Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
The increasingly fragmented digital and media landscape, rise of connected devices, and desire for omni-channel retail experiences have left brands scrambling to meet the highly individualised expectations of their customers.
What’s become clear is that no one linear path leads to a brand or purchasing decisions. Yet while there are moves across most Australian organisations to become more customer-led, many marketers are still struggling to make that a reality in the way they approach marketing activities.
Shifting from a focus on channel-based campaigning towards a strategy that’s anchored in the customer opportunity and can take advantage of in a real-time moment of interaction is a must. How to achieve this was the subject of a two-part roundtable series CMO recently held in Sydney and Melbourne in partnership with ADMA and sponsor, Alterian.
What’s preventing customer-led marketing
So what is hindering marketers from being able to create and then optimise activities around customer expectations? At AGL, the single greatest challenge is bringing together the desire for investment into technology, with the right tech capability and the data to make it work, its marketing chief, Caroline Ruddick, said.
AGL has embarked on a $300m transformation program over three years that will see investment into core technologies, processes and people to digitise services and enhance customer experience. The program is about enabling a platform transformation that supports personalisation through data-driven decision making, Ruddick said.
“There is a rapid evolution of technology capability and it’s not easy to achieve successful implementation with legacy systems, and to access and leverage the right data to enable a clear customer view,” she said. “If you can deliver these elements, you are in a position to deliver a customer experience that will meet and hopefully exceed customers’ expectations.”
Legacy systems and managing the change cycle as new systems and processes are introduced is also a hurdle for Sheike & Co, its marketing manager, Morgan Jenkins, said. The fashion retailer is similarly going through a digital transformation project, which recognises the need for technology investment as a backbone for introducing the business to new ways of working and customer engagement styles off the back of that, she said.
“We’re in the process of updating all legacy systems to get to the euphoric state of a ‘single customer view’ in order to be able to deliver a service they expect and demand from us,” Jenkins said, adding that it’s important to “know the difference between having a single view of the customer and having all data in a single place”.
“We have also changed our approach to targeting, by removing customers from traditional demographic ‘boxes’ and instead looking to understand them on an emotional level,” Morgan said. To do this, Sheike is working on a fresh segmentation model, increasing its use of qualitative information to build out segments.
At the same time, while the ambition is there to be more customer led, Jenkins pointed out marketers need to keep running with standard campaigns, making slight improvements until the technology or solutions internally can support the new approach.
“There is an intent for change, and support for change,” Jenkins said. “The element that’s still to be defined is the education and understanding the art of the possible once we’re there.”
Carsales CMO, Kellie Cordner, said activating customer data is an ongoing challenge.
"Bringing together 20+ years of disparate data and legacy systems takes time.However, by taking an iterative approach with our analytics team on this journey, we’ve been able to realise value from priority audience segments along the way rather than waiting for the perfect solution," she said.
Alterian APAC vice-president, Vinnie Mistry, saw legacy tech as a common issue across organisations locally and globally. The problem is that technology is often channel-based, limiting the data that can be used for interactions outside of that channel.
“Because of this, personalisation is affected, since it is optimised by channel not by opportunity,” he said. “We also see a challenge with the current technology in place. With 3700 martech vendors today, companies have access to a selection of technologies to perform marketing.
“Also, brands often aren’t solving customer experience problems, but optimising the channel without thinking where the customer is on the path to purchase.”
For ADMA CEO, Jodie Sangster, the overarching problem is that businesses are structured to deliver against products, not to deliver to the customer.
“For this reason, it is not just marketing that needs to change in order for an organisation to be customer-centric, but the whole organisation from the top down,” she said. “CEO buy-in has come up frequently as an issue and is probably central. The CEO needs to empower the team to deliver to the customer and create key roles that are responsible for delivering to the customer experience – and are KPI’d on this, something that’s often lacking.
“Also essential is for the CEO to support the strategy and stay true to the cause, as it can be a long journey. You also need make the required investments to enable deliver to the customer.
“Legacy systems, lack of data, lack of skills and so on can all be solved when there is true buy-in, commitment and investment from the top.”
Building the foundations
From a marketing perspective, Officeworks has been undergoing a big shift in both processes and skillsets to enable teams to move towards a more customer-led approach, national CRM and digital marketing manager, Teresa Sperti, said.
