The rise of the business planner

Data is transforming marketing from a cost centre to a revenue driver, says Elda Choucair


If you have worked in marketing over the last five years, you will have undoubtedly seen the words ‘digital’, ‘big data’ and ‘programmatic’. You saw them in headlines, heard them in everyday conversations or discussed at every industry event. These buzzwords have rightfully received more attention than a public relations campaign could have ever achieved, as they have forever transformed the practice of marketing and disrupted the way our industry operates.

Today, thanks to the advent and proliferation of digital technologies, we are able to collect more data about people than ever before, yielding real-time insights that lead to greater marketing agility across multiple media platforms. The ability to extract purposeful insights from the data we collect helps us to craft and serve the right advertising message to the right audience, increasingly right down to the individual, and in the optimal context. Programmatic and retargeting to lookalike profiles are current practices that have risen from this data revolution.

As a result, the skill-sets of marketing professionals – at both the client and agency ends of the spectrum – have had to evolve in order to embrace both the data and its impact. We are no longer doing the same job that we were doing 20 years ago.

Instead, as the role of marketing expands to encompass the management of information, technology
platforms and an overview of the bigger picture, we all increasingly need to become data specialists.

This is presenting a fresh set of challenges in terms of talent management. Beyond the new positions that have appeared, such as real-time data analysts and community managers, existing marketing roles have also evolved. Modern marketers need to mine raw data, extract deeper insights using advanced segmentation techniques, extrapolate outcomes from these insights and implement them into the overall communication strategy to achieve business results.

For agencies, the tracking and analysis of the contribution of media – particularly for digital channels – has added a new dimension to the role of planners. Tag management solutions, a luxury of yesteryear, have become an integral digital component, while data management platforms and visualisation software are becoming common place within agencies. Digital data collection, storage, reporting and analytics technology/tools are necessary complexities to navigate. They no longer represent a value-add to clients but a planning must-have. The media planning role is morphing into an analytics, marketing and data function that manages media investments across all channels seamlessly. With data, agencies now engage in value-driven targeting and predictive marketing, taking the lifetime value dimension of consumers into account to enhance the return on marketing investment.

If marketing was once seen as a cost centre, today it is increasingly expected to tangibly increase revenues. Proxy measures of performance, rooted in advertising or media metrics, are becoming a thing of the past and demonstrating the impact on sales, and profitability, is the new order. Entire business models are changing as organisations discover more about their customers and how to better serve them. Able to learn from and impact live consumer sentiment, R&D, after-sales support and supply chain management, marketers and their agencies are no longer just spending budgets but defining business strategies with the insights they now hold.

Some even argue that the traditional sales funnel no longer exists, as separate functions (such as service, communications, finance, etc.) start to blend into the overall consumer brand experience. Marketing is turning into the central coordination system in this operating environment, as the end-to-end manager of the experience across a consumer’s lifetime journey.

As marketing becomes a lot more accountable, it justifies its place at the top table further. More than managing budgets, chief executive officers now expect chief marketing officers to generate proven revenue streams, even if they don’t have their own profit and loss statements. Marketing key performance indicators are moving away from being solely based on efficiency and brand awareness to now include top-line revenue and overall engagement.

As technology continues to develop, so will marketers’ reliance on data and analytics. CMOs are gradually adding the technology role to their area of influence. According to Accenture, by 2017 CMOs will spend more on information technology and analytics than their IT counterparts.

Data is the blood that sustains the marketing practice today and the whole industry is undergoing a transfusion. As the marketers’ access to data and insights improves, their sphere of influence will increase accordingly, impacting a lot more than the mere communication of companies’ brands.

In a global survey by The Economist, the large majority of CMOs stated that the management of the consumer experience will become one of their key responsibilities. Another in the United Kingdom shows that they believe that data analytics and insight, content development and omni-channel planning will be the key priorities for the next five years. They will expect their agencies to go beyond planning communications and engage in business planning. This will mean providing them with not just data and analytics but the intelligence, ideas and effective strategies to demonstrably impact their company’s performance and profitability. How things have changed.


(Elda Choucair is the managing director of PHD UAE)