Gartner analysts said that marketing success requires the ability to look into the future and anticipate where things are heading. Great leaders anticipate potential challenges, as well as opportunities to do their best to assure they are well positioned and prepared for future developments.
"You must have clarity on where you would like to steer your organization," said Chris Ross, research director at Gartner. "You need to consider how fast your organization is capable of running and have an understanding of what you need to do when you get to your destination.
A Polarizing Environment
Mr. Ross explained that people, organizations and events are all being viewed through polarizing filters. A company’s brand is not exempt from this. The company may be evaluated for things far beyond brand messaging and core value proposition.
"The sourcing of your products, the views and behaviors of your executives, your HR policies, profiles of your customers and an infinite number of other variables will be pushed through the big public polarization machine," Mr. Ross said. "It’s important to recognize this is happening and anticipate the issues and implications that may result.
This environment can be even more extreme when there are occurrences of what Gartner calls "lightning strike events". These are dramatic current events, such as shootings, geopolitical incidents, major business news, and natural disasters. While some brands react in a positive light, there are numerous examples of companies who have felt the repercussions from mishandling these events.
"Even if your brand has no interest in harnessing the power of lighting strike events, being apolitical or neutral is increasingly difficult," Mr. Ross said. "People frequently demand to know your organization’s position on important topics or current events. Not making a statement may expose your brand as conspicuously absent from the collective conversation, while even neutral or well-intended positions may end up distorted in such a polarized environment."
It’s All About Trust
How consumers respond to a company’s messaging often depends on how much the consumer trusts the company. Data from Gartner Iconoculture shows that consumers overwhelmingly trust their Local Businesses (93 percent) and Small Businesses (90 percent). However, consumers show much lower trust for Corporate America (41 percent) and Their Government (36 percent).
"Bigger is not better," Mr. Ross said. "Trust is intimate, small and local. All these polarization and trust issues are driving a shift in consumer values. They are driving consumers to seek serenity, security and inclusion. Consider how your brand could be addressing these shifts in values. Do you have a narrative about how your product or service can make people’s lives more serene, safe and secure? Are you doing anything to advance the culture? These are important things to consider."
Gartner analysts point out that narrative has to be backed by products, services, and customer experiences that are consistent with brand positioning.
Technology as the Accelerant of Disruption
Andrew Frank, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, explained how platforms such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple are making decisions about which ads and products to show people based on continuous observations of what messages they respond to.
"Meanwhile, marketers are using their own ‘black box marketing’ automation tools to feed these platforms with goals, content rules and budgets. They learn from feedback when customers visit their sites, buy or don’t buy, renew – or fail to renew – their relationships, and provide feedback in the form of ratings and commentary," Mr. Frank said. "Emerging technologies will give marketers even more opportunities to learn about their audiences than ever before."
Knowing what consumers want isn’t the same as knowing what they value. Prescriptive analytics recommends what buyers should pay and sellers should charge. This appears in bot technologies that are scanning websites and using artificial intelligence to optimize bids and offers.
"Soon, bots will be haggling with bots," Mr. Frank said. "Bots, like search engines, will soon learn to reflect their users’ preferences, and winning vendors will learn to read those reflections and optimize their offerings in response."
Mr. Frank said GDPR and blockchain are two of the hottest buzzwords in digital marketing today. He said their combined hype has led to speculation that perhaps blockchain holds the keys to replacing walled-garden-based identity, profile and consent management systems with something more decentralized and consumer friendly.
"There are many reasons to doubt that blockchain can solve this entire problem, but the consent part – tracking transactions in which consumers give or withdraw permission to process their personal data – is a more tractable problem," Mr. Frank said.
"Consent is the new currency," Mr. Frank said. "Collecting and respecting consent will give us new insight into what customers are doing, across walled gardens, with them in control."
Great Plans Require Great Leaders
Gartner analysts said it’s important for leaders to exhibit traditional traits like business acumen, but balance them with soft skills, like communications.
"Leaders today must be inclusive to drive the change that is necessary for these tumultuous and exciting times," said Elizabeth Shaw, research director at Gartner. "Traditional change management is not going to get you the change you need to be successful. Instead of doing things to people; you must engage and permit people to be part of the process. The days of barking from an ivory tower are over."
Ms. Shaw pointed out that leaders are embracing employees and leading with intention. She said great leaders are purpose-driven.
"They’re taking bold steps to reinforce their vision and core values to drive impact beyond the barriers of traditional business to address polarization, shifting values and trust issues," Ms. Shaw said. "Courageous leadership is powerful during turbulent times."