5 tough truths to making modern experience-led marketing work

Sitecore global chief marketing officer shares the realities of building a digitally and data fuelled customer experience

In the Asia-Pacific region, businesses lose US$325 billion per year to disconnected customer experiences. Yet according to research recent, at least 90 per cent see CX as a competitive differentiator and 89 per link to commercial success.

So what is it stopping marketers from realising success in what has become a mission-critical piece of business – and their remit?

Speaking at today’s Sitecore Experience event in Sydney this week, Sitecore global CMO, Paige O’Neill, outlined several bottlenecks, called “hard truths”, preventing marketers from meeting their CX ambitions. As she pointed out, two-thirds of businesses are at the very beginning of understanding the shift in customer expectations.

“We’re all in the same boat, and there are very few companies that feel they have this whole thing nailed,” O’Neill told attendees. “We are making progress. And we know marketers are on the frontline.”

1. The c-suite is not that into you

But one thing O’Neill said is stopping marketers is executive expectation. She pointed to Harvard Business Research showing eight in 10 CEOs don’t trust or are unimpressed with their CMO.

“A wide variety of initiatives accrue to marketing and CMO depending on business, industry, B2B versus B2C, and there’s often a misalignment between what CMO is expected to do, what CEO thinks they’re going to do, and what the c-suite thinks they’re going to do,” O’Neill said. “This stems from not setting the right expectations from the beginning.”  

What’s more, while CMO are expected to increasingly drive CX, research shows only 11 per cent of CMOs have budget authority to be able to drive CX, and 80 per cent lack executive sponsorship and broader group understanding about why CX is important. This impacts everything from budget to complexity of the technology, O’Neill said.

Adding to this is an ongoing lack of collaboration between marketing and IT, and O’Neill highlighted research that found two-thirds of IT believe they have more important things to worry about than martech.

The first way of overcoming this is to build trust by being honest and realistic about investments, timelines and expected results, O’Neill said.

“There’s so much pressure to implement technology, you don’t want to have conversation and set expectations of a multi-year timeline,” she admitted. “But if you don’t set these things upfront, you’ll let your organisations down.”  

A second important piece is to document a clear strategic approach. “Many marketers don’t have business strategy and aren’t mapping back to what they’re doing from a technology perspective,” O’Neill continued.

“Without alignment to business strategy, and putting customer at the centre, you probably won’t make progress and gain results.”

The third step is understanding what is important to rest of the c-suite. “We have to go around to our colleagues and ask what are their objectives, and how digital transformation helps fuel their needs,” O’Neill said.

2. Personalisation is not one-size-fits-all

Another aspect of CX is personalisation, and 85 per cent of senior marketers agree it’s key to competitor advantage. Yet according to O’Neill, just one in four global marketers personalise beyond the beginning level of geo, device, location, date or campaign. Hefty reasons include a lack of budget or executive support holding them back.

So what does it take to make personalisation a reality? First things first, start small, O’Neill said.

“We try to boil the ocean. But the best thing might be to do is test small project, create a personalised segment, then test that segment,” she advised.

Secondly, it’s about failing fast. This helps marketers to understand customer segments and desires to find where personalisation can drive most impact, O’Neill said. Thirdly, scale quick.

“Start to create rules-based automation to expand to a greater group,” she added.  

Joining O’Neill on stage was Toyota lead architect, David Johnston-Bell, who explained the car manufacturer employed personalisation last year in a test site set-up for the Corolla model launch and found significantly higher digital engagement as a result.

The relatively simple approach saw Toyota create four sub-segments of customer using a few key data sets.

“We can’t sit on our laurels, moving to new world where people might not buy cars, moving to mobility as a service and usage. We’re looking at how to deliver that in new ways,” he said.  

Key is thinking about it from customer’s point of view, Johnston-Bell said. “Let’s not keep everything. Capture only what is relevant and needed at that point in time. For example, do we need to know the names of all your children?” he asked.  

Toyota’s long-term aim is better controlling content and build a website that acts as a “virtual dealership” where customers can book test drives, look up cars on the screens using things like virtual reality and customised content based on what an individual engages with.

