Are We Enlightened Marketers?

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.