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In the Age of Tech Start-ups, Is the Marketing Department Dead?

The CMOs of GoJek in Indonesia and Uxin Group in China beg to differ

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BY Marishka M. Cabrera - 26 Jul 2017

marketing department

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The marketing department as we know it is dead—at least the traditional concept of what a marketing department is.

At the RISE conference held in Hong Kong—one of the most well-attended tech conferences where over 14,000 attendees from 90 countries took part—the chief marketing officers of GoJek in Indonesia and the Uxin Group in China talk about how marketing has changed in the context of tech companies.

“I don’t think the marketing department disappeared, but we are actually everywhere today. Sometimes, I talk to my colleagues, and ask: What is ‘CMO’? It is not chief marketing officer, it’s chief miscellaneous officer. We are basically doing everything,” says Cindy Wang of Uxin, an online used car transaction platform in China.

For Piotr Jakubowski, marketing is part of every single aspect of the product. Marketing is not just about putting together stunning creatives packaged with great storytelling, it’s about being part of the entire user experience—from how the app works, to what the error message says, and to the way customer service representatives talk to clients.

“It’s no longer in silos but part of each and every aspect of the team,” he says.

At Uxin, Wang has a dedicated data analyst in her team to do all the user analysis and future marketing forecasts, as well as a product marketing team to work with the product development team to make sure they provide a better user experience. “I think today, especially in the Internet space, we’re really bonded with the growth aspect of the company,” she says.

Indeed, marketing is not dead. On the contrary, it is more important to growth than ever before. Here are four lessons for marketers in the tech space and beyond.

1. Invest in user experience

Jakarta is notorious for its horrendous traffic—not that other Southeast Asian cities fare a whole lot better. Hence, the success of GoJek hinges on the idea that the company can “get things done for you,” says Jakubowski, from ride-hailing to food and service delivery, to being able to top up phone credit and pay using GoJek’s system.

“We make it happen on a daily basis, and that’s why the user experience across the board is so important, because people open us every single day. In Indonesia, we get about 60-70 million app launches a day. So these are the types of numbers that we are looking at and that’s why that experience is so important,” he says.

2. Adapt to your market

Wang shares she had to adapt to two different industries. Before Uxin, she worked for Uber, whose primary marketing goal was to drive user acquisition and make users stick with the product by making them understand its features. But for the used car space, where people only buy cars once or twice in their life, marketing becomes more about educating the market and telling them there’s no problem with buying secondhand cars.

“In China, people don’t like used stuff. We don’t want to live in a used, secondhand property. We don’t want to use secondhand cars. We don’t want to use used clothes, but it’s shifting now. So basically the first part is we want to educate the market, tell people it’s a new service, it’s a disruptive technology—you can buy and sell cars online and you don’t need to go to an offline market,” she says.

The second part is making customers trust their platform since buyers and sellers can transact directly without the need for a dealer.

3. Be ready to put out fires on a daily basis

Jakubowski says marketing is all about firefighting. “It’s about solving problems that come up on an everyday basis because now that the roles have split across multiple departments, every day is different,” he relates.

Wang adds that it is especially harder for the used car space. “Everyday we innovate new techniques to make our customers happy. And there’s no benchmark at all, it’s not like in the consumer industry [where you have] best practices to learn from…We really need to go out and do a lot of experiments to find, for example, where our target users are, what do they like, what’s the value proposition we should position ourselves,” she says.

4. Always have a growth mindset

With leading global company Coca-Cola recently announcing it was “ditching” the CMO position and replacing it with “Chief Growth Officer,” both Wang and Jakubowski point out that in a tech company, this is sort of old news.

“This is basically what we are doing every day in an Internet company,” shares Wang. “I don’t think it makes any difference.”

Jakubowski concurs, “I think in a technology company, the actual roles and job descriptions are really blurred,” adding that “the only thing they did was rename from ‘marketing’ to ‘growth,’ which when you think about it should have been part of the role anyway.”

“Marketing is a very dynamic job and it’s always moving faster than your company,” says Wang. “You really need to look forward to the future and you really need to learn from different people, different industries.”