CMOs—Now Is the Time to Assess Your Digital Skills

By Dominic Field

The Cannes Lions festival, which wrapped up June 25, bills itself as “Eight days dedicated to the power of creativity.” That’s certainly true, but these days it might be more accurate to say, “Eight days dedicated to the power of creativity and technology.” While many of the headline speakers at Cannes hailed from the creative communities of film, TV, and, of course, advertising, much of the festival’s real action took place around the booths of tech leaders such as Google, Facebook, and Tencent.

Marketing today is a tech-driven enterprise. According to eMarketer, global digital advertising spending will reach $178 billion in 2016, almost 30% of total ad spending. CMOs have taken note. Digital advertising already represents a third of all ad spending in the US, and many forecasts see digital reaching parity with TV in a few years’ time. Programmatic, or automated, spending on display advertising (desktop and mobile) is a $9 billion market that is expanding at almost 30% a year. Market forecasts indicate that programmatic will overtake direct ad sales globally between 2017 and 2019. It is not uncommon for a large consumer products company to devote 30% to 50% of its marketing budget to digital channels.

For advertisers and their agencies, digital marketing is not only the future, it’s the present. There’s only one problem. Today’s marketers do not have all the skills they need to operate in a digital world—and the gaps and shortfalls are bigger than companies think they are. The signs for the future are even more troubling, as many marketers seem focused on catching up on yesterday’s needs rather than embedding into their organizations the capabilities and expertise that will be required tomorrow.

In 2015, The Boston Consulting Group surveyed 1,100 marketers at 57 companies in the UK and Germany. We applied our 100-point Digital Capabilities Index (with 100 indicating best practice) and found that the average score for participating companies was 57. While a few companies ranked higher than 70, the majority fell squarely into the 55-to-60-point range. Scores for investing in new capabilities that address a changing marketplace (53) and for developing marketing platforms that make the most of customer data (47) were especially low. Scores for video (49), mobile advertising (40), and mobile web and apps (48) were not any better. Industries such as retail and financial services were particularly challenged. (See The Talent Revolution in Digital Marketing, BCG Focus, September 2015.)

So far, marketers have managed this lack of skills the old-fashioned way—by outsourcing campaign development and execution to their agencies, just as they have long outsourced creative development and media buying. But digital campaigns are different. They are continually modified and adjusted in real time based on real-time results. Marketers that are not actively involved in the test-learn-adapt process soon lose touch with both their campaigns and their digital consumers. They don’t know whether their strategies are being faithfully executed or how their budgets are being spent. And they are hard pressed to explain how or why success—or failure—occurred.

Marketers today need new talent in agile development, big data for consumer understanding, programmatic buying, and branded content, as well as redefined roles for existing talent in areas such as marketing-effectiveness analytics, marketing innovation, and agency management. Organizations that aren’t able to build these capabilities over the next year or two will fall behind their competitors.

But where to start? The first step is to understand where the shortfalls lie. BCG has partnered with Google Digital Academy to develop the Talent Revolution Initiative, which is creating talent and skills benchmarks for the marketing industry as a way of accelerating the development of digital capabilities. Our benchmarking exercise looks at three key areas: planning, executing, and measuring. We have identified 82 best practices, covering all key digital marketing disciplines. These competencies, which were extensively crowdsourced from the industry, range from the basics to the more advanced. For each company that participates, the benchmark considers two dimensions: performance (where the company stands compared with others) and importance (how important a given capability is to the business). Each company can see where it sits relative to the wider peer group, and understand where to prioritize and focus its digital development efforts. Each company with four or more marketers completing the survey receives a personalized report for its organization.

The survey is back for 2016, and it’s now available in more markets and is open to agencies and small businesses too.

By the time that the 2017 Lions festival rolls around, savvy marketers can be well on their way to addressing both their creative needs and their digital technology needs.