NEW YORK: The rapid pace of change in the digital world is resulting in the evolution of the marketer, who is taking on new roles as peacekeeper, navigator and student, a leading industry figure has argued. 

Nick Johnson, CEO of Incite Marketing and Communications noted in a white paper that there had been "a radical shift in the power dynamic between brands and their consumers", thanks to the rise of social media and the ease with which people could now ignore ads.

The consequences of this were that they increasingly expected to have authentic and relevant conversations with brands. Marketers had to cope with more channels, more data and ever-faster response times while attempting greater "customer-centricity".

In feedback from over 1,000 marketing executives worldwide, Johnson found that only 8% did not agree on the need for their businesses to be more closely aligned to customers.

But achieving this will entail significant change for most of them. As Claire Burns, chief customer officer at insurance company MetLife, remarked: "To be customer-centric requires a systematic retooling of almost everything that you do".

One of the biggest challenges faced is the creation of multi-channel strategies, as three quarters said this aspect of their business was not as developed as it should be. And only 29% were able to report that all customer touchpoints were the responsibility of one unified team.

In the absence of a single team, Johnson suggested that "the next best alternative is a clearly defined brand voice that all touchpoints conform to, and an improvement to existing CRM systems to ensure a conversation started on Instagram can be finished on Twitter".

Marc Spreichert, CMO at L'Oréal USA, explained how a centralised insights function meant that "we're now really able to follow our consumers whichever channel they move in", with the result that brand positioning had improved.

Johnson expected marketing to operate in greater collaboration with other departments in future, with marketers leading the way towards customer-centricity and having to negotiate internal disputes to achieve this.

At the same time, marketers will be analysing reams of data to inform not only future marketing plans but also future corporate strategy. "You must have clarity on the path the business wants to take, and you must make adequate preparations before embarking on the journey," Johnson recommended, whether augmenting CRM systems or more clearly defining brand voice.

But the most important role for marketers was likely to be that of a student, as they learned from IT how to better process data, from peers how to navigate key measurement and execution challenges, and from customers to understand what engaged them.

Data sourced from Incite Marketing and Communications; additional content by Warc staff