The Five Pillars of Modern Marketing

A Modern Marketing Manifesto for building a data-rich, customer-centered marketing engine

Illustration of man with megaphone

What if you could free yourself from legacy constraints and had the opportunity to build a modern marketing engine from scratch? How would you design it?

Despite the tectonic shifts in marketing technology that have occurred over the last two decades, day-to-day marketing operations for most organizations has remained largely the same. In part this is because the risk of making major alterations to a complex, revenue-driving engine while in-motion is high. But what if you could hit the reset button on your marketing engine and start over? What would it look like?

The Modern Marketing Manifesto is an attempt to answer this question. It is based on two decades of experience as a digital consultant working with large- and mid-sized companies across a wide range of industries to help them harness an exhausting stream of new technologies, including websites, intranets, online ads, emails, e-commerce sites, mobile apps, chatbots, virtual reality experiences, dashboards, data lakes and customer data platforms.

And although most companies don’t have the luxury of building a marketing engine from scratch, every organization can transform itself over time, given the right vision and leadership. For established enterprises like these, the Modern Marketing Manifesto provides a north star for transformation initiatives.


The modern marketing engine uses data more effectively to create more compelling experiences that drive stronger growth.

1. Outcomes over outputs
The core anchor of a modern marketing engine is the relentless drive toward achieving outcomes, rather than a myopic focus on shipping outputs.

2. Hypotheses over hubris
A modern marketing engine is fueled by continually testing hypotheses, because the truth is that no single expert knows for certain what will drive marketing results.

3. Agile over Waterfall
A modern marketing engine is driven by an iterative process designed to rapidly adapt to new information, rather than an annual plan that pre-maturely locks down marketing execution.

4. Customers over channels
A modern marketing engine is built around a unified customer profile that enables cross-channel personalization, rather than siloed marketing channels.

5. Experiences first, technologies second
Marketing technology is a means to create a better customer experience that is optimized for delivering results; the technology is not an end in itself.

Current State

Let’s contrast this ideal end state with an example of the traditional approach that is often practiced today. Several years ago, I worked at a digital agency that was awarded digital marketing “agency of record” for a large financial services firm—let’s call it Acme Bank. Acme’s marketing organization was a well-oiled machine. Every year during its budget planning process, Acme provided us a schedule and count of marketing outputs across product lines and channels (e.g. microsites, banner ads, online ads, etc.). We used this matrix to estimate staffing and costs for the next 12 months. Then, during the course of the year, as new campaigns kicked off, we got briefed by channel managers, who served as our main points of contact as we executed the campaigns. Before deploying any of our work, the creative and content was reviewed by senior-level channel managers, product managers, brand managers and legal advisors. Changes were then made to the creative based on their input, and the campaigns and websites were deployed.

This approach got the job done for Acme Bank, but it had problems:

  • Annual planning: The annual budgeting cycle dictated the course of marketing, which is a case of the tail wagging the dog. The marketing schedule and outputs had to be established upfront for the year because the agency contract was aligned to a fixed scope. This required senior marketing leadership to predefine precisely which marketing campaigns would run for which products in which channels a year in advance, making it difficult to change mid-year.

  • Channel-centric, not customer-focused: Each campaign was largely siloed in its own channel, despite the fact that customers experienced the brand across touchpoints. Sometimes channels shared a common creative brief, but each campaign effectively acted as a stand-alone digital experience. And offline campaigns? They were run by completely different agencies, so they were usually very disjointed. As a result, customers received an inconsistent experience when interacting with the brand.

  • Lack of data: Although the rudimentary results of campaign performance were occasionally shared, data was rarely used to drive creative decisions and was never used for personalization or targeting. Data was never broken down by audience segment, and A/B testing rarely, if ever, occurred. And the ability to tie marketing campaigns to actual revenue impact was but a laughable pipe dream.

  • Deliverable-focused, not results-driven: The focus for the agency was on shipping outputs (e.g. building microsites or online ad campaigns) rather than business results (e.g. increasing share of wallet). Success was judged by our ability to complete the outputs on-time, with creative that pleased the majority of senior stakeholders. Driving revenue growth and ROI was never a consideration, in large part because it couldn’t be measured.

Fortunately, there is a better way. The modern marketing engine uses data to create better experiences that drive better results.

1. Outcomes over outputs

The core anchor of the modern marketing engine is a relentless drive toward achieving outcomes, rather than the myopic focus on shipping outputs. This cultural shift requires three elements:

  1. Defining a limited set of KPIs to measure the efficacy of your marketing efforts.
  2. Establishing a system for measuring cross-channel marketing ROI.
  3. Providing easy access to marketing results for senior leadership, agency partners and front-line workers.

These three elements provide an extreme degree of visibility, enabling marketing teams to learn quickly and navigate toward better results.

