This was pre­vi­ously posted on the Adobe Con­ver­sa­tions blog on May 15.

In the 17th cen­tury, Eng­land had a water qual­ity prob­lem. The water was dirty, and it made you sick, so peo­ple chose to drink less of it – it was safer (and a bit more fun) to drink beer instead. They’d even have a lit­tle bit with break­fast. But by the mid­dle of the cen­tury, a new bev­er­age came on the scene: cof­fee. Peo­ple started to spend a lit­tle less time gath­ered in the pub drink­ing depres­sants, and a lot more time in cof­fee houses drink­ing stim­u­lants – and when they switched their fuel from beer to cof­fee, they started talk­ing – fast – about big, impor­tant ideas. That’s when the Enlight­en­ment really started to take off.

I told this story today on stage in Lon­don at EMEA Sum­mit – which I see as the one of the “cof­fee­houses” where mar­keters are com­ing together to dis­cuss some of the biggest issues fac­ing the indus­try today. It’s an inter­est­ing way to start the con­ver­sa­tion, not just because some of the atten­dees might have indulged in a lit­tle pre-Enlightenment lifestyle the night before, but also because I believe that mar­ket­ing is on the verge of its own big transformation.

Dig­i­tal is trans­form­ing busi­nesses, and it’s chal­leng­ing mar­keters at every level. Sys­tems across the busi­ness are becom­ing more con­nected, mov­ing mar­ket­ing towards the cen­ter of the enter­prise and offer­ing more touch points for mar­keters to con­nect com­pa­nies and con­sumers. And the pres­sure on mar­keters is higher than it’s ever been to engage con­sumers across chan­nels and to demon­strate real ROI for their businesses.

We need new ideas to make that hap­pen, and new ideas don’t nor­mally sur­face in iso­la­tion – they come from being exposed to net­works of thinkers who are wrestling with the same chal­lenges we are. But it’s going to take all of us, on a per­sonal level, com­mit­ting to doing things dif­fer­ently than we’ve ever done them before.

It is harder than ever to work in mar­ket­ing – but in spite of this, we see some com­pa­nies that excel where it seems impos­si­ble. These are the com­pa­nies that seem to already be oper­at­ing with an enlight­ened approach to dig­i­tal, and we want to know what’s mak­ing them so good. They’re the best of the best in dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing, and we hear sto­ries about them all of the time.

We wanted to know empir­i­cally what it meant to be one of the best of the best, so we looked across indus­tries with our Dig­i­tal Index research to find out what makes the dif­fer­ence between get­ting by and being best in class. What we found was dra­matic: in the travel and retail ver­ti­cals, best-in-class mar­keters posted a 200% higher con­ver­sion rate. The best mar­keters in finance had 50% higher stick­i­ness. (See all Best-of-the-Best Research results)

But as we dove even deeper into the best of the best, we real­ized some­thing stag­ger­ing. It’s not just that the best of the best are hit­ting amaz­ing marks in con­ver­sion, stick rate, visit depth or con­sump­tion – it’s that they’re get­ting bet­ter at a faster rate than any­one else. They’re actu­ally accel­er­at­ing the per­for­mance curve for every­one. And, when we dug a lit­tle deeper into “why” the best of the best are accel­er­at­ing, we found that theme that emerged from their orga­ni­za­tions – the fuel dri­ving their explo­sive growth – is the matu­rity of their marketing.

There’s a big dif­fer­ence between age and matu­rity. If you’ve been at some­thing for a long time, that doesn’t auto­mat­i­cally mean you’re great at it. When we think of mature mar­keters, we see them as deeply flu­ent in three key areas: prod­ucts, processes and people.

To be a highly mature mar­ket­ing orga­ni­za­tion, you need prod­ucts that are best in class and that are inte­grated around data and con­tent. You need processes that span the orga­ni­za­tion and cat­alyze change. And you need peo­ple with the abil­i­ties and com­pe­ten­cies to take on new chal­lenges in an era of dig­i­tal. And you need to work effec­tively across all of these dimen­sions. They either enhance our capa­bil­i­ties as mar­keters, or they cre­ate drag on our work that we may not even notice.

To be a best-in-class mar­keter, you need to be aware of these issues in your orga­ni­za­tion, and take action on them. But how? It’s not enough to the­o­rize about the “Three Ps.” You want to decon­struct these con­cepts, under­stand them, bench­mark them – and then plan against them.

In our research, we wanted to call out the gaps that exist between where we are as orga­ni­za­tions, teams and indi­vid­u­als – and where we want to be. If we could do that, we could begin to fig­ure out how to put the three Ps into align­ment just like the best of the best are doing, and accel­er­ate mar­ket­ing across the board.

But to get the data we wanted, we had to get cre­ative. The tools to mea­sure what we were look­ing for sim­ply didn’t exist. So we cre­ated the Adobe Dig­i­tal Mar­ket­ing Matu­rity Assess­ment – a set of 44 tar­geted ques­tions designed to tease out insights about how mar­keters rate their prod­ucts, processes and peo­ple. (Check out Adobe’s Matu­rity Self-Assessment Tool) We tested more than 650 cus­tomers around the world, and it gen­er­ated some incred­i­ble data about our industry.

As a whole, mar­keters feel like we’ve made some great strides in order to respond to the demands of dig­i­tal – but we still have a long way to go before we can ace this test. The aver­age matu­rity assess­ment score was a 2.2 out of 5, and the best-in-class mar­keters aver­aged a 3.4. On prod­ucts, mar­keters are good with ana­lyt­ics, seg­men­ta­tion and tar­get­ing. But we have real gaps in advanced capa­bil­ity in mobile opti­miza­tion, data inte­gra­tion and automa­tion. On process, we do well with com­mu­ni­cat­ing with seg­ments, but we can do bet­ter on attri­bu­tion and effi­cient con­tent cre­ation. And in peo­ple, we have a good han­dle on strat­egy – but we need more peo­ple trained and skilled to make strat­egy real. Over­all, none of these results are nec­es­sar­ily good or bad. They sim­ply uncover some of the detail in align­ing the 3 P’s to get best in class results.

These num­bers also show us that the major­ity of mar­ket­ing orga­ni­za­tions have to work on each of these areas if we want to mature our mar­ket­ing. It looks like a long way to go to get from a 2.2 to a 5.0 – but it’s a huge oppor­tu­nity. And a good way to get started is to take a close look at our­selves – what are our strengths, and what do we need to learn from oth­ers, in order to become the best of the best?

If you can under­stand your­self, you can train your sights on the new ideas and new ways of think­ing. And when you’ve iden­ti­fied the most fruit­ful oppor­tu­ni­ties for you to develop pro­fes­sion­ally, and for your orga­ni­za­tion to evolve, you can work your way from aver­age to best-in-class – and drive our indus­try towards a more enlight­ened form of marketing.