Vision Quest 2015: Charting A New Path For Modern Marketing

Fred Isbell

MV5BNDQzODg0OTQ2MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjEyNjU1MDE@__V1_SX214_AL_After writing my recent blog Steve Jobs and the Art of Being ‘Insanely Great’, I indulged in my Netflix habit by watching the 2013 movie “Jobs” again while on the bike and elliptical at the gym.  As someone who once met John Sculley, former Apple CEO, I was very impressed with how actor Mathew Modine portrayed him.  Modine, in my opinion, nailed the character, transporting me back to that meeting years ago.

Watching Modine on my iPhone “small screen” made me think back to an early role in his career – Louden Swain, a young high-school wrestler in the Pacific Northwest in 1985’s “Vision Quest.” The character had a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve and worked incredibly hard to achieve it – beating an undefeated (and seemingly unbeatable) state champion wrestler. No matter how crazy, impossible, or far-fetched it seemed, he never lost sight of that goal. As his Native American friend said, this was Swain’s “vision quest.”

Fast-forward 30 years: We are living in a time where having a clear vision of what we want to become and achieve have never been more important. The business and IT landscape is changing so rapidly that we all need to engage in our own vision quest to determine our future.  In the face of disruptive technology and massive upheaval, we are forced to either change or be changed. We do not want to be impacted or destroyed by competitors, seen or unseen – just like Swain did not want to go down to his fierce wrestling competitor.

5 reasons why we need a vision quest in this digital era

It is indeed fall event season in the technology industry, and I have just wrapped up my third event in less than two weeks: the ITSMA annual conference “Marketing Vision.” Whenever I attend an event, I am always searching for that next “Aha!” moment, ITSMA’s latest event did not disappoint.

Here are 5 themes and takeaways from the event that underscore the importance of having a “vision quest” of our own.

1. We are clearly in the ascent phase of modern marketing – and there’s no turning back.

The fundamentals of business and the way marketing is viewed and leveraged have changed forever.  Julie Schwartz, senior vice president of research & thought leadership of ITSMA really hammered these points home using new research on how B2B buyers consumer and use information.  Both information and content are used in different ways to support a new buying journey that has an online and offline component.  At the end of the day, people still need to consult with experts; however, the dynamics and sequence have all changed. And for 2016, we should expect more change as digital transformation continues and accelerates.

2. Marketing analytics and technology is reaching critical mass and creating new possibilities.

It was great to see Scott Brinker, the author of the blog Chief Marketing Technologist on stage.  I have followed his work and perspectives on marketing technology. Two years ago, he revealed a market map showcasing a segment of the technology industry that is still in major expansion, growing from a crowded field of more than 2,000 players to more than 3,000. With this in mind, it is easy to see that digital transformation is bringing more data – and an increased role for analytics – and marketing is squarely in the middle of this. This reality was further reinforced in a session on marketing tools and technology by ITSMA senior associate Kathy Macchi and through comments from several customer and partner speakers.

3. Thought leadership and great storytelling have never been more important

The buying journey requires thought leadership during the awareness, choice, and consideration phase. And organizations vary in their capability to provide it.

Representing one of the ITSMA Diamond Award winners, Cisco, Kathy O’Connell, head of thought leadership at Cisco, gave a fabulous session on how their Internet of Everything concept goes beyond the Internet of Things. For her organization, thought leadership is embedded into their corporate marketing and aligned with sales.

Kate Mansion, managing director of Mansion and Associates, really drove home the point of making storytelling simple. “People don’t have the time nor patience for complex stories and need to find value in their listening and consumption of information,” she stated.

4. Marketing and sales must be aligned in modern marketing execution like never before

My long-time colleague and good friend Eric Martin, vice president of account-based marketing (ABM) for SAP North America, was another ITSMA Diamond award winner. His session detailed his team’s work in creating the ABM program in North America and measuring results at the account level and in aggregate.  ABM is all about focus, measurement, and building on success with regular reviews, reporting, and governance.

When I recall my time at DEC as a young marketer, I still hear CEO Ken Olson saying, “The only people who are not in sales support are the sales people themselves.” Maybe Ken was onto something: If you are a modern marketer, you need to be aligned with sales and accountable to how your activity, tactics, and programs impact and support the business.

5. We have only just begun to see the ultimate impact of disruptive technology and change

When we look at innovation, market acceptance, and key trends, we generally experience adoption that resembles an “S-curve.” We are clearly still in the ascent phase of these changes, and we are not even close to leveling off into a broader “run-rate” mode when it comes to marketing operations.

Dmunn and FMI ITSMA NOvember 2015
I shared this with MBA’s at a recent Duke/Fuqua Marketing Symposium: If you do not like change, do not pursue a career in marketing. As Scott Brinker noted, marketing technology will see a shake up and consolidation, but we are not quite there yet.  Eric Lesser, research director for the IBM Institute for Business Value, showcased how technology is seen as the main game-changer across the C-suite. Organizations do not want to be blindsided by a competitor they never saw coming.  He cited an almost ubiquitous example from this year’s “event season” – Uber.
Click here for my virtual trip report of my social media coverage and tweets. Good luck on your personal vision quest and modern marketing journey!

Fred M. Isbell is the senior director and head of thought leadership for Services & Support Marketing at SAP.

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About Fred Isbell

Fred Isbell worked at SAP for nearly 19 years in senior roles in SAP Marketing. He is an experienced, results- and goal-oriented senior marketing executive with broad and extensive experience & expertise in high technology and marketing spanning nearly 30 years. He has a BA from Yale and an MBA from the Duke Fuqua School of Business.