In many industries, marketing is shifting from a secondary support service to a vital part of operations. Instead of just spreading awareness or seeding the marketplace for sales, marketers are now helping to create a high-value customer experience. But in order to handle this greater responsibility, marketing must become a consistent, process-driven corporate function like any other. It’s time for companies to transform not just what they do for marketing, but how they do it.
As they overhaul their organization, however, marketing leaders face an added challenge. More than in most corporate functions, they must set up structures and processes with the agility to adapt to ongoing changes in customer behavior and technology. The goal is freedom within a framework, so the organization can evolve with the marketplace without losing its coherence and consistency.
The following is an excerpt from Freedom Within a Framework. See eBook for additional information.
Digitization has given companies new ways to connect with customers and deliver goods and services. These interactions are so rich and personalized that companies can reach much further into customers’ lives than before. We’re seeing convergence everywhere: between mobile devices and personal computers, between B2B and B2C buying behaviors, and between customers’ professional and personal lives.
That’s great news for building brands with loyal customers and strong communities. The rub, however, is that customers have rising expectations for an integrated, multi-channel experience throughout the buying journey. They demand easily accessed, user-friendly, and insightful connections – and they’re increasingly likely to dump a brand that falls short. The total customer experience is what will drive customer satisfaction and retention, more than the specifics of the product or service for sale.
That’s good news for marketers looking for a higher profile in their companies. As steward of the brand, marketing is increasingly responsible for defining the overall customer experience and for managing the messages in each touchpoint and much of the needed technology. In a 2015 survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, only a third of marketers said they currently had this responsibility, but three-quarters expected to have it within five years. Similar numbers predicted their departments would be seen no longer as a cost center, but a revenue driver.
These developments are already evident with “ultra-connected” consumers who expect automated services with apps and who look for insights and entertainment from buying communities. These consumers are a driving force in promoting a seamless, omni-channel experience. On the B2B side, savvy buyers are no longer waiting passively until salespeople enlighten them with run-of-the-mill materials. Now they are scanning the web for solutions on their own – and they’ll choose only from companies with an online presence that wins their respect. No longer able to control the buying funnel, sales teams increasingly depend on marketing both for qualified leads and for the high-quality content to stand out in a marketplace awash in information.
Marketing is poised for a golden future, but most departments are woefully unprepared. They still operate in silos, planning in a vacuum and pushing content through separate advertising and promotional channels. Too many brands perpetuate a transactional, reactive mindset that prevents them from collaborating and unifying customer contacts with sales —or linking to the rest of the organization. Marketers can’t offer a coherent face to customers or develop content that represents the knowledge or essence of the whole company.
Many marketers are also still in the early stages of developing the skills and tools for digital connections, even around the most basic marketing automation capabilities. They’re struggling to make sense of the thousands of tools in the vast and fragmented adtech and martech landscape. They’re learning how to connect these tools to the company’s CRM system – all while handling the flood of new data on customers and content. Few have set up formal planning processes to ensure that the proper content is ready when needed.
The usual advisors for marketing aren’t much help either. Agencies have little interest or expertise in the operational end, while the big systems integrators have only a narrow view of customer engagement. The large consulting firms tend to be as siloed as the companies they serve, so they struggle to unite their pockets of knowledge and support a deep-seated transformation in a reasonable amount of time.
As a result, companies that do invest in stepped-up marketing functions too often simply bolt on new capabilities. The resulting mix of tools and systems usually work poorly together, so marketers can’t plan, align and operate with confidence. They fail to present a unified and reliable customer experience.
Individual industries are feeling their own pains. Retailers have been early adopters in expanding their marketing efforts, and their need for speed and scale has made them good candidates for this transformation. But for all their seeming sophistication and impressive front-ends, the rapid growth has led to operational chaos. In place of a major change, many have simply automated older processes that do little to boost the customer experience in place of the needed sweeping change.
Financial services firms have also invested a good deal in marketing automation. They’ve succeeded in shifting from local, sales-driven leads to marketing-driven leads at scale. But their marketers have struggled to deliver on the promise of these tools, inhibited by line-of-business silos and their own limited digital prowess.
Health care is shifting from B2B to direct-to-consumer outreach, so they’re investing heavily in marketing. Their activities are steadily maturing, but most have yet to overhaul their content creation to work with their new distribution channels. And all of these efforts are slowed by the added burden of regulatory compliance.
Going back to the Economist survey mentioned earlier, the biggest gaps in marketing departments were in digital technology and skills. Most companies are doing little with the oceans of data coming in through social networks and older channels such as email. But 38% of respondents had broader concerns and said they needed to ramp up their capabilities in strategy and planning. More important, a whopping 80% wanted to change the structure and design of their marketing organization within five years, to meet the needs of their business.
Digital tools alone are not enough. Marketers also need to change their fundamental organization. Only then will they be able to properly align themselves with their counterparts in sales and product areas. Only then will they be able to generate and re-use marketing content, integrate existing outreach with social media, and raise the return on investment in marketing technology.
With most companies struggling to transform their marketing, shortcomings aren’t so glaring right now. Ultra-connected customers may get irritated that every buying relationship isn’t as seamless and entertaining as buying shoes from Nike, or attending Salesforce.com’s Dreamforce. But over time, more companies will overcome the challenges and deliver a solid customer experience. Sellers that are holding back now, figuring they’ll get around to transformation eventually, won’t be able to catch up in time. Their customer base will erode away.
More than a threat, though, digitization is also an opportunity. Up to now, marketing has always been a pretty indirect business. They invested in a brand, hoped to create awareness, and looked for signs that you had an impact. In most cases you couldn’t show hard numbers. So when expenses had to be cut, marketing was an easy target.
Now, marketing is getting a direct connection to customers. You lead people on journeys that will steadily enrich their lives. You aren’t just making people aware of products and services. You’re actually increasing the total value that buyers receive from those interactions, because their experiences are a key part of that value. Already in 2014, a survey by McKinsey suggested that customer satisfaction in a cross-section of industries correlated 30 to 40 percent more with the overall journey than with performance on individual touchpoints such as product quality. As for business outcomes such as higher revenue, repeat purchase, lower customer churn, and positive word of mouth, these were 20 to 30% more strongly correlated with the overall journey.
At Zee Jay Digital, we believe that customers are looking for brands that offer a clear and consistent experience, one that overcomes the fragmentation and complexity of new technologies and channels. Marketers that deliver on these goals will not only gain loyalty, but also gain a two-way communication path that drives innovation in the products and services themselves. Digitally savvy brands can also provide platforms of mutual support for dispersed communities of users. Together these advances mean that digitization isn’t just one more challenge for brands to help with. It’s a major step in realizing the potential of brands.
Marketers have always been the custodians of brands. But now marketers can be the connective tissue among all functions to deliver the unified customer experience. Eventually we probably won’t even speak much of marketing per se. Instead we’ll talk about customer experience management, and it will have a central role in corporate success.
 “The Rise of the Marketer,” The Economist, 2015.