Modern marketing organizations also know that not all outcomes can be easily measured. For example, the impact of brand building occurs over time, and cannot be measured in weekly or daily increments. So, despite the emphasis on using data to drive results, the modern marketing organization is not a slave to the data either. It encourages long-term, top-of-the-funnel, brand building, which, by its very nature has less data to guide it and relies more heavily on pure human creativity.

2. Hypotheses over hubris

The modern marketing engine is fueled by hypotheses. This is because no single creative director, CMO or management consultant knows for certain what will drive marketing results. Rather, we make educated guesses based on our experience. The ultimate act of hubris (i.e. excessive pride and self-confidence) is believing you know what your customers want more than they do. Instead, the modern marketing organization remains humble, treating ideas as hypotheses and listening closely to their customers through data. And since the modern marketing engine defines a simple set of KPIs and makes marketing results accessible, learning can happen quickly.

Inherent in this approach is the understanding that not all marketing ideas will perform well. Failure is a necessary side-effect of the learning process and it happens naturally as part of optimization. The modern marketing engine encourages failing fast and incrementally, because the machine is built to learn from mistakes and adapt quickly. A corollary of this approach is that the modern marketing organization embraces failure as a fundamental part of its culture—something that very few companies do today, unfortunately. Without a cultural safety net that embraces failure, people will resist extreme visibility, which significantly hinders optimization efforts.

3. Agile over Waterfall

The modern marketing engine is driven by an iterative, Agile process. Agile marketing is able to transform hypotheses and data-driven learning into tangible, high-performing executions. Rather than planning out the entire marketing calendar in advance for the year (a process known as Waterfall), the modern marketing organization breaks down work into 2- to 3-week increments called Sprints. Each Sprint begins with a planning session that enables team members across disciplines to define the detailed scope and establish an action plan for the next few weeks. The Sprint ends with a review of the work and a retrospective that allows the team to discuss what worked and what didn’t during the Sprint, enabling them to improve over time.

Scrum is a variant of Agile that provides a well-defined operating methodology designed to absorb learnings frequently and adapt to changes quickly based on empirical information. For example, rather than setting the messaging for a 6-month campaign in stone at the start, and then blindly running the campaign until it ends, a modern marketing Scrum team might test several variants of the messaging in one Sprit (e.g. using a small Google keyword buy), and then test the winner across a few channels in the next Sprint. After compiling the learnings, the bulk of the campaign might then be run in subsequent Sprints, using the messages and channels that proved to be the most effective.

4. Customers over channels

The modern marketing organization is centered around the customer, not siloed marketing channels. It leverages all the digital signal at its disposal to build a robust, unified customer profile that enables personalized experiences across touchpoints. Customer obsession in the digital age requires doing the hard work of connecting your data and platforms to ensure that you recognize your customer wherever she interacts with you, in order to provide a more tailored experience.

The rise of the Customer Data Platform (CDP) over the last few years has been in response to this need. A CDP is simply a marketing-focused technology that unifies customer data from multiple sources (e.g. loyalty, CRM, transactions, website click data, etc.) and makes it available to marketers for customer segmentation and activation across marketing channels. It is designed to meet marketers’ long-standing demand to have direct control over customer data for marketing purposes. As a customer-focused, channel-agnostic marketing engine, the modern MarTech stack has a CDP at its core.

5. Experiences first, technologies second

Organizations that build out a robust marketing technology stack to support a single view of the customer often over-focus on data and tech platforms, ignoring the nuances of the customer experience that are so critical to success. The job of marketing is ultimately to provoke a change in customer behavior, either to convince prospects to start buying products/services, or to motivate existing customers to buy more. But bits and bytes of data alone don’t provoke a change in behavior—great experiences do. The modern marketing organization understands that MarTech is a means of creating a better customer experience optimized for delivering results; it is not an end in itself.

One way that forward-thinking organizations align marketers and technologist is through the use of data-driven marketing journeys. Data-driven marketing journeys map customer interactions across touchpoints, aligning each interaction to the underlying technology platforms and data required to implement the experience. These journeys can be used to define ideal, future-state experiences or to document current-state marketing journeys. Most importantly though, they provide a way to align big picture thinking with tactical execution across a complex technology stack, while keeping the customer experience front-and-center.


The modern marketing machine is built to capitalize on the rich customer data and innovative marketing technology available to us today. But technology is only part of the equation. The modern marketing machine also requires a marketing organization that understands how to operate deftly in a rapidly changing landscape by fostering a culture of experimentation and learning. The Modern Marketing Manifesto is designed to emphasize both the human and technical elements of modern marketing that are required to achieve optimal results, and plant a north star for forward-thinking organizations seeking stronger growth.