5 Disruptions to Marketing, Part 1: Digital Transformation (2018 Update)

5 Disruptions to Marketing, Part 1: Digital Transformation (2018 Update)

At the end of last year, I wrote a series on 5 disruptions to marketing. I wanted to look beyond the typical kind of prediction posts that we are inundated with at holiday season to scope out the larger changes underway over the next 3-5 years:

  1. Digital transformation redefines “marketing” beyond the marketing department.
  2. Microservices & APIs (and open source) form the fabric of marketing infrastructure.
  3. Vertical competition presents a greater strategic threat than horizontal competition.
  4. AR, MR, VR, IoT, wearables, conversational interfaces, etc. give us digital everything.
  5. Artificial intelligence multiplies the operational complexity of marketing & business.

Now that we’re one year along this journey, let’s revisit how those trends are progressing and consider what we’re likely to see with them in the year ahead. These aren’t “predictions,” but rather “updates” on the big multi-year themes that are reshaping marketing as we know it.

As with last year’s series, I’ll break this up into five parts for easier digestion.


Total Customer Experience: Marketing + Sales + Customer Service + Product

The essence of digital transformation is that marketing, sales, service — and most of all — product are all being entwined together under the banner of “customer experience.”

Naturally, that makes sense from the customer’s point-of-view. How much delight or disgust do customers feel across the entire spectrum of engagements they have with your company, from the very first touchpoint onward?

Their whole end-to-end experience is the product.

The five things that make this transformational are:

  1. All of these touchpoints are either digital or digitally-supported.
  2. Orchestrating these touchpoints is inherently a cross-organizational mission.
  3. Marketing is increasingly at the center of that orchestration.
  4. Marketing is embedded in the product (and, vice versa, product in the marketing).
  5. The resulting end-to-end experience for customers is how smart companies are disrupting their competitors — e.g., Uber isn’t the car ride, it’s the whole seamless experience.

A report produced a couple of months ago by the CMO Council asked CMOs to identify one — and importantly, only one — top mandate that they had for the year ahead. As shown in the chart below, 67% reported a cross-organizational mandate on growth and/or customer experience.

Marketing's Top Mandate for 2018

Of course, it’s one thing to talk about customer experience, another to actually effect it.

But as Barry Levine wrote on MarTech Today a couple months ago, “At our most recent MarTech Conference, there seemed to be a transformation percolating throughout the sessions and presentations. After several false starts in previous years, it seemed to me that ‘marketing’ is now clearly becoming something bigger.”

In many ways, marketing is looking, sounding and feeling less like its traditional role of “demand generation” and more like “experience management.” — Barry Levine

Aetna: Customer Experience as Marketing

David Edelman, CMO of Aetna, emphasized in his keynote at MarTech how marketing was now deeply engaged in helping to shape customer experience — including pioneering mobile and wearable touchpoints that innovate the very nature of the relationship between the company and its customers.

Successful marketing-led customer experience projects and programs shared by other speakers at MarTech included:

  • Keurig Green Mountain, launching connected coffee machines that enable a whole new kind of digitally-augmented customer experience with their products
  • Staples, using marketing analytics to map and improve steps across the customer journey that spanned traditionally separate teams within the firm
  • Dr. Martens, implementing omni-channel personalization seamlessly across email, their e-commerce site, and social media in ways that genuinely amplified their brand

And that’s just a representative sample. The thing that they all have in common: marketing is being embedded into the product/service and the end-to-end customer experience.

Last year I wondered whether marketing would continue to rise to the challenge of this scope explosion — from communications to experiences. Over the past year, I’ve been excited to see so many marketing teams embrace this opportunity in the charge of digital transformation.

Marketing as Customer Experience

But there’s another aspect of digital transformation in marketing that I’ve noticed over the past year: the changes in what marketers were actually doing. Not just shifts in their mission — i.e., delivering delightful customer experience. But shifts in what they’re building with their hands and minds to achieve that mission.

Empowered by a plethora of marketing technologies that are widely accessible to and usable by non-technical, “generalist” marketers, ordinary citizens of the marketing department have increasingly become do-it-yourself wizards in crafting digital interactions with customers, digital workflows throughout their organizations — beyond marketing, into sales, service, finance, etc. — and dynamic data dashboards, models, and reports.

I use the phrase “citizens of the marketing department” quite intentionally, because these wizard-like capabilities that marketers are acquiring align with three big IT-democratization movements:

Citizen Developers on the Rise

  • CITIZEN DEVELOPERS — who use no-code or low-code tools to create web apps, mobile apps, interactive content, bots, and other kinds of functional experiences for staff, prospects, and customers
  • CITIZEN INTEGRATORS — who use iPaaS and other workflow automation tools to create business processes on-the-fly, intelligently routing data and triggering activities across multiple teams
  • CITIZEN ANALYSTS or even CITIZEN DATA SCIENTISTS — who easily pull together business intelligence data from a variety of sources on demand, analyze it, visualize it, tease out insights, and even automate decisions around it

That’s not to say that these “citizens” have eliminated the need for “experts” wholesale. There is still plenty of work that requires professional developers, systems integrators, and data scientists. But the scope of what individual marketers can build on their own is astounding — and unprecedented.

This is digital transformation in a company’s internal ecosystem. The kind of power that would have taken teams of experts and weeks of work to implement an idea even just 5 years ago is now in the hands of individual citizen marketers to instantiate almost immediately.

And as marketing technology continues to race forward, their power to create only grows.

This segues nicely into the next update on Part 2: Microservices & APIs (2018 Update).



  1. Hey Scott, I really liked this piece (and the series in general).

    It’s a really exciting to see marketing getting both the mandate and the ability to really improve the entire customer experience.

    My take is that with number 3 on your list, Vertical Solutions, we will see marketing’s ownership of experience grow even faster.

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