A version of this post was published on LinkedIn

In a digital-centric world, marketing departments need to teach their organization about next-gen customer expectations, data and technology to deliver an optimized customer experience that affects the bottom line and delivers measured profit. Some industry experts argue this is the greatest management challenge of the 21st century — aligning fast-changing technology and customer expectations with slow-moving organizational processes.

The CMO as change agent is no longer a choice — it’s survival. Today, CEOs place significant pressure for growth on marketing leadership, and most CMOs now own or share responsibility for a P&L. Marketers are quickly working to change not only their department, but to transform the operating model of their entire organization.

While marketing departments may be undergoing radical transformation, organizations continue to lag. Businesses are often so large and complex; they are missing critical mechanisms for accountability. This is in large part due to significant dependencies on cross-functional teams to contribute and deliver along a project timeline. Balls drop along the way, fingers point, and frustration occurs. And then everyone moves on to the next project. To succeed in an age of disruption, organizations must become more adaptable, accountable and agile.

Adopting a digital mindset

It’s critical to acknowledge that in the absence of data and technology, marketing cannot survive. Adopting a digital-first mindset is critical to the new era of marketing. This doesn’t just mean understanding how to operate within digital channels, this means deepening relationships across the business with technology and analytics. Digital is not a practice or a channel strategy, it is an operating principle and a cultural mindset.

As a mechanism to influence the broader organization, marketing tools and information can become more widely distributed. Technology platforms, reporting and customer data offered and delivered to the broader organization as currency all help to advance the agenda and show the value of marketing as a central function to drive change. While most organizations have a long way to go to adopting a digital mindset, there are some basic practices that can help move them toward a more collectively aligned operation. Here are three simple principles all marketers can apply to design the marketing department of the future:

  1. Adaptability - In the age of disruption, marketers must be ready to change and adapt to anything that comes their way. Being adaptable doesn’t mean you are going to be ready for anything and everything, but it does mean you can be prepared to deal with anything and everything using data and technology. In many ways, adaptability is a critical cultural identity for successful marketers today. According to Gartner’s recent CMO study, only 52 percent of CMOs believe their marketing teams are adaptable and resourceful enough.

    If marketing organizations centralize processes, data, and tools that exist across the organization, they can shift the focus of the business from inside-out to outside-in and ultimately help build an understanding of the experiences customers demand through all of their interactions with the company, not just marketing. Using this data, marketing can establish a repeatable process that drives operational efficiency, brand consistency and greater profitability. Of course, adaptability is a human trait, and at the core of every great marketing organization you must have talent who are capable of thriving in an environment that is constantly changing and of encouraging better results every cycle.
  2. Accountability - Marketers must be more accountable than ever in showing bottom line results. This isn’t just accountability to deliver a great story and smart advertising campaign, then moving to the next initiative. This is now about demonstrating how the impact of marketing activities and spend is affecting profit.

    The marketing organization is quickly becoming the central function for bringing the collective organization together to drive a unified agenda focused on growth and profit. CMOs are more readily engaging with cross-functional senior leadership across every function of the organization to define clear dependencies and expectations for each initiative built around business priorities. Once the dependencies are known and the talent are identified, cross-functional project teams are created. This team includes contributors from nearly every department (customer service, IT, sales, creative, marketing) tasked to work together to achieve a collective goal. This creates a mechanism for more rapid progress, stronger collaboration and greater accountability.
  3. Agility - The goal is to experiment quickly and cheaply, with relatively low risk. Failures are filtered out with minimal overhead and winners are piloted within local teams or markets, with the intention to elevate to a revenue-generating initiative.

    The traditional innovation model follows a conventional linear path; R&D teams work in a silo and present marketing with a product to sell. This model is broken and must change if businesses hope to achieve growth. With closer contact to the customer, and a more focused remit on business growth, marketing functions are increasingly involved in developing innovation. With broader access to real-time data and technology, marketers can collaborate with R&D teams to analyze customer data, inform innovation and update products based on feedback.

    Changing the innovation model to include marketing as a key stakeholder and agile change-agent is most critical to informing an organization’s future success.

To recap these principles:

Adaptability: Everything is fluid. What works now isn’t going to be what works tomorrow.

Accountability: Processes and teams built around accountability will render the greatest results.

Agility: Rapid experimentation and data-informed innovation create the most agile organizations.

Of course, none of this is possible without great talent who are eager to keep expanding their skillsets, ambitious to achieve the goals of the business, and relentless in pursuing new solutions to age-old problems. In the end, building the future marketing organization comes down to a relentless, obsessive focus on continuous improvement.

Jessica Clifton is U.S. Head of Digital.