Fast Forward to Marketing in 2025 — musings from a B2B data-driven CMO
The other day, a friend of mine asked what I thought B2B marketing would be like by 2025. That’s six years from now — not exactly right around the corner. But it was a fun conversation, so I thought I’d share my thoughts and hopefully invite some discussion around future trends in data-driven marketing.
1. The shift to marketing as a revenue and profit generator will continue, and those not on board will see their marketing teams and budget disappear.
Long gone are the days where CEOs are satisfied with marketing leaders simply droning on about things like brand awareness and brand equity. Our newfound ability to connect the dots between marketing activities and profitable customers — largely through data and analytics — will in the future ensure that marketing’s impact is much more visible to the rest of the company. This new, more measurable paradigm means marketing departments will have to become true generators of quantifiable value for the business, or C-level support will fade quickly.
2. CMOs (and their departments) will be much more embedded in the rest of the organization.
Marketing quite often exists in a silo and because of this, marketing people are sometimes viewed as creative people who make brochures and little more. But as marketing becomes more operational, the CMO will have to develop much tighter relationships with everybody in the organization. Their department should also be involved in every step of the customer journey. Right now this journey starts with marketing but moves into different parts of the organization depending on where they’re at. It then maybe comes back to marketing at the journey’s end when you want to re-market to customers and keep them loyal. That results in a fragmented view of the customer — not ideal.
Because claiming and keeping ownership of the customer journey will be difficult in most companies (you’d be running the company!), marketing should focus on influencing the entire journey as the customer is handed off to different groups at different times. This means influencer marketing has to extend into all functional areas of the business, keeping the customer front and center at all times.
3. CMOs will totally embrace data and technology — or become extinct.
Any marketer who doesn’t understand and appreciate the role played by AI and machine learning in their programs is going to go the way of the brontosaurus. And you can’t do AI and machine learning without data. Clearly, data-driven marketing will no longer be optional. Lip service won’t cut it as marketing will be impossible to do well without data (and because of that increased visibility we mentioned in point 1, there will be nowhere to hide if things go badly). While soft skills are crucial for marketing, I believe comfort with data and technology are becoming as important as any of them.
I’d argue being tech-savvy is becoming a life skill as requisite as being polite with other people or showing up on time. And I’m convinced an ability to appreciate and work with data and analytics will be a life skill going forward. In marketing, you simply won’t be able to survive without being comfortable with data and technology.
4. Machine learning will be the catalyst for truly automated marketing.
One of the challenges with marketing right now is that, despite all our technology, it’s still not very automated (I’m trying to explain this to my CEO right now because he keeps saying, “I know you want more people, but can’t we just buy more technology?”).
But fast forward six years and I think we’ll have harnessed machine learning much more effectively to accelerate marketing automation. While AI might not produce the actual marketing content, automated curation of available information will be readily available. You’ll be able to get the bones of any kind of paper you want to write pulled together without hours of mind-numbing research and internet rabbit holes. Similarly, AB testing will become A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K testing in a heartbeat and the automatic tuning of ads will become so much easier. Even sending an email to a prospect in your marketing automation platform — a process that, right now, is largely dictated by a human making most of the decisions around what time of day, day of the week, messaging, offer, etc. — will be automated. All these things are better suited to AI and machine learning on a mass personalization level, anyway: I may send one message to you and a similar message to somebody else, but the time of day and the day of the week that suits each person can be significantly different. There is no doubt machine learning based on quality data will eventually do that job much better than humans.
5. Marketers will FINALLY have the data we need to take advantage of machine learning and AI.
Note how I included “quality data” in the last sentence of the last point. Machine learning needs a lot of data. Every time I ask our data scientist about using AI and machine learning on a marketing process, the answer is less about the use case and more often “You don’t have enough data.” So getting your data act in order to take advantage of new technologies will be critical in the next few years because without data there is no machine learning.
This is especially tough for many B2B companies, who don’t tend to have piles of data to start with. With this in mind, B2B marketers will absolutely need to invest in integrating and organizing the data we do have, while developing a form of data sharing or pooling where we can get access to sufficient amounts of data to train ML models that can be repurposed and used for ourselves. The concept of a data trust, in particular, is super interesting and is starting to pick up steam. Data trusts could permit organizations to aggregate data in a secure fashion while making it available to other organizations for a fee.
6. Like it or not, we’ll soon be marketing to bots more than people.
B2B marketers today don’t market to businesses. We typically market to people at businesses. Despite this, I don’t think we’re going to be talking to all that many people by 2025. We’ll instead be talking to their personal assistants, who are bots. These bots will be the new gatekeepers. They’ll decide whether your prospect should read this email from you, or that message from someone else instead. This decision may be based on how personalized the message is, or how relevant it is to what they were searching for on the web in the last three weeks, or what they told their bot they were interested in researching. Either way, marketers are going to have to figure out how to market to bots and not just to people.
Bots won’t do the actual decision making, of course, but will drive a big share of the upfront research. An organization looking for BI services, for example, will identify business and technical requirements to their bot, then have the bot go out to find BI companies who meet these requirements. The bot will likely even take that first pass of going through the company website and initially evaluating candidates — exactly what a human would do, but faster, likely more accurately, and with less bias. And while this will free up a fair bit of time for buyers, it will also likely present new challenges for vendors. If you consciously optimize your website for SEO today, you are already starting down this path.
7. Managing flexible, specialized teams will be the new critical leadership skill.
Life as a CMO is going to become more challenging: while the top end of the funnel will be much more mechanical, the lower end will be more personal. The people able to deliver good outcomes in 2025 are hard to find now, and I don’t see this skills shortage lessening by then. CMOs will need to get comfortable with outsourcing to get the balance of emotional and IT IQ that will be needed to form a complete team. A group of uber-skilled, specialized people might not even need to be full time — they might be fractional employees. Let’s face it, they might not even be people. They might be algorithms or AIs. Just think about how that will impact your team and ability to lead.
8. Nobody knows what marketing in 2025 will be like — so let’s find out.
So there you have it. That’s my vision of marketing in the future: data- and analytics-driven, accountable, and vastly more scalable thanks to AI and machine learning. And come 2025 I’ll revisit this article and weigh my predictions against reality. I won’t be right on all accounts, but I do think we’ll be well along the path to a more data-driven and automated future.
What are your thoughts around marketing in 2025? Where do you see marketing heading in the future? Tell me what you think.