December is always a good time to take stock of the year gone by and reflect on your firm’s successes and misses. 2017 was a good year for marketers to truly embrace technology-driven customer experience and invest in a myriad of digital, mostly cloud-based, technologies. These include applications and platforms for social listening, customer relationship management, content management, digital assets management, data management, marketing automation, and various other elements from the MarTech and the AdTech stacks.Content was of course the king but so was the intense focus on building a brand, focused on the customer. CMO as the chief customer custodian now has access to dramatically higher budgets, disbursed often at the expense of the CIO/CTO budgets. So, the investments have been made and CMOs are acquiring seats on Boards in greater numbers. However, with all the added attention comes much greater responsibility. The key challenge for CMOs going into 2018 is going to be identifying the channels to realize revenue from all the investments in technology. In my view, there are three key areas where renewed focus is required. This includes:
Great customer experience is now just table-stakes for building a great brand. Experiences must be driven by content that is relevant and timely; however, it is context that ultimately amplifies engagement and drives the transaction.
Empathy-driven approaches, such as ‘sentiment capture’ are only useful if the firm can truly understand what the customer really wants (as opposed to just tabulating likes and dislikes). Understanding the customer’s demographic segment, geo-location, their stage in life, recent click-throughs, and other traditional signals are only valuable if they can be combined into a greater understanding of the customer’s overall context. Capturing and tagging a first-time experience of a prospect on say a website, recognizing a repeat visit, qualifying the prospect, and nurturing the prospect till she becomes a customer requires a high level of context understanding and should result in greater personalization at the evolving stages of engagement.
To engage customers, a brand needs to be able to tell its story all the time, anywhere, and on any device. For a continuous, cohesive story to evolve, it is critical that a firm provides content across all channels – web, mobile, kiosk, call center, wearable gadgets, IoT-enabled devices, amongst others. This content needs to be personalized and contextual, and it also needs to build on the story told so far. So, a prospect visiting a site for the first time should see content that hooks her with the early promise of value, and tags her. The next time she interacts with the brand, possibly on a different channel, the content is more personalized and based on her prior interaction, and so on – till she is able to transact. The story of the brand and its value for the prospect should evolve and match the prospect behavior and readiness to transact. This is in contrast to fragmented story elements and content that is disconnected from an overarching, evolving storyline.
For a CMO to be able to tell the story of its brand and provide contextual experiences for its customers and partners, it needs to synchronize its CRM (Customer Relationship Management), MAP (Marketing Automation Platform), and CMS (Content Management System). These three platforms are often siloed, which prevents sharing of data across their platform boundaries that result in leaving many customer journeys stranded. The synchronization across this triad implies integration (through APIs or web-services), integration of the upstream and downstream data flows, as well as unification of existing interfaces across the web, mobile, kiosk, IoT, and other channels. This integration can manifest itself in many ways such as make sure a customer visit on a CMS-driven site surfaces as a sales lead in the CRM database. The CRM makes the customer history available at the time when a prospect visits, let’s say, the CMS-driven mobile site. Also, a site could ingest analytics from a campaign driven by the MAP to personalize content for a prospect. There are many such user stories that synchronization can enable. This is important because it allows customer data to become ubiquitous, thus facilitating mining. This also enables capturing, tracking, qualifying, and nurturing leads. Synchronization also provides a prospect with deeply relevant, timely, and contextual content – through cohesive experiences across devices – ultimately leading to a transaction. Finally, it allows for post transaction upsell and cross-sell, further channeling the way to higher customer lifetime value.
In the end…
Traditionally, a CMO organization has to rely on the CIO/CTO organization for IT talent to build, integrate, and maintain marketing technology purchases. That dependency is now eroding and the CMO is becoming an equal partner, willing and able to buy, utilize and adopt MarTech solutions – with or without collaboration from internal IT. This has given rise to a new incumbent responsibility for the CMO organization to quickly mature and understand what applications and platforms to buy, and how to align with existing investments. Finding the right agency to shape a brand is difficult enough; however, finding an IT partner to enable the marketing vision, engage, and acquire customers is even more critical.
Going into 2018, CMOs will need to tread wisely and look for partners with the right blend of agency and digital integration capabilities to truly realize return on their IT investments.