By Nikki Mendonça, Rebecca Atwell
CEOs are facing unprecedented pressure to drive growth. As a result, they're increasingly calling on CMOs to operationalize a customer-first agenda.
Marketers continue to be very focused on achieving greater effectiveness, more dynamic delivery, and better use of content. However, truly unlocking growth requires a broader mindset that addresses the entire customer lifecycle and the corresponding organizational support to make it a reality, including decision-making authority, budget alignment, and overall cross-functional empowerment.
CEOs recognize the need to adapt in today's disruptive environment, but must decide if they are ready to stand behind marketing to lead this charge.
Marketing's Role in the Growth Mandate
Growth is a business imperative, but only recently has that mandate been directed toward marketing. Thirty-one percent of CEOs had strong expectations for their CMOs to identify new sources of growth this year, up from 25 percent in 2016, according to a recent Accenture study. And with marketing commanding a significant portion of the business budget — roughly 12 percent on average, according to Gartner — there is an even greater demand on CMOs to demonstrate positive returns.
In the pre-digital heyday of Madison Avenue, marketing was accepted as something of a "dark art." Marketers were given wide autonomy to "spray and pray" for dubious results. These days, however, marketing has largely become a trackable science. In most cases, the entire customer experience creates a digital footprint and leaves trails of data that marketers can leverage for better insights into how to attract, retain, and grow customers.
The good news: The opportunity is tremendous. The bad news: The stakes are far greater than anything conventional marketing can answer. The growth mandate is expansive, and most CMOs struggle to meet it successfully.
One fundamental reason CMOs are not able to execute is that there is too little focus on the holistic customer experience. Just 25 percent of marketers indicated that fostering customer engagement across the entire lifecycle will be a priority in the next 12 months, according to Forrester, while the Accenture study (referred to above) concludes that a mere 17 percent of marketers have broken through their traditional roles to deliver highly relevant customer experiences.
Marketing has the unique opportunity to help power growth through experience activation; that is, by orchestrating end-to-end experiences that attract, retain, and endear current and future customers. While every organization has its own playbook, and there is no such thing as a "one size fits all" approach, the following eight approaches are proven tactics to drive growth.
1. Become a Customer-Led Organization
Experience activation requires an organizational structure that centers around providing the best possible customer experience, ensuring critical journey moments are linked.
CMOs need the authority and support necessary to drive the customer-first mentality across the entire company. They could even consider rebranding the role altogether to accurately reflect the broader growth remit.
Major brands, such as Coca-Cola, Hershey, and Hyatt have chosen to eliminate the CMO title altogether and are instead leveraging new or revised roles to accomplish the growth agenda. These new titles include chief commercial officer, chief customer officer, chief experience officer, and chief growth officer. Other companies, including Johnson & Johnson, McDonald's, Taco Bell, and Uber took a different path and consolidated marketing activities under the brand or communications umbrella. Either way, the critical point is better connection of all customer touchpoints — not just those within the immediate purview of marketing.
2. Employ Data As the Lifeblood for Customer Insights
Data must be captured, curated, centralized, enriched, and deployed to truly create, understand, and respond to a single view of the customer. This especially applies to first-party data across all digital (email, website) and physical (store) touchpoints to ensure baseline customer intelligence. Connected data also makes it easier for marketers to create more commercially driven target segments; for example, cohorts that directly link to growth objectives.
Accenture found that more than 90 percent of organizations believe that data can lead to "groundbreaking" customer insights and can inform real-time, hyperpersonalized interactions. Its report goes on to urge companies to become more "data-centric." That means gaining the ability to digest both internal data and third-party data from relevant online and industry sources. Companies that can get ahead of the influx of data and use it to their advantage will be poised for success.
Consider establishing a single marketing data repository that integrates unstructured data sets. This will boost analytics capabilities and deliver insights to support better decisions. One B2B IT-retailer client saw a 1.6 percent lift in revenue and a 200 percent improvement in ROI for lead management activities by using data to facilitate more relevant customer experiences.
3. Replace Vanity Metrics with Performance Metrics
Siloed channel metrics and weak proxy or vanity metrics are increasingly antiquated. Growth leaders must be singularly focused on business outcomes related to revenue growth, new and retained customer count, and sustained profitability. Vanity metrics such as followers and likes only speak to the success of individual tactics, with no correlation to growth.
Even Net Promoter Score and customer satisfaction ratings can be misleading. Without tracking downstream customer touchpoints (e.g., related to order processing, billing, delivery), functional silos with discrete KPIs fail to address the broader business growth goals and likely exacerbate the risk of a disjointed end-customer experience.
The most effective time to connect with consumers today is at their moment of truth, when they're deciding whether to click or download or purchase. The best way to accomplish this is to enable real-time interactions along the customer journey, such as a chat invitation on a dynamic landing page or a personalized call-to-action via SMS based on opt-in location data. Understanding the optimal touchpoints for those interactions means tracking marketing performance in real time. This includes holistic marketing cost-per-sale and real ROI.
To start the shift from vanity to performance, some companies are consolidating all of the marketing and sales performance reports generated by vendors. With everything side-by-side in simple dashboards, growth leaders can focus on a centralized view that only surfaces metrics related to business outcomes and growth.
