In a recent conversation with a chief technology officer, he asserted all digital technology changes in his organisation were being led by IT and not by marketing. It made me wonder: How long a marketing function like this could survive?
The rise of connected, ever-more knowledgeable customers has changed the very nature of modern marketing.
Gone are the days when marketing was simply about crafting a clever push campaign or TV ad, or finding a fresh prospect then handing them over to the sales or customer service departments. Today, marketers are not just expected to understand what makes customers tick, but to also identify, influence and enhance their experience across every interaction with their organisation.
In our first New Zealand roundtable, CMO and our event sponsor, Microsoft, brought local marketers and digital leaders together to debate customer-centric marketing, the challenges in orchestrating customer-led change within organisations, and increasingly, how marketing is taking a leading role in product innovation.
Attaining a customer-oriented culture and mindset is vital to ensuring an organisation engages with customers in a relevant, value-driven way. ASB Group head of digital strategy, Roxanne Salton, said the customer is at the centre of any conversation had internally, and product improvement and interaction are part of meeting the customer’s needs.
Ultimately, the burning platform for change is customers themselves, she claimed.
“As customer experience, convenience and control become the only options, companies have to undergo significant change to meet these needs or risk losing customers who are very vocal on their way out the door,” she said.
Salton noted the pace of change is digitally driven and global, and that the ability to meet a customer’s needs hinges on digital services. “We no longer compete with 2-3 key competitors; we compete with hundreds of smaller disrupting players as well as our old foes,” she added.
“Through all this disruption, one thing remains true: The customer will ultimately decide who wins and who loses.”
The end consumer's needs are high on the agenda at B2B cinema software vendor, Vista Group International, and marketing director, Christine Fenby, said the moviegoer is increasingly at the heart of marketing conversations internally.
Marketing director for Microsoft NZ, Frazer Scott, is focused on ensuring every marketing execution undertaken results in a positive customer experience. “This is both in terms of the platform and accuracy/honesty of the conversation, and the relevance,” he said.
According to Scott, the wider organisation’s ability to be customer-centric is a work in progress.
“That is the challenge of being a global organisation with marketing hubs in corporate HQ, area HQ and then locally,” he said. “The old Microsoft was also more of a product-led organisation. Under Satya Nadella’s [CEO] leadership, we are becoming more customer obsessed and focused in our organisational approach.”
One of the burning platforms for change is the shift from on-premise to as-a-service solutions, which has seen the buyer profile shift from IT to business decision makers across all parts of an organisation.
“We need to build a deeper understanding of different audiences and their drivers,” Scott said.
Growers organisation, Wilcox, has a number of business priorities around sustainable growing efficiencies, but there’s also been significant effort put into developing consumer insights in recent years, said CMO, Dean Langrell-Read.
"Wilcox has been growing vegetables for four generations and in that time the route to market has changed significantly, with supermarkets our largest direct domestic customer,” he said. “Supermarkets are becoming increasingly sophisticated at understanding how their customers shop and what motivates them to purchase, but they still expect suppliers to be experts in their own categories.
“We need to demonstrate leadership and add real value to the relationship by not only bringing products to the table that excite consumers, but also by being able to tell the story about the journey from ‘field to fork’.”
Building the framework for CX
GM marketing and communications at Auckland Airport, Jason Delamore, is sponsoring the company’s customer experience efforts at leadership level. His role is to help develop frameworks and tools that can be used pan-business and to provide greater consistency and efficiency.
Last year, the airport embarked on a program of work to understand customer journeys and touch points within and around the airport.
“It was about extending knowledge into both the digital and physical components of the customer journey,” Delamore said. “The challenge is we are a scale business, but have limited visibility on who our customers are, and therefore how we can better serve them.”
This work has contributed to a robust customer experience framework, and the task is now to implement the plans to best effect, he said. The impetus for change was delivering a better customer experience that, in turn, drives business performance. The work also links to a wider, 30-year vision around travel trends and how the airport will impact customer journeys into the future.
Delamore highlighted the importance of “relevance and reciprocity”. He pointed to third-party mobile apps and partnerships, such as TripIT, as examples of Auckland Airport extending its reach by improving relevancy to the end consumer throughout their travel journey.
“It was critical to be relevant to travellers beyond the physical footprint of the terminal, where it makes sense. We want to find ways to improve the travel experience for all flyers, regardless of airline or class of travel,” Delamore said. “Quality data then enables companies to deliver timely and relevant information- both for offers and in ways that improve the overall experience.”
Hurdles in putting customers first
While those around the table were similarly keen to base business decisions on the needs of customers, execution is often playing catch up. Challenges stretch from leadership and culture through to team agility, actioning data, and marketing’s ongoing reputation in the business.
In fact, more than one marketer said marketing is still misunderstood in terms of its ability to produce strategic, customer growth for the organisation. One marketing leader in an education and training provider, for example, said trying to articulate a customer experience message internally often results in blank looks. Recent acquisitions and distinct owner-business cultures haven’t helped.
“Many of our customers are 18 to 25 year olds, which is a segment well out of [leadership]’s headspace,” the marketer said. “Customer experience knowledge is non-existent, and there is a lack of understanding of what marketing is. They don’t see the strategy in what we do, so it can be difficult to explain programs to executives.”
For Delamore, the challenge of having multiple stakeholders in the airport experience is an area of focus.
“To be truly successful, we need to keep building on collaboration,” he commented. “Instilling confidence in the relevancy of your brand is a big role for CMOs.”
At water and waste management group, Hynds, being customer-led is complicated by the fact that a small base of named accounts hides a wider array of users and influencers within end organisations, general manager, Tony McAlwee, said.
Scott saw acquisition and maintenance of customer data as a major stumbling block. “Our customers expect blue chip organisations to be able to provide them with compelling offers,” he said.
“This is compounded by the number of small businesses in NZ and the rate at which their details change, for example, in the B2B marketing space. Like any business, there can be the challenge of the organisation having its own goals top of mind, such as hitting budgets. While I don’t see having customer centricity and business success as a dilemma, you do have to carefully message internally that it’s not either/or – it’s both.”
Up next: How attendees are making customer engagement a reality