Why marketers hold the keys to the competitive kingdom

Today’s primary source of competitive advantage is in the hands of CMOs and marketing leaders because they are the ones who can dleiver remarkable customer experience

Larry Weber and Lisa Leslie Henderson
Larry Weber and Lisa Leslie Henderson

Business has changed significantly during the past few decades, fuelled by low cost and ubiquitous communications technologies. Innovation has been layered on top of innovation, irrevocably altering human behaviour and causing seismic shifts in business philosophy, practices and careers.

As the first responder on the customer scene, marketing has been at the centre of these changes. While marketing is still charged with creating and keeping customers, the “how-to” questions for accomplishing this have been altered considerably.

Remarkable customer experience is today’s primary source of differentiation for organisations across every sector.

Companies like Amazon, Nike, IBM, Hubspot, Zappos and Warby Parker are becoming customer-obsessed, creating highly relevant experiences that engage and delight their customers on a regular basis across the entire customer journey. And they are being richly rewarded for it in terms of enhanced sales, stock performance, brand preference and advocacy. Even more, they are setting the bar for all of us, no matter our industry.

In The Digital Marketer: 10 New Skills You Must Learn to Stay Relevant and Customer-Centric, we explain the latest tools and trends used in today’s marketing initiatives and how they work together to generate remarkable customer experience. These skills include:

  • Understanding today’s customer journey and how to guide our prospects and customers through it with relevant and contextualised content that cuts through the content haze;

  • Comprehending the basics of behaviour science and design thinking to effectively build integrated experiences around our products and services that draw our prospects and customers to us and inspire them to share our experiences with their friends;

  • Employing converged marketing strategies that combine paid, earned and owned media—including native advertising—to create trustworthy messaging with unprecedented reach;

  • Integrating big and small data and analytics to better understand our prospects’ and customers’ needs, preferences, behaviours and motivations, as well as create accurate predictive experiences across the entire customer journey;

  • Applying marketing automation to scale personalised interactions, enhance lead scoring and nurturing, more closely align marketing and sales, and accurately measure marketing’s impact on conversions, revenue and profitability;

  • Evaluating public and private social networks and communities and the opportunities they present for brands going forward;

  • Designing digital loyalty programs that reward customers for key behaviours and contribute to remarkable customer experiences;

  • Becoming more agile and responsive, able to test ideas in real time and in real markets to optimise engagement;

  • Reinventing our value propositions to enable our companies to be market makers—not just share takers—in a time when our best ideas are rapidly commoditised;

  • Shaping our marketing careers proactively and imaginatively by building productive networks and information flows, seeking out appropriate developmental relationships and nurturing our creativity.

“As the brave new world of digital marketing gets more complicated and brands need to engage more with their customers, a trusted guide is necessary,” explains Linda Boff, executive director of global digital marketing at GE. “The digital marketer is that guide.”

No one needs to tell us that the world of marketing is changing fast. We are living it. Low-cost and ubiquitous communications technology is irrevocably altering human behaviour, causing seismic shifts in marketing philosophy, practices and careers. At its core, marketing is still about creating and keeping customers, but the how-to questions for accomplishing this have changed considerably.

The Web has empowered people everywhere. Whether in New York or Nairobi, today’s customers are connected, informed and more vocal than they have been in the past. Anyone with a connected device—39 per cent of the world, as of 2013—now has access to all of the world’s knowledge and many of its citizens.

With these resources at their fingertips, our prospects and customers can discover and investigate anything and everything, establish decision-making criteria, seek opinions from their peers, evaluate their options and share their impressions and experiences with others, anytime and anywhere.

As a result, the relationship between businesses and their customers has been dramatically altered: Our customers are now firmly in charge of the buying process.

Digital has changed the game

Digital has dealt us all new cards. Today’s customer journey still starts with a need or a desire, but our prospects often undertake a lengthy period of silent due diligence during which time they discover and evaluate their options via the Web. Some of the most influential sources during this discovery period are other people’s unfiltered post-purchase commentary. Salespeople enter at a much later stage for business-to-business purchases; most ecommerce purchases can be made independently.