4. Align Marketing Budgets with the Customer Journey
It's essential to align marketing budgets around paid, earned, and owned marketing activity so all customer touchpoints are seamless and coordinated. Siloed channel strategies, in which marketing activities happen in a vacuum without regard for impact on other aspects of the business, is one of the biggest barriers to experience activation; it also leads to wasted budget.
More broadly, budgets should be aligned across the customer experience teams (e.g., marketing, sales, and support) to ensure that everyone has visibility into the "money in, money out" value equation of the full funnel. This will help team leaders understand how their spending affects other areas of the business.
5. Use Analytics to Inform Content and Marketing Strategies
Analytics can do more than drive better cohort segmentation. Insights should guide both content creation and the overall distribution elements of the marketing plan. They should also inform the customization that will allow the brand to deliver dynamic hyperpersonalization, which today's customers increasingly demand.
Start the effort by digitizing every step of the company's content production. As one international hotel chain found, programmatic marketing and advanced segments created through a combination of navigation, CRM, and third-party data can help identify high-value prospects and target them at the right time. This enables marketers to then analyze and segment user intents in paid search to deliver landing pages that are an exact match for what each customer wants.
6. Develop Customer Listening Capabilities
The most influential companies leverage social media to listen to their customers. Social listening enables marketers to shrink the world of social media and focus on what's important to the brand. Online feedback communities, focus groups, and surveys are also essential for understanding and keeping track of customers' expectations, needs, and preferences in real-time. A comprehensive voice of customer (VOC) strategy ensures that marketers respond to customer-driven signals, rather than a product-push agenda set by the company. The company's setup should enable a 24/7 feedback loop from customers.
To employ a successful VOC program, CMOs also need to do more than establish the technical infrastructure required to track content globally. They must make sure that content is analyzed by native speakers with a background in the industry, respectively. That's the only way to understand the nuances of what's being said, spot irony, and eliminate mundane postings.
7. Assess the Customer Experience Technology Stack
Regularly evaluate the company's marketing technology stack to ensure fit-for-purpose and that it is well connected across all other critical front office (marketing, sales, and support) customer-relevant platforms, including CRM, commerce, and even inventory and order management systems. This, coupled with a strong data strategy (see approach No. 2), will enable CMOs and their teams to fully leverage the potential of automation, analytics, and artificial intelligence/machine learning — especially when it comes to powering bespoke growth algorithms.
Promote a balanced approach to technology. The two most common traps are: too strong an attachment to legacy investments and unrealistic expectations for technology as a "cure-all." Be willing to acknowledge sunk costs and retire any outdated technology that fails to meet business objectives. Also, recognize that the biggest opportunity for technology impact lies in coupling it with the appropriate operating models, business process transformation, and change management to achieve end-to-end executional excellence.
One multinational client, for example, recognized that its existing, disjointed processes and limited platform understanding couldn't keep up with scaling requirements and growth opportunities. By better harmonizing domain and platform expertise, marketing software, automation tools, and the resulting insights, the company is on the journey to significantly accelerate its speed-to-market and drive hundreds of millions of dollars in incremental new sales through analytics interventions.
8. Optimize Nonstop Learning Companywide
All customer-facing teams should be continuously testing and learning, creating a cycle to achieve ongoing improvement and agile deployment. This concept applies within marketing, testing everything from messaging and timing to channel mix and segments. Perhaps more important, it applies to cross-functional opportunities.
According to Accenture and Forrester research, about 50 percent of marketers have already either deployed or are expanding alignment for internal cross-functional teams to work at an enterprise level.
To jump-start the collaboration so critical to unlocking growth, many organizations are turning to independent and agile, cross-functional "incubation teams" that are focused on testing, iterating, and scaling initiatives to positively affect the customer experience and drive growth.
Initiatives range across product launches, marketing and sales campaigns, business model changes, organizational workflows, and process improvement initiatives. These teams bring domain knowledge, as well as analytics and experimentation methodology expertise, to mature the best ideas at-speed and minimize risk. They serve their product, engineering, sales, and support peers with critical, real-time market and customer-generated insights that are necessary to improve relevance, increase retention, and drive top-line growth.
Unlocking the growth that CEOs demand today is a heady challenge for even the savviest CMOs. With a breadth of opportunities to choose from, it's all too easy to get distracted by shiny objects and fads hyped up to look like silver bullets. A more effective approach is through focused execution of the proven basics of experience activation, outlined above.
CEOs can create sustainable, large-scale growth by empowering growth leaders to deliver unique, relevant, and connected customer experiences across the entire lifecycle. They have the opportunity to champion the CMO as the trailblazer and sponsor critical organizational initiatives to bring end-to-end experience activation to life. Brands and organizations that get serious about growth and are willing to embark on the exciting but demanding journey of execution will be positioned for sizable gains in customer engagement and healthy spikes in the top and bottom lines.
Nikki Mendonça is the global president at Accenture Interactive Operations and Rebecca Atwell is a marketing, sales, and customer support strategy senior manager at Accenture. Accenture Interactive North America is a partner in the ANA Thought Leadership Program. You can email Accenture at ANA_TLP@accenture.com.