Why Left-Brained Thinkers Are Becoming More Important in Marketing

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Marketing has long had a reputation as the domain for more creative types—wordsmiths, artists, conceptual thinkers, and message-makers. Though that reputation is partially earned and accurate, it has also been inflated by the Mad Men-defined persona who focuses primarily on design ideas and creative copy before knocking off for the day (and knocking back three fingers of scotch—even if it happens to be 11AM).

While creative, right-brained thinking will always have a place in the marketing suite (can anyone contest the message is more important than ever?), the other half of the brain is increasingly important—and seems to be getting a little more respect as of late.

More importantly, we are seeing best-in-class marketing shops building teams that effectively use both sides of the cerebrum—creative and data-driven thinking and execution.

A Shift in Thinking

In the B2B world, a great side effect of these combined forces has been marketing’s shifting role in business as a strategic player with a more respected seat at the executive table. Unlike sales and engineering, marketing has historically struggled for this spot.

Perhaps for the first time ever, a dollar invested in marketing can deliver a higher return than a dollar invested in sales. That’s not to say it’s a zero-sum game, but the discussion about how the dollar gets split is more relevant (and important) than ever. That has made the C-suite sit up and pay attention, and it has required marketing to become a lot more accountable. Along with the ability to measure and show results comes the ability to influence go-to-market strategy. There’s never been a more exciting time to be in the marketing business.

Personally, I am excited to be a part of this shift. Not because I value creativity less, but because I value the balance of left- and right-brained thinking more. We are living through this here at NetProspex as we grow—and we are working with many other B2B marketing organizations as customers who are leading the charge.

From that set of influences, I see (at least) a few key forces driving the evolution of marketing and its role in the business:

  • Mass adoption of marketing technology. Marketing technology spend is on the rise, and it doesn’t appear to be stopping anytime soon. We’ve seen the stats to back it up: Laura McLellan of Gartner predicts that by 2017, CMOs will spend more on IT than CIOs. And we have had some great conversations that reinforce those facts. For most companies, the conversation is not about whether they need to adopt new marketing technology but when and what tools and platforms to use. But like any IT investment, marketing is being tasked with showing ROI for these investments. How is this technology helping to generate interest, reduce costs and, most importantly, drive revenue?
  • The evolution of the buyer’s journey. To say the buyer’s journey has changed is a vast understatement. We’ve all heard the stat: the B2B buyer is 57% through the purchase decision before engaging a supplier sales rep [PDF]. Other stats state it’s even higher. Either way, today’s marketers are required to carry the ball much farther down the field. They’re focused on educating and engaging prospects, uncovering who they are, and how and where they can deliver value. This demands a whole new level of analysis on the lead funnel (or buyer journey) and a greater understanding of where and how prospects are coming in, what’s meaningful to them, and where and why they are dropping off.
  • Increase in marketing channels. Ann Handley (chief content officer at MarketingProfs) recently said to me that online is the new tradeshow— a simple, yet profound statement. It used to be that in B2B, you went to tradeshows to get educated on vendors. Now, you go online. You read content, you join Twitter conversations on your areas of interest, you follow companies on LinkedIn, and you engage with like-minded people with similar problems to help find your solution. Today’s marketer has to understand which of these channels to turn up, and which to turn off. The only way to do that is to understand which are working and why they’re working.
  • Enhanced focus on measurement. More and more companies are adopting the philosophy that if it can’t be measured, it didn’t happen. All the influences above require a more sophisticated approach to measurement. Companies must understand what channels are truly helping move the needle in building their brand and driving sales. Today’s successful marketers are delivering the measurement goods.

Those influences aren’t just affecting what types of marketers companies are looking for, but also what kinds of jobs are opening up. Some proof: How many times have you heard the term “chief marketing technologist” mentioned in the last six months? Compare that with six years ago. A premium is being placed on tech savvy, digital expertise, process, and analytics.

I’m not one for crystal-ball predictions, but I think it’s safe to say we’ll continue this shift toward left-brain thinking and data-focused, technology-oriented capabilities.

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