Salesforce CMO: Modern marketers have an obligation to give customers control of their data

Marketing leader comments on the state of customer data utilisation and where competitive advantage lies when every brand has data on everyone

Stephanie Buscemi on stage at Dreamforce 2019
Stephanie Buscemi on stage at Dreamforce 2019

Marketers need to work harder to provide customers with transparency and an ability to control their own data as part of their ethical – and not just legal – responsibility towards them, Salesforce global CMO, Stephanie Buscemi, believes.

Speaking to CMO during the recent Dreamforce conference, the marketing leader pointed to an overreliance on cookie and device data, and overuse of second and third-party data sets. She advocated building and refreshing first-party data sets that not only give customers clarity on the types of data being collected and used, but gives them an ability to control it.

“Getting your first-party approach right means not abstracting yourself away from contact with the customer, and engaging with them directly,” Buscemi said. “Having full transparency on preferences and not having it be binary, but with each engagement, is key. It’s a lot more to instrument, but you’re going to have the trust of the customer doing that.

“Just because a consumer said yes for this engagement, doesn’t mean they’re going to say yes for this second thing. Being able to engage on that is important.” 

Buscemi agreed this approach becomes ever-more critical as brands finally become able to unite all their sources of customer data into a unified single customer view. It’s an ambition Salesforce claims to be edging closer to technically, with fresh products integrations announced designed to bring together an organisation’s marketing, digital, services and sales customer data sets into one single source of truth.

“It’s got to be OK to be used for that interaction, and there needs to be verification at each point happening. You can’t just say we’re going to aggregate it,” Buscemi continued. “Some of those data sources may be coming from places I as a consumer don’t want mixed with the profile over here. And we have to put that power in the hands of the customer and consumer to do that.

“It is about validation and revalidating with the customer contact.”   

Buscemi said she was alarmed at a recent CMO dinner to find half the room claiming minimal database impact from the introduction of consumer data protection laws globally such as GDPR and the California Consumer Protection Act.

“Unless they already had a level of sophistication in preferences and opt-ins and are doing it at every touchpoint, you undoubtably should be losing some of those names on your database,” she commented.

“At Salesforce, we have been extremely stringent on that. We’re basically rebuilding the database all over again on first party in a different way to say this is what we’re going to market to. In the meantime, you can market out on a community. But once you’ve had engagement, it’s protected here.”

With Apple firmly placing itself on the side of privacy and taking a stand against digital competitors such as Google and Facebook to not share or use customer data outside of its own ecosystem, the tech industry is arguably at an inflection point. And as organisations gain the capability to create that holistic picture of a customer across an enterprise, it’s clear brand owners must draw a clear line on how far is too far when it comes to using customer data.

By being transparent with preferences and how data is going to be moved, Buscemi said it’s often the case customers will say yes to information being used provided the value exchange is there.

“But all too often, people either haven’t been compliant, or it’s fine print in the footer where people have been tricked. That’s not the way we’re going to be able to continue as companies,” Buscemi said.    

Future values

As organisations all start to know everything about everybody, there’s also the question of where competitive advantage can be found. For Buscemi, competitive advantage lies in the content you’re delivering, and your organisational values.

“Products and services alone won’t be enough – there’s always going to be another feature or function out there,” she said. “People are going to look to companies and stay with brands that have value and purpose – that are doing well and doing good.

“We know this is especially true of younger generations. We see time and time again through consumer studies that they’re making purchasing decisions based on brands they believe they can trust, and that are doing good in the world, not just doing well.”  

While many B2C marketers have been working to up their game when it comes to purpose, Buscemi agreed it’s been a gap on the B2B marketing side.

“There are some companies doing it well, and a lot trying to catch up. They’re seeing this is a key decision of how people will buy today and realising they haven’t focused on it enough,” she said. “The challenge is you can’t just say it; you have to be able to show it through tangible programs and things you’re doing.

“If you say you’re about equality, you have to be able to back that up with things you’re doing that drive equality in employee base, with customers and community you serve.”

Operationalising values is a responsibility today’s marketers should be spearheading within their organisations, Buscemi said.

“Name a newspaper and all the corporate ads are getting trust and equality washed. For every time you say that, you need to ask yourself what are the programs you have in place to support it. If you can’t articulate the programs, it’s a challenge.”

As an example, Buscemi noted Salesforce’s core value of inclusivity. “We made lemonade out of lemons when we had a situation almost two years ago when an asset came forward that wasn’t particularly inclusive... I couldn’t articulate how that wouldn’t happen again in the organisation,” she said. 

“Rather than stand up a brand team to figure it out, we saw this as the responsibility of everyone to curate and figure out together.”

Salesforce kicked off efforts through a diverse group of people and audited all marketing messaging, then developed six principles of inclusive marketing. Buscemi said all staff have been trained on the principles and it’s worked to build a sense of ownership.

“It’s an example of how marketing is manifesting and how we’re operating every day,” she said.  

  Another recent marketing-led initiative for Buscemi has been working through reimagining Salesforce’s digital experiences to eliminate point-based interactions. It’s work that’s again seen marketing working right across the entire organisation.

A third way Buscemi is ensuring her marketing function is transforming adequately is by giving permission to marketers to let the voice of the customer lead.

“A lot of times in marketing, we have a fit and finish to it. I’m very OK with recording the person and putting that out there. It’s more impactful,” she said, adding customer stories lie at the heart of her overarching marketing strategy.

“There’s this trust revolution and a crisis of trust happening… People aren’t in the mood to be pitched, there is so much going on politically and around the world. It’s better if we let customers in a more unvarnished, authentic way, tell the story.

“I have been giving the team permission to do a lot more of that. It’s a shift for a marketer who wants everything to be perfect.”

Buscemi’s other advice for marketing leaders is to “Lead, lead often, and lean in to the situation”.

“What we have been doing in the four walls of marketing needs to happen and transcend across the entire organisation,” she said. “Today’s marketing is about creating a coordinated experience. Maybe many CMOs have been cordoned off by channel. It just got exponentially larger.

“There is opportunity for CMOs today to reimagine their role and be much more of an orchestrator. To help the company say we have agreed these are our core values and how we operate, how do those core values get manifested in marketing, then allow the masses to take it and run with it.”

But doing this also means letting go of control, Buscemi said. “There’s an information explosion – there is no way you’re going to have your hands on all the content,” she added.

“Flash forward three to five years, and I believe the notion of your own branded .com website will be obsolete. It’s going to be much more co-created, community rated and surveyed articles. It’s the way people want to buy and consumer. People are doing this in Yelp over a burger, they will do it over technology.”  

Read more: Why Salesforce's CMO thinks the age of the marketing campaign is over

  • Nadia Cameron travelled to Dreamforce as a guest of Salesforce.


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