3. Freemium tools:  many of the growth hacking tools commonly used by new marketers offer a freemium option, for you to have a play and build your own marketing stack.
  4. Online training:  companies like Udemy and Coursera offer a broad assortment of online courses to learn new skills.  Personally, I’ve explored courses for topics like graphic design with Adobe Photoshop and data science with Tableau.
  5. Secondment:  consider broadening your horizon and explore different roles and/or in different industries through a secondment, rotation, or sabbatical.  Having gone this route myself, I can attest to how rewarding it can be not just in terms of what you learn, but how works gets done (e.g., agile software development) and interacting with new types of coworkers.


Digital transformation = efficient + effective marketing

Digital transformation represents an opportunity for marketers to drive marketing spend efficiency and greater effectiveness in engaging and delighting customers.  For that to happen, digital and data must be embedded into how we define our role as marketers.

It’s up to each of us to choose how we will face this challenge.  Me, I opt to embrace data and what it can offer, improving what I already do as a marketer and doing things we’ve only just begun to dream up.

Constantly curious … an American in Paris, Efrain Rosario is founder and Chief Strategist of pèpita insights, helping companies interpret their data and transform it into powerful customer insights that lead to meaningful commercial action.  After starting his career in management consulting at Accenture, Efrain has worked as a senior marketing executive for both digital startups and The Coca-Cola Company, including Head of Global Shopper Marketing, Precision Marketing Global Director, and Director of Insights.


References and Additional Reading:

Monday Morning Marketer:  Musings from VivaTech 2018
Bond Internet Trends 2019, Mary Meeker
Monday Morning Marketer: what rentrée can teach us about marketing & GDPR
Forrester:  Chief Growth Officers Will Replace CMOs, Marketing Dive 2017
Marketing Chiefs Must Go or Grow, AdWeek 2017
8 Top Findings in Gartner CMO Spend Survey, Gartner 2018
Coca-Cola and The Rise of the Chief Growth Officer, Marketing Week 2017
How to Succeed as a Chief Growth Officer, Kellogg Insight 2015
The Emergence of the Chief Growth Officer in Consumer Packaged Goods