Marketing, like most industries, is going through a digital transformation. Social media platforms from Facebook to Twitter, along with data and algorithms have modernized the field. Marketing resembles Big Tech more than it does the TV series Mad Men. For many executives, the key to maximizing returns is making effective use of these new tools — but understanding their limitations and the skepticism surrounding their abilities.
Jeremy Kagan, a professor of digital marketing at New York’s Columbia Business School, does not think that digital automation in the marketing sector threatens job numbers and human creativity. “I think this actually increases the need for strategic thinkers and provides more opportunity to be creative,” he says, pointing out that digital automation streamlines routine tasks, freeing time to focus on more important tasks such as strategy and effectiveness.
“We can more quickly test new creative ideas and strategies to reach customers without getting bogged down in the operational and executional logistics,” he says.
Kagan is the faculty director for the Digital Marketing Strategy program at Columbia, one of a host of executive education courses in marketing and related fields that are helping senior leaders to navigate their industry’s new technology — but without snuffing out human flair. This includes INSEAD’s Strategic Marketing Program and the Digital Marketing: Customer Analytics and Engagement course at Imperial College London.
Most of these programs are short and can be completed in one week or less. Others cover a wider range of topics and may lead to a certification, such as UBC Sauder’s Certificate in Marketing Management and Innovation, which is granted after completing six short programs from the school’s marketing roster.
For many marketers, a new sense of purpose
In addition to the digital revolution, Kagan says that ESG (environmental, social and governance) requirements are giving brand purpose a central role in marketing. “Marketers don’t just have the bullhorn of advertising to say what they want; content marketing and social media force a brand dialog,” he says. Consumers — especially the young digitally savvy generations — can quickly identify when a brand isn’t living up to its stated goals.
In his program, Kagan teaches executives to use two-way digital channels to showcase brand strengths and amplify messages. “Digital marketing allows us to monitor the conversation and respond as well as create content and marketing materials that directly address [ESG] concerns,” he says.
Kent Grayson, a professor of marketing at Kellogg School of Management in Illinois, agrees that customers in a variety of sectors are considering brand purpose when making their purchase decisions. “We emphasize that developing purpose without also developing trust is a waste of company resources,” he says. “In fact, an empty brand promise can sometimes create more damage than no purpose at all, because it sets companies up for violating expectations and breaking trust.”
Kellogg’s marketing courses — including the invitation-only Chief Marketing Officer Program — also cover the application of advanced analytics and artificial intelligence to marketing, as well as the leadership and change management skills necessary to move organizations forward.
Balancing technology with human creativity
Eric Leininger, clinical professor of executive education at Kellogg, says that executives need to build a baseline understanding of technology and its limitations. “People who do not stay up to date, re-tool their skills, and surround themselves with people who bring complementary skills and knowledge will quickly become dinosaurs,” he suggests.
But he also believes that executives are having to balance human creativity with the benefits of digital technology, saying: “When I talk to CMOs today, they are tremendously focused on getting the best possible ideas from their teams. The demand for creativity does not meet the supply.”
Leininger adds that tech needs to be combined with business strategy: “The most dynamic firms today combine relentless customer centricity with innovative technologies. Yes, this is a question about effective tools, but it is about more than the tools.”
His participants are executives who recognize that training should accelerate their personal job satisfaction as well as prepare them for greater levels of responsibility. “They recognize that the world around them will change in unexpected ways,” says Leininger.
Accordingly, the modules focus on recent cases and vigorous discussion, he says. “Executives recognize the need for strong implementation planning to bring great strategies to life, and generate impact.”
It’s a similar story at Columbia, where lectures lay the foundation for exercises that demonstrate the real-world power of technology, says Kagan. “For example, we use search tools to come up with estimates of customer acquisition costs, and how many can be acquired as a baseline to start.”
The participants are exposed to the nuts and bolts of technology. “But our focus is on effective tools for managing the strategy: the strengths and weaknesses of each channel, how it works, and tools and metrics to manage for success,” he says.