Jason Heller on a mission for the marketer of the future

Agiliti's Framework for Digital Transformation

Jason Heller

Jason Heller is the founder and CEO of Agiliti, a New York consultancy that specializes in digital transformation of marketing operations and strategy.

I first became aware of Jason a few years ago through a series of columns he wrote for MediaPost, such as Achieving Simplicity From Complexity and Fostering Digital Innovation. We’ve had a number of chats since then, and I’m always impressed by the insight and passion he has for digital transformation in marketing.

Ah, “digital transformation” — two words that sound impressive, are used everywhere, yet contain almost no meaning on their own. Right up there with “big data” (my favorite phrase to pick on). I suppose that is the nature of buzzwords. But the tragedy of buzzwords is that they often mask a spark of something truly powerful underneath a cloud of smoke.

Jason understands the real spark of digital transformation, and he’s spent several years helping major brands harness that spark into fire. I’m excited that he’ll be presenting at MarTech next month on The New Marketing Operations Archetypes: What Works and Why. In advance of the conference, we did a short Q&A to introduce you to his thinking on marketing’s metamorphosis.

Tell us a little about your background and your current venture, Agiliti.

A good part of my career was spent as a digital agency exec. I co-founded one of the first digital agencies — we were pioneers of the Wild West of digital media and relationship marketing — and eventually sold the agency to Horizon Media in 2005.

I observed agencies struggling with defining what it means to be the “agency of the future” amidst the evolving role of technology, data, strategy and accountability, and I realized that there was no consultancy focused on helping marketers tackle these same forces to become the “marketer of the future” — at least not from an operational perspective.

So in 2011 I launched Agiliti as a unique consultancy focused solely on digital marketing operations and digital transformation.

What does real transformation require? How many companies are really committed to it? Is there a high-level framework you use to guide these engagements?

Digital transformation is quickly becoming one of the biggest buzzwords of 2014. Most digital transformation efforts to-date have been focused on technology and infrastructure, which is only part of the equation.

Real transformation requires an executive commitment. It requires visible executive sponsors who are willing to do what it takes and stick their necks out to evolve the organization as a whole. It requires an understanding of the customer journey and an honest assessment of the capabilities required to deliver the customer experience. This means creating new roles, capabilities, and processes, and allocating the necessary resources to enable new and better consumer experiences, and create operational productivity.

We find that companies are generally aware of the need for transformation, or evolution, and more and more they are acting on this understanding, albeit to varying degrees. Some intrepid enterprises take a proactive approach to change in order to maintain or establish a competitive advantage. But for many others change happens when the pain of the status quo is greater than the fear of change.

Regardless of where an organization is in their path to digital maturity, there is a high-level assessment framework that we use to identify the digital operations gaps and define the priorities that will ultimately have the biggest business impact. Technology is just one component.

[Ed: see framework at top of this post.]

It feels like the biggest challenge may be overcoming legacy culture? How do you help companies do that?

Culture is always the elephant in the room. Part of what has made large enterprises successful are the values and ways of working that have been part of their culture for years.

Technology is just one component [of digital transformation]. Culture is always the elephant in the room.

We work closely with companies to identify the elements of legacy culture that are no longer relevant or hampering innovation and new, effective ways of working. We then together define new guiding principles required of the modern marketer, and help build these guiding principles into capabilities and processes.

Culture doesn’t change overnight, nor is it stubborn by design. Change happens over time.

Let’s focus for a moment on the storied relationship between marketing and IT. How have you seen that evolve in digital transformation efforts? What works best?

There is no one answer to this one. But it does start at the top. The CMO and CIO must align on clearly defined roles of each group and areas of collaboration and support. The opportunity to step on each others’ toes and create operational inefficiency is too great to not have alignment and close collaboration.

Where it works best is when the CMO and CIO have a healthy respect for each other, clearly understood common goals, and a desire to do what’s best for the customer. It’s not about being territorial, and it’s not black and white. New marketing technology-related roles can sit in either organization. It doesn’t really matter. Sometimes it comes down to resources. But it always comes down to collaboration and orchestration.

New marketing technology-related roles can sit in either organization. But it always comes down to collaboration and orchestration.

What about the evolution of marketing with the development and delivery of products and services? How are you seeing companies “bake in” marketing to the lifecycle of customer relationships? How is this changing the nature of marketing?

The role of marketing is evolving due to a few significant forces. Executives and boards are demanding that marketing departments drive above market growth. Marketing is also closer to customers than ever before. New data and analytics capabilities are driving key insights to help meet customer needs across the board. This can lead to product innovations or even the evolution of new business models altogether. It’s an exciting time to be in marketing.

You’re speaking at MarTech this August — thank you, by the way! — on the new archetypes in marketing operations. Any sneak preview of what those archetypes look like?

No spoiler alerts here — will leave the best for MarTech. But the punch line looks something like this — it depends on where in you are on the path of digital maturity.

For many, the rumors of the demise of the marketing organization as we know it are greatly exaggerated. That isn’t to say that there will not be significant change. Expect to see new roles in marketing technology, data and analytics, customer experience, innovation, mobile, social, omnichannel commerce, marketing operations, and marketing/digital transformation.

Marketing and other organizations that support marketing are evolving from a siloed command-and-control structure to varieties of matrixed and networked structures that require a new level of orchestration and collaboration to accelerate and enable specific capabilities and manage the ongoing customer experience. You’ll have to attend MarTech to get the details!

Marketing and other organizations that support marketing are evolving from a siloed command-and-control structure to varieties of matrixed and networked structures.

Thank you, Jason — looking forward to your presentation at MarTech next month!

The new Marketing Operations Archetypes at MarTech

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