Interview: IBM’s cognitive vision for marketing

CMO chats with the VP of customer engagement solutions for IBM Marketing and Commerce Clouds to find out how cognitive is disrupting everything marketing does, from personalisation to ways of working

How about the level of customer centricity and data maturity you need to have to maximise cognitive? Most marketers say change management and data are the two challenges they face today.

I’m glad you put them in that order because change management is the hardest thing. One of the things I’ve personally spent a lot of time on is a CMO program with the Wharton Business School to help CMOs think about how to change themselves. One of our first clients was Telstra, and we worked with them and the Australian Graduate School of Management on a training program for the whole of the marketing community to think differently.

If you are a bank, you need to stop thinking you’re selling customers a mortgage, but instead helping them move house. In this case, your expertise is in the financial services associated with moving house, and in particular, large loans, which are called mortgages. It’s a very different thought set to put yourself into. It also means customer service agents, call centres, chief customer officers and all staff must put themselves in the customer’s mindset to see how they can help them.

That changes the way you work because suddenly it’s about a team of people all doing things that counts. It isn’t how companies have worked historically, including marketing, where digital, apps and sponsorships have sat in different silos. The entire company now needs to work together.

We have been very big on customer journey mapping techniques and built design and analytics into our products to help teams express a journey in the client’s terms and visualise it across a group of people. Once you have that visualised, you can think about the second pillar, which is the data underpinning that. Because it has to start with what I need to know, not what data I have.

You might end up with a whole bunch of data you’re not using. That’s OK. Only worry about the data you need, instead of focusing on massive data projects to try and collect every piece of data you ever had.

How do you think marketers in general are going when it comes to customer- and digital-led marketing transformation?

In most industries and countries, we now have good examples of companies providing great customer service because they think holistically, but they’re not the majority yet.

Our former chairman once said if you can’t change the people, then change the people. But first give them every opportunity to get the skills, training and leadership. That’s what it’s like in marketing today. If you just start trying to swap people out, you’re not thinking strategically. Firstly, this is a change about how our profession is practised, so there aren’t people to just swap them out for, the whole tide is rising.

Is there a common question you get around how to become a modern marketer?

I get many questions, but there isn’t one dominant theme. That’s partly because of the diversity of what marketing hmeans in different organisations. But there is one common question I ask, which is: What is the role of marketing in your firm? For some, it’s all about establishing a brand. One client came back and said it’s about our customers knowing we are $0.99 cheaper for the hour we are $0.99 cheaper, so they choose us. That’s because they’re in a price driven market and if there is a window where buyers allow it to be ahead, the marketer’s only job is to make sure they know and respond to it.

We’re seeing a huge number of vendors capitalising on AI and machine learning in the martech and adtech space – it’s just like the heady days of CRM, cloud and big data. Are we at risk of more confusion in the market?

Oh yes, absolutely.

So how can marketers navigate this sea of technology?

Get vendors to show you. I’m a big believer in demonstration. In the end, if it makes a different with your customers, use it with enthusiasm. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter what’s going on inside that box.

What are the wider short-term and long-term priorities for IBM Marketing Cloud?

What we’re working hard to do is democratise data, and doing so in a joined up way. Thanks to our data heritage, we have a lot of credibility around doing that well in many fields and it’s what we want to bring to marketing too. It’s about how you make data-driven insights, choices and execution firstly easier for people to understand, then easier to set up at scale.

Visualisation is a huge component, as is the whole query process, which is why Real-Time Personalisation is important. We have had some of our biggest clients including banks and telcos using this technology, but previously you had to have real experts doing it. We’d like to make sure the ordinary marketer can do this without having to go down the corridor to find an expert.

This comes back to usability, how you ask questions of data, and how you understand answers from that data, in order to put things in market that drive a real return.

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