“We have introduced lean and agile ways of working to allow us to bring ideas to market quicker and then feed learnings into an optimisation approach,” she said. “Our data-driven approach is unpinned by key technologies, like marketing automation, and we have evolved roles in our structure, including a platform’s SME, to ensure the team are enabled to get the best results out of the investment we are making in technology solutions.”
At ANZ, a renewed focus and energy around customer experience is illustrated through its new MD, whose accountability and title includes customer experience and who is tasked with putting a customer lens across everything the banking group does. The ambition is to shift discussions away from which customer may suit which service or product, to which service or product is best for a particular customer and their needs.
Supporting this is work on understanding what the real customer need is, and how the customer goes about their consideration of meeting that need. This is vastly different from an approach that’s based on what product the bank sells the customer when they arrive in one of its channels. But it’s not an easy journey, with historical org structures and revenue focus adding complexity.
As an example of how MetLife is striving to be more customer-led, head of marketing, Paul Bennett, said his team looks to find people in different life stages and connect to their motivations for insurance, rather than simply pitch a product.
“Then it’s about championing that experience, not the policy itself – the customer experience is about solving from a customer’s point of view,” he said. “To do this, you need to access that emotional need.”
Sangster’s first step is also getting a gauge on the customer’s expectations. She claimed too many companies are diving directly into an experience project without understanding what customers truly require and how their organisation can deliver on that need.
“Trying your own customer experience is the first step to improving a marketer’s ability to be more customer-led – but it’s amazing how many organisations/ marketers skip this step,” she commented.
Test and learn was raised by a number of attendees as a critical component in achieving these ends. Sangster advocated starting small, testing the concept, and making sure it’s actually delivering an enhanced customer experience before larger-scale investment.
“This prevents budget from being chewed up on projects that aren’t delivering to the customer’s needs,” she added.
The role of data
None of this is going to work without some handle on data, however. According to Mistry, making customer-led marketing a reality requires an ability to quickly assimilate the view of the customer with relevant data.
“This is critical and vital as a foundation layer. It allows the marketer to make key decisions, start building customer profiles and begin marketing to customers,” he said. “After that, marketers need to analyse the data to then be able to optimise and make informed decisions on marketing campaigns. This truly empowers the marketer to act.”
At Commonwealth Bank, the shift to customer-led marketing is absolutely reliant on data, and its executive manager of consumer marketing, Anna Bay, said significant investment has gone into getting data in order to better execute against the customer opportunity.
“The data journey starts around a vision of what we want to achieve and goes hand-in-hand with essential governance and critical rigour. That then feeds into the technology stack,” she said.
The ability to bring together ‘in the moment’ data, or ‘fast data’, and ‘slow data’, or data collected historically, such as CRM data, is where the rubber really hits the road, Mistry continued.
“A current Alterian utility client in Europe has seen 25 per cent uplift in customer retention only by reacting to the complaint in the channel of their choice, which arose from a bill increase they hadn’t expected,” he explained. “Simply by listening to the customer, this utility company was able to react in real time and notice a considerable difference.”
At Carsales, the focus has been on the ability to aggregate and extract insights from both areas.Cordner said from a data point of view, the business is working towards a single point of truth and single view of our customers.
"This has seen us invest heavily in our analytics capability over the last 12 months, both from a skills and technology perspective," she said. "We’ve also implemented a marketing automation platform to enable us to trigger real time opportunities derived from this data."
Alongside owned data assets, Mistry saw data sharing and the use of third-party sources as powerful weapons for the marketer. “It is a way to access information otherwise unavailable to them to create targeted campaigns,” he said. “This is still work in progress and with time, we will start to see companies commercialise their data via these data platforms.”
Sangster has also seen data partnerships gaining ground across organisations as they look to enhance customer knowledge.
“This is because they can’t just view the customer through their own lens but also need to have a broader perspective of customers’ behaviours and preferences,” she said. “Real care has to be taken here and brands need to ensure they don’t step outside of the reasonable expectations of their customers. Brands do not want to extend beyond a consumer’s level of comfort.”
Up next: How marketers are making sense of the customer journey