What is a Marketing Ecosystem?

20 Jun 2022

With the release of The Marketing Ecosystem Blueprint early this year, AAR and The Drum set out to explore some of the most urgent challenges facing modern marketers, and to outline a blueprint for success. But what is a marketing ecosystem? 

Marketing decision-makers are navigating some of the toughest internal and external challenges they have ever faced. In an age already defined by disruption, the Covid-19 pandemic has squeezed budgets, fragmented teams and exposed critical skills gaps - and that’s just within the marketing function. 

In this challenging environment, marketers are still expected to foster continual creativity and innovation. So, how are CMOs ensuring they address all of this to support business growth? The answer lies in the “ying” and the “yang” of marketing, the “how?” and the “what?”. Marketers need the vision, but they must also create a strong organisational structure to realise it. 

At a Glance: What is a Marketing Ecosystem?

A marketing ecosystem is the sum of a business or brand’s internal and external marketing capabilities, across people, partners, platforms and processes. According to the Marketing Ecosystem Blueprint, 98% of CMOs agree that having the right marketing ecosystem in place is essential in order to achieve business-critical marketing goals. 

Looking at the Marketing Ecosystem Holistically 

Faced with continuous disruption, businesses must innovate fast in order to achieve growth, and marketing operations are arguably more important to success than ever before. Looking at the marketing ecosystem holistically and considering each part of the model will ensure it functions effectively, and avoid any aspect of it being cut off from the wider whole. 

Marketing strategy and operations are inextricably linked: brands need to define their vision for marketing, and then design operations to realise it. To do this, everyone needs to pull together across the entire ecosystem toward a north star - using joint KPIs to measure the success of the whole ecosystem. Three questions which CMOs should ask of their ecosystem are: 

  • How can I design the right marketing ecosystem, and drive it to make it more effective and efficient?
  • How can I accelerate these capabilities with the right culture and environment?
  • How do I make the whole operation sustainable, not just for the business and its people, but for society and the planet? 

The Seven Puzzle Pieces of a Marketing Ecosystem

The research carried out for The Marketing Ecosystem Blueprint identified seven puzzle pieces that fit together to create a holistic ecosystem, establishing a blueprint for CMOs to enable genuine creativity and effective marketing.

Always-on change

Knowing how to implement change management initiatives is vital in a world that’s in a constant state of flux. The marketing ecosystem needs to be capable of continual adaptation, ensuring that the potential for change remains ‘always-on’. Change management is not a one-hit wonder, and there is no moment when it is “finished” and the ecosystem can remain static. 

This fact was reflected in our research. Nine in 10 CMOs are reviewing the people, partners, platforms and processes that make up their marketing ecosystem at least every six months, while 27% are reviewing them every month. This ensures that every aspect of the ecosystem works optimally together and sets the organisation up for success, with 57% of CMOs citing their reason for committing to these reviews as driving business growth.

Organisational design: 

There are distinct layers in every marketing ecosystem, including how you think, create, trade/buy, adapt, distribute and measure. These layers are spread across both internal and external capabilities, and rethinking how they are organised can unlock greater creativity and effectiveness. 

The reality is that CMOs are in a constant battle to find the right model. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to organisational design, and every CMO needs to be an architect of their own marketing ecosystem -  connecting the dots and mixing skills and services to enable innovation and creativity.

People: 

There is a war for talent across the marketing industry, and few CMOs have been unaffected by these critical skills gaps. Thirty-four per cent of CMOs consider people to be the most important part of their marketing ecosystem, but the pace of technological change and the industry-wide talent crunch have made finding the right people to fulfil increasingly complex roles a challenge. 

When questioned, CMOs ranked digital skills (40%), innovation (40%) and data/analytic skills (37%) as the top three critical capability gaps. CMOs need to find people with skills and capabilities that allow them to raise the bar - and those who combine these skills with the ability to see the broader business context are most in demand. 

Partners: 

As well as finding the right people internally, CMOs also need to find the right external agencies, or an equivalent in-house setup. Agency partners play a crucial role within the marketing ecosystem, bringing “outside-in” thinking and fresh perspectives. In this context, it's no surprise that  CMOs rank “creativity and innovation” and “proven track record” as their top two priorities when looking for an agency partner. 

Having partners that are proactive and curious in their approach, while also being relied upon to deliver results, is key to them becoming a successful part of the marketing ecosystem

Platforms:

How can CMOs compete in a world of increasingly advanced and ever-changing technology? While the ongoing blizzard of tech has the potential to transform performance and efficiency, the picture is complex: 46% of CMOs cite keeping up with the pace of digital and technological change as the number one challenge facing their marketing ecosystem. 

The barriers keeping marketing leaders from fully realising the potential of martech include lack of budget, poor planning, and lack of skills, alongside the need for process change and poor communications - with each factor affecting roughly a third of CMOs. New platforms can present opportunities, but in order to make the most of them, CMOs have to understand what capabilities are required to deliver and embed them effectively.

Process: 

Optimising processes and streamlining ways of working is a matter of urgent priority for CMOs, with 75% reporting that their current marketing processes are inhibiting

effectiveness and consistent marketing, and only 13% fully confident that they have the right processes in place. 

It is perhaps no surprise then that nearly two thirds (70%) of CMOs have redesigned processes in the last 12 months, and a further 54% are planning further refinements in the coming year - with 47% aiming to improve collaborative processes between internal teams and partners.

The difficulty when dealing with processes within the marketing ecosystem is that “processes” as a concept are bigger than the marketing function itself. Bringing the right people to the table from across the business is key to acting in unity, and enabling better ways of working.

Measuring success: 

For the majority of CMOs designing their marketing ecosystem, the question of how to measure its success has become a major area of concern. To be at the cutting edge of measurement and research, there is a need to constantly look forward, and seek out ever-more sophisticated tools. Having that innovation mindset - and the curiosity to determine what’s working and what isn’t - can help unlock value and ROI.

The Principles of a Successful Marketing Ecosystem

Building the right marketing ecosystem is a constantly evolving journey, and one that is different for each organisation – but there are some common principles that allow us to build a framework.

  • The CMO must own the transformation 

There has to be a clear vision for marketing and an articulation of its role in the business that everyone can get behind.

  • Change is never done

Embrace “always-on” change to create a flexible and adaptive ecosystem that can respond innovatively to evolving circumstances, without forgetting the foundational purpose of the brand. 

  • CMOs must look at the entire ecosystem holistically

Each part of the ecosystem has an influence on the other elements, including people, partners, platforms and processes. Having the right blend can help to set marketers up for success. 

  • People are the glue which holds the ecosystem together

Every organisation needs talent to drive the vision. Platforms and processes are only effective if you have the right people with the right capabilities, and who are aligned with the brand mission.

  • Overarching everything is culture, environment and ways of working

It’s important to recognise that it’s not just about having the right ingredients; it’s also about how they’re prepared.  The culture, environment and ways of working are all vital to ensure that what’s in the ecosystem performs to its full potential. 

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AAR are experts in marketing ecosystems across the “4 Ps”: people, processes, partners and platforms. With decades of collective marketing experience, we offer unique market insight and pragmatic recommendations that deliver practical change and drive results.

If you would like to understand more about where to start when it comes to optimising your marketing ecosystem, we are currently offering an Ecosystem Audit workshop. Get in touch with Robin Charney, our Design Lead Consultant, to find out more.

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