Marketers have become essential to the purchase process as content is the tool that breaks through this silent due diligence, initiating a conversation between our prospects and us. Recognising this shift, marketers have become content publishers and experience architects, experts at creating useful resources that address our prospects’ and customers’ underlying needs and desires. Serving as trusted advisors rather than biased advocates for our company’s products and services, we create the conditions for our prospects and customers to evaluate for themselves whether we should be invited into the purchase process.

Digital has dealt us all new cards. Today’s customer journey still starts with a need or a desire, but our prospects often undertake a lengthy period of silent due diligence during which time they discover and evaluate their options via the Web

Social media has multiplied the potential points of connection with our prospects and customers, and its interactive nature has turned static text into cross-channel dialogue. As we blog, tweet, host webinars, publish whitepapers, produce videos and curate Pinterest boards, we generate living assets that can draw prospects to us. As we carefully observe our prospects’ digital body language, our encounters become more personalised, incorporating predictive analytics to enhance their usefulness.

Post-purchase engagement with our customers has become essential. Our customers are a primary source of word of mouth that can make or break future sales. In these later-stage interactions, we can learn the details of their experience with us, answer any remaining questions and mitigate any outstanding negatives.

We can also foster positive advocates for our products and services, harness wisdom for our customer service efforts and generate additional business. Our customers are also a vital source of insight into latent and emerging demand that can fuel new products, services and experiences for tomorrow’s revenue.

Although our prospects may not begin the customer journey looking to develop an ongoing relationship with us, as we engage in ways that are useful, they often morph from being unknown targets to being customers and, in many cases, partners.

As we transform a traditionally passive and transaction-oriented association into a collaborative relationship where we co-create, co-market and co-serve our brands, our role as marketers expands. We become key drivers of sales, loyalty and innovation, producers of revenue rather than primarily generators of expenses.

Just ahead: Relief and reward

We have come a long way during the last two decades. While much complexity remains, we are now entering a time of refinement. After gulping down innovation, marketers will be able to chew a little more thoroughly.

This does not mean that invention will stop, that competition will become less fierce or that the pace of business will slow. Nor does it mean that those who remain standing have secured a place in the future. It does mean that much of the innovation on the horizon builds and improves upon the seismic transformations that have already altered the landscape. Shakeouts and consolidations will be plentiful as the market integrates. As the dust settles and we gain comfort in our new skills, creativity will flourish.

The ability to create and deliver remarkable customer experience will be the signature of successful companies in this next phase of marketing. It is how we manifest our customer centricity and what our prospects and customers have come to expect and reward.

Organisations that are able to figure out what their prospects and customers want and expect, and deliver on this insight, will develop a powerful customer experience differential, a key source of differentiation in an environment where commoditisation of our best ideas and efforts happens all too rapidly. This differential will drive results—it already is.

Watermark Consulting found that the stock performance of companies considered customer experience leaders exceeded that of both the S&P 500 and the customer experience laggards. Customer experience leaders had a cumulative total return of +22.5 per cent over the half-decade period compared with a −1.3 per cent decline for the S&P 500 market index and a −46.3 per cent decline for the laggard portfolio over the same period.

Customer experience matters.

About the authors

Larry Weber is a globally known expert in public relations and marketing services and is passionate about the convergence of technology, the Web and communications. He is chairman and CEO of Racepoint Global, an advanced marketing services agency. Weber previously founded Weber Shandwick, the world’s largest PR firm. He is the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange (MITX), the world’s largest Internet marketing association. Weber is a frequent public speaker on the future of marketing, the social Web and building communities online. He is also the author of four additional books on marketing, technology and leadership. Follow him on Twitter: @thelarryweber.

Lisa Leslie Henderson writes, teaches and consults on the changing face of marketing, creativity, innovation and social entrepreneurship. She enjoys contributing to the work of several organizations that are committed to developing future leaders and social entrepreneurs. This is the second book upon which she has collaborated with Larry Weber. Follow her on Twitter: @ljlhendo.

This article originally appeared in the CMO Council’s Peersphere magazine, Volume 4, Number 3, 2014.

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