Uniting Science and Creativity Around the Customer Experience


The pace of digital transformation is forcing big changes in marketing, but many of its practitioners are failing to keep up. Distinguished marketing scholar, Roland Rust, who has taught marketing to generations of students at the University of Maryland, warns that unless the trend is reversed, there will be a widening communications gap. Read more in an excerpt below from his interview with Harvard Business Review Analytic Services.  

HBR-AS: What are the pressures that marketers face today?

Rust: A lot of the skills that used to make up a marketing professional are not really the skills that run marketing anymore. You have a lot of data scientists and information system people running a lot of marketing functions now. You’ve got all these computer scientists who are trying to figure out how to work with this data. The marketing people are sort of off on the side because they don’t have those skills. They are having a lot of trouble communicating with those folks.

HBR-AS: Can you tell me a bit more about that communication gap?

Rust: Well, “computer people” don’t know marketing, and marketing people don’t know computers. Even though there’s all this great data out there, turning that into something that you might call useful knowledge is a skill that is missing.

HBR-AS: How do you imagine that should work?

Rust: I think a lot of the problem is that when you think of marketing, it’s often a centralized function. That is a holdover from the mass media days when the goal of the marketing manager was to come up with television ad campaigns and that sort of thing. Meanwhile, the sales people were out in the field talking to actual customers. One was a very centralized, top down sort of function. The other was a decentralized, bottom up sort of function. They had totally different viewpoints and ways of looking at business.

HBR-AS: How does that correct itself?

Rust: I think it corrects itself by having the organization structured around customers. Really, that is a lot of what CRM was all about. Instead of doing centralized things that are the same for everybody in a very standardized way, you’re trying to figure out how to address each customer as an individual customer.  

The amount of data is just proliferating at an unbelievable rate. That gives the organization a real opportunity to individualize and personalize.  

HBR-AS: And how is marketing’s role changing?

Rust: Well first of all, the structure of the economy has really changed in the last 50 years. The fastest growing part of the service economy is information service. With most information service, you actually know who the customer is or at least how they got online. You have a much more direct personal link to the customer, and that didn’t used to happen in business-to-consumer (B2C) to the extent that it does today.

As a result you have all this information about the B2C customer. Now they can see things like, this person has product A, product B, product C, and therefore we ought to be able to – based on the patterns we see in our data – upsell this person to product D or be able to cross-sell to product E. Once you have that data, then you can link their behaviors to all sorts of things. You can take a look at patterns in behavior, you can take a look at how that relates to your direct marketing efforts, and also centralized marketing efforts, which still exist. Now there is so much direct communication that can be done.

You can read more from Rust and other marketing experts in the report, Designing a Marketing Organization for the Digital Age.