“We see content driving the personalised experience... and want to make content personalisation as BAU so every time we release new vehicle, there’s personalisation behind it,” Johnston-Bell added.

3. Customer data is your kryptonite

O’Neill’s third hard truth for marketers was the difficulty in harnessing data. Challenges include data fragmentation and silos.

“We’ve gone from struggling to get data to enable understanding of how marketing is performing, to being awash in sea of data and the problem becoming how to get insights out of the data and drive actions we want to drive,” she said. “Something that should be a very big strength turns into our kryptonite. We’re still at a phase where we’re moving out of having data to getting insights.”

To overcome this problem, O’Neill said organisations must adopt a “No more garbage in, garbage out” approach.

“We have to have a diligent process to keep data clean, have right privacy and GDPR rules, and build processes across multiple parts of the business to keep data clean,” she said.

Targeting strategic data sets is another must. “The best thing to do is understand the top priority data segments – for example, target accounts, target segment,” O’Neill said. “Focus on getting that data set aligned so you can take action and see what’s working and what’s not.”

And data needs to be a team sport. “This isn’t a marketing or customer support problem, it’s company wide. Those progressing set up data taskforces where everyone has ownership on keeping data clean and prioritising the right insights,” O’Neill said.

4. The content crisis won’t solve itself

Adding to the personalisation challenge is content. According to O’Neill, marketers cannot possibly create enough content to fuel personalisation.

Today, 40 per cent of marketing budgets are being spent creating content in B2B – the highest percentage by far. And there’s a good reason, with companies reporting an 8X increase in first-time visitors to website when they have the right content strategy in play.

One way of helping refine the content play is putting customers at the centre of your content strategy.  “Start by looking at customer expectations. This allows us to drive data and business decisions and priorities,” O’Neill said.

Marketers also need to better measure content performance to can create more effective content and even create less content. And modern content operations tools will help, O’Neill said.

“We need to automate things like back-end content tagging, or swapping content in and out to be more effective meeting customer expectations in real time,” she said.  

5. AI alone won’t save you

O’Neill’s final truth is artificial intelligence (AI) isn’t the be all, end all solution.

“I think there’s a hope and desire among marketing and technology that we’ll be able to cut past all the hard work in terms of getting data in line, rules established, building out content strategy as we’re going to apply AI, automate and it’s all going to be done,” she said. “Unfortunately, it won’t be that easy.”  

AI will be critically important and will continue to change the scope of marketing. But questions remain about how to bring AI in the right way into organisations. That firstly comes back to data, O’Neill said. AI is nothing without underlying data to support it.

“We’re still grappling with getting from data what we need to have to drive efficiencies and value from AI,” she pointed out. “Research shows 39 per cent of marketers don’t know how to get insight from the data they have today; and 40 per cent cite a lack of trust in data.

“As we think about how to grapple with data in our organisations, we have to prioritise that to get ready for AI. Data continues to hold us back on many fronts, from trust or access, to even capturing on the front end.”

In addition, 67 per cent of marketers are not capturing right data rom the outset to drive personalisation. “If you don’t start from beginning putting rules in place to implement personalisation, you won’t be able to access it as you’re moving on to do more advanced uses of the tech,” O’Neill said.  

Use cases today for AI include smart content targeting, identifying patterns in user journeys, facilitating personalisation, and automating routine content tasks.

Read more: IDC: Human creativity will be vital to how marketers successfully use AI

“Only 10 per cent of marketers are using AI to automate legacy marketing tasks,” O’Neill commented. “These uses are new to tech platforms, they’re not the things marketers have been doing for years.”

In order to get ready for AI, O’Neill advised first identifying where AI will be most effective.

“Get a test project, start small and get a quick win for the business,” she said. “Get your data house in order… you need an actionable data foundation. And put the right team in place.

“I saw this when we went through the big data revolution and data scientists became hot job title. Many teams didn’t invest in the resources or people who understood what to do with the data. We risk the same problem with AI – how to apply it, derive insights and spread across the business. It’s an investment in people and technology.”

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