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MBA Careers: Disruptive Marketing Tech Opens Web Of Opportunity

As the technical landscape shifts there is an intensive desire to hire marketers with digital skills. Chief marketing officers must now combine both technology and strategic expertise.

Wed Mar 25 2015

The increasingly fragmented marketing world faces transformation. Digital tools and an onslaught of data mean companies must evolve their strategies to cater to the shortening attention spans of modern consumers.

As the technical landscape shifts there is an intensive desire to hire talent with core digital skills. Marketers must now combine both technology and strategic expertise, and adapt to new digital platforms and function within fluid, global teams.

Such talent is in short supply, believes Sheldon Monteiro, chief technology officer at SapientNitro, a marketing firm. Advertising and media groups are competing with technology businesses like Google and Facebook for recruits, as the role of the contemporary CMO is radically shifted to one that balances technology, creativity and business acumen.

Business schools once pumped out a steady stream of marketing executives but they risk becoming out of touch. It is rare to find people who understand the technical side and the broader strategic thinking of marketing – so rare that agency managers call them “unicorns”.

“There’s no doubt that marketing and technology are inextricably inter-twined,” says Sheldon. The rise of the chief marketing technology officer has been salient but this talent is extremely hard to find. “Academia frankly hasn’t stepped up to fill this gap,” Sheldon says. 

Part of the problem is that technology companies are not embracing education, says Marialena Zinopoulou, CEO of the Digital Marketing Association and lecturer on the MSc Strategic Marketing course at Imperial College Business School.

She says that students need access to digital tools earlier in their careers. “We need technology companies to lean in.”

These digital tools are disrupting the marketing world on a grand scale. A virtual web of creativity unleashed by video and social media offers new ways for marketers to convey messages and promote brands.

Micro-targeted advertising via the web is increasingly attractive to companies over expensive TV campaigns. Total advertising on digital video is forecast to hit $8 billion by 2016, from about $4 billion in 2013, according to eMarketer, the research company.

“It’s a much more immersive and enjoyable way of communicating,” says Steve Hatch, regional director for the UK and Ireland at Facebook.

But the sheer number of platforms, producers and publishers mean there is an abundance of advertising inventory. Markers must operate in a world in which is there is a tsunami of content and a thimble of consumer attention, says Steve.

“If you’re a marketer, the challenge becomes: how do I scale?... [And] how do I balance between scale and impact and relevance?” he says.

Facebook’s impact on the marketing world has been pronounced. Advertisers are increasingly tapping into the proliferation of social media data to help determine the content that they create.

Social media platforms have emerged as a crucial and valuable new tool for both communicating with consumers and gauging sentiment.

Total US social media advertising revenues are set to grow from $8.4 billion last year to $15 billion in 2018, according to figures from BIA/Kelsey, a media consultancy.

However, Steve believes that creativity remains intrinsic to success. There is a danger that, in a world where big data, real-time ad buying and social networking consumes marketers’ minds, they may lose touch with what makes for advertising success – a focus on creativity and the customer.

Tara Powadiuk, global media partnerships lead at Microsoft, says that technology works best when it sits in the background. “The idea has to come first and the customer has to come first… The technology should be this simple beautiful thing that enables all of it to happen,” she says.

Microsoft is one of the tech groups that the creative and digital marketing agencies have to compete for talent with – and for viewers, according to Tim Holmes from the MBA in Media Management at Cardiff Business School.

Silicon Valley companies are increasing attractive to graduates of MBA and marketing programs. As technology has become more of a focus in the ad world, this has intensified.  

The advent of data in particular has had great impact on marketing. The Holy Grail for marketers is often to show the right ad to the right person at the right time – across devices. A barrage of consumer data, coupled with cutting-edge analytic technologies, makes this possible.

But it is easy for marketers to hide behind the data, says Marie Steinthaler, head of marketing and growth at Hopster TV, a TV and learning platform for children.

“There is a danger in becoming over- enamoured with the actual delivery mechanism of what it is they are trying to get across to the consumer,” she says.

She adds that it’s not just about sending a message, but living up to the product reality. Marketers are increasingly involved in product design, product development and customer relationships.

Where data play an important role is in decision-making – and in putting the consumer back at the heart of the conversation.

Tara at Microsoft says that data also help marketing teams to work more efficiently. She says that companies are trying to automate and “machineize” the parts of marketing that could be done better and more efficiently by a machine – freeing up time for creative work.

This technology has rapidly changed the nature of marketing teams – teams which are key to the success of advertising departments and agencies.

CMOs now work more closely with chief information officers and CEOs, and they have to embrace technology more widely, according to Brad Rinklin, chief marketing officer at Akamai, the Nasdaq-listed cloud services provider.

He says Akamai created a technology-marketing department within its marketing group to more closely align the two business areas – a team of pure marketers but also sales and finance staff, and engineers.

“It gives us perspective – a whole other way to think about things,” Brad says. “It comes down to finding the right people for your team,” he adds.

This leads to a healthy level of tension within the department, and this is not unique to Akamai. “That ability to listen respectfully and challenge is rare,” says Daryl Fielding, director of brand marketing for Vodafone UK, the telecoms group.

She describes this collaboration between marketing, technology and other departments and agencies as an “on-going slog”. Marketing staff are increasing on temporary or part-time contracts. 

Daryl values recruits who can stand up to the challenge. “The ability to adapt to changing situations and work effectively with different people in an organization... Is crucial,” she says.

If there is one technology that future marketing stars should focus on it is mobile, say executives. “There is definitely this sense of mobile first and mobile only,” says Michelle Guthrie, managing director of agencies for APAC at Google, in Asia.

She adds that in the region Google believes mobile is crucial in the online to offline purchase journey.

The rise of mobile as a platform continues to make dramatic impact on the advertising and marketing industry globally. Mobile ad spending in the US, for instance, will this year reach parity with the desktop, according to eMarketer, hitting $28.4 billion in 2019.

An increasing number of publishers are also allowing media buyers to place ads on their mobile sites in real time, trading individual ad impressions like stocks on exchanges.  

These trends all have implications for marketers, and the agencies and corporations that are struggling to find a breed of employee that can combine tech, strategic and creative traits.

There are signs, however, that the next generation of marketing executives are being prepared for a digitally-connected market.

Fordham Graduate School of Business in New York offers students courses on media innovation and consumer adoptions of new media, says assistant professor Bozena Mierzejewska, and UK-based Henley Business School’s MBA for the Music and Creative Industries has worked with IBM to deliver analytics training.

Helen Gammons, Henley’s program director, says that advanced social media dashboard work can pin-point areas of engagement and consumer “noise” on social media – helping to direct marketing spend accordingly.