How the pandemic revealed the antidote to marketing’s image problem

Murray Howe

  • Founder, The Markitects
Murray Howe is the founder of The Markitects, which helps marketers reshape their role to lead in a changing world.

What does marketing truly ‘own’ in most organisations? Brand and campaigns, definitely. Customer experience? That remains contested ground.   

According to CMO’s recent State of CX Leadership report, marketing competes with dedicated customer, general management and operations leaders for responsibility over the customer experience.   

Anecdotally, in many businesses marketers are just one raised hand in a sea of competing voices – customer service, sales, ecommerce – when it comes to connecting with customers. And many of those competing voices arguably have closer relationships with customers than we do.   

The problem is when marketing is seen primarily as the custodian of brand and campaigns – the proverbial ‘colouring-in department’ – everyone can and will have an opinion. Unless marketing can measure the precise outcomes of those campaigns – a work in progress for many – the value we contribute can always be disputed. 

That said, we have a golden opportunity as marketers to establish our authority, fix our image problem and expand our remit beyond brand and campaigns to engineer better customer experiences and a path to growth.  

Customer intelligence as a source of indisputable marketing authority

The pandemic has been a catalyst for elevating the authority of marketing within businesses.  

It’s been clear for some time that CEOs turned to marketing during the disruption of the pandemic to respond to dramatically changing markets and customer behaviour: Three in four senior executives reported the role of marketing in setting strategy expanded in 2020.  

So in organisations where marketing has managed to turn customer data into a continuous source of business intelligence, the authority of the marketing leader has grown.   

To put this into context, the CFO has always been the indisputable expert on the financial position of the business; the COO knows the productivity of the business engine better than anyone else; and few are brave enough to interfere with the CIO. The same can’t be said of marketing.  

However, when marketing can speak authoritatively about the customer, based on its unrivalled knowledge of customer behaviour and insight, the conversations in which marketing is involved move upstream in the organisation.   

This leads to an enduring influence across strategic planning, digital transformation, and product development discussions based on marketing’s indisputable position as the customer expert.  

It’s not just a matter of wrapping our arms around the data, however: marketing must leverage the resulting insights to be the leading orchestrator of customer experience across the enterprise.  

“Marketers are uniquely positioned to gather, interpret, analyse and act on customer insights,” argues Gartner marketing vice-president analyst, Michael McGuire. “This is their superpower, and it needs to expand beyond serving marketing to empower those they collaborate and work with.”  

Build the operating systems that help the organisation connect

Along with our authority as the customer expert and increased responsibility for orchestrating the customer experience comes the pressing need to master experience delivery, or operations.  

Businesses want marketing to build the operating systems that help the organisation connect and sell.   

Whether you start with tools, processes, people or partnerships, operations is the next frontier, according to Chiefmartec founder, Scott Brinker, who talks about a shift “from big data to big ops”.  

Marketers have, by and large, bought the dream when it comes to martech. It’s the biggest marketing investment most organisations are currently making. And we’ve not only purchased the tools, we’ve revised those purchases once or twice.   

Frustratingly, many of us are still struggling with tech implementations and integrations when what we need to focus on is re-engineering our processes, people and partnerships to get the growth outcomes we need. At the same time, the old marketing operating models are breaking: that’s why marketing leaders are experimenting with alternatives.   

This is dovetailing into explorations of operating models, operational practices and even agile frameworks as a means of enabling the internal disruption necessary for marketing teams to step back and change the way we work, as well as the work we do.  

Marketers must master operations to deliver the profitable, sustainable connections with customers that our organisations demand.  

Authority built on data must encompass governance

The flipside of this new position of authority built on customer data and experience delivery is the rapidly developing imperative around ensuring that data is privacy-compliant.   

Complicating this issue is the phasing out of third-party cookies (now likely by the end of 2023 on Google Chrome), the growing influence of big tech players such as Apple who promote an opt-in approach to tracking, and the resulting increase in importance to brands of zero-, first- and second-party data.   

Ironically, just as customers are seeking more control over what companies are doing with their data, and the Federal Government is preparing to toughen penalties via privacy reforms, we marketers are contemplating ramping up our participation in second-party data partnerships, marketplaces and ecosystems that could put that data into play, and remove it one step further from our control.   

For marketing leaders to build a position of authority on a foundation of customer data, we need to be proactive about addressing privacy compliance and inter-party data governance: it’s an inherent part of building marketing systems that operate responsibly and respectfully, as well as effectively.  

With the authority that stems from the strategic, responsible application of customer intelligence, and a new focus on operational excellence, marketers will well and truly elevate ourselves from the executors of great campaigns to the orchestrators of great customer experiences.  


Tags: marketing strategy, marketing leadership

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