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By Fred Isbell, senior director and head of Thought Leadership – Digital Business Services Marketing, SAP

We’ve all heard the old saying “you can never go home again.” But from my perspective, you really can. Recently, I returned to my old stomping grounds at the Duke/Fuqua School of Business. Years ago (in the last century … ), I was there as an aspiring MBA student like the ones I met at the annual Fuqua Marketing Forum. Even though almost everything has changed in business and technology since my graduation in the mid-1980s, there is still a sense of familiarity and community that makes me feel at home whenever I return.

During the event, I presented a session called “Navigating Digital Transformation – Meeting the Challenges of the Modern Marketer,” which explained the classic evolution of content and messages over the past few years. Why did I take time from my daily work responsibilities to share my knowledge with these students? When you consider that more than 75% of the workforce will comprise millennials within the next 10 years, it’s easy to see that this is the best the time to share knowledge work together to co-innovate the future.

Here’s a few of my thoughts and some of the advice I offered them.

Modern marketing is here and more technical than ever

At its core, marketing is an art and science with a mix of science, technology, engineering, and math (classic “STEM”). We are beyond the era of the “super marketer” who did everything, thanks to an eclectic set of skills. Marketing has become increasingly sophisticated and now has a seat at the table for both strategy and delivery of critical business results.

In the meantime, marketing is experiencing massive change. The technical aspect of marketing has brought the rise of the data scientist who is a direct complement and component of modern marketing.

The need for speed has never been greater – get used to it!

One of my all-time favorite quotes from the 1980s pop-culture hit “Top Gun” is “I feel the need . . . the need for speed.” Marketing, as well as the markets and industries they serve, are undergoing massive transformation that is ever-accelerating. We simply do not have the time to wait. Rather, we must be increasingly proactive to avoid being “Ubered” out of existence.

Businesses are in a race of time to reach target market share, achieve critical mass, drive value, and deliver tangible economic results. The time element is ever-shrinking – and with it, the margin for error gets smaller and smaller.

Digital transformation is happening everywhere, whether you recognize it or not

When SAP CEO Bill McDermott stood on stage at SAPPHIRE NOW with the Stanley Cup in May 2015, he declared, “Innovation has

created a digital economy, and digitization is affecting all businesses and all industries. So how do you make this transition to digital? Simple. Every business in here today is in a state of transformation.”

Even an established customer – such as the NHL which owns a trophy as iconic as it is old – has worked diligently to transform its business, its fan engagement, and much more. The NHL’s statistics are a critical component of fan engagement and serve as an excellent proof point.

Thought leadership and storytelling: The keys to digitally transform modern marketing

In an era of unprecedented complexity, we need to tell a story of simplification and business outcomes. An engaging tale of a challenge is articulated along with the solution and its benefits. Some people refer to this approach as the “Pixar format” modeled after a series of very successful animated films from the studio. A problem, a rising conflict, and successful resolution.

The audience is told a story that allows customers to connect the dots and make the correct conclusion. To deliver value in a compelling narrative, the story is personal, leveraging a narrative matched to a target persona or a mix of titles, aspirations, and industry roles. And because thought leadership is commonly misunderstood and misapplied (as observed by my colleagues from SiriusDecisions), marketers must match their messages to the medium, which is increasingly online – while remaining compelling and educational in the process.

Innovation technology drives digital transformation

Marketers do not need to be technologists. But quite frankly, the more they understand, the better they’ll navigate this digital economy. Cloud, Big Data, analytics, and social-media marketing are ingrained in the marketplace and how people innovate.

In the meantime, mobile solutions have become part of the fabric, infrastructure, and approach we take. Also, the Internet of Things is beginning to emerge as an influential force in marketing – only time how it will impact how companies engage with their customers.

As much as people, places, and things change, some things will always feel like home. And by embracing that familiarity and the changes around it, we can build a new, exciting and better future.

Fred is the senior director and head of Thought Leadership for Digital Business Services Marketing at SAP.

Join Fred online: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn,, SAP Services Hub