The speed with which the customer is taking control of the buying journey is challenging marketing organizations’ status quo.
Marketing executives are responding to this in often reactive and disjointed ways, but almost always through the lens of “transformation.” Transformation continues to be both the biggest buzzword and the biggest trend that any industry will face right now, and it’s in large part because customers are demanding a more connected, continuous, transparent, and hyper-relevant experience with a brand. Transformation is also capturing our attention because many brands are now either finally catching up or are trying to leapfrog their competition digitally.
Transformation is actually more of a movement than it is a trend because the majority of marketers understand the need to evolve their businesses, they recognize the urgency in changing how they do business, and they know that their competitors are having the same conversation. They are looking at two possible approaches: either digitally transform the products or digitally transform the company. Either approach requires a micro and granular understanding of the business, the customers, and the brand.
The ways in which marketers are defining their approaches and operationalizing and prioritizing the transformation of their organizations are presenting themselves through a few consistent levers of marketing.
This remains one of the key areas of competition and differentiation for marketers, but many still focus too narrowly on just the digital experience. The complete, holistic, connected customer experience (CX) exists well beyond digital, owned, and earned channels and into every other touchpoint the customer has with the brand from the product itself and the customer support to the sales and even third-party interactions with the brand.
Strong CX efforts become even more critical within the B2B space, where lengthy decision cycles, multiple layers of stakeholders, and constant innovation make buying decisions extremely complex. When many decision-makers are struggling to parse which variation of a technology or service expertise is right for their business, the brands that offer a well-rounded customer experience are the ones that stand out.
Gartner stated more than four years ago that the CMO would spend more on technology than the CIO by 2017. It’s 2017, and that prediction is proving accurate. This internal shift in everything from budget ownership of marketing technology to the internal people, processes, and actual platform solutions selected are largely falling to CMOs with no prior experience in this space. The shift to marketing owning technology also allows for more of a customer-first focus on the role of technology in the organization, which in turn feeds digital transformation.
Gartner’s 2017 CMO Spend survey predicts that digital advertising will be a top initiative for high tech organizations, which will present both opportunities and challenges for marketers due to the fast-paced and ever-changing landscape of digital advertising. From programmatic and geo-focused to mobile-first, socially driven, personalized, and targeted content—digital advertising offers a reach like never before, and its success is fully tied to how well the marketer has mapped the ad strategy to the buying journey, behaviors, and needs of the customer.
The mindset—and strategy—of marketers, however, needs to account for this new era of digital advertising, which does not need to hinge on reaching the most people, but absolutely should be leveraged to reach the right people.
We have long been in an industry focused on data, but the collision of big data, small data, marketing technology, data visualization, and data science are all still a relatively new combination for data-driven marketing, all of which lends itself to the role of predictive analytics. According to Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Business Intelligence and Analytics, predictive analytics has captured the interest of “ready organizations,” but is still early mainstream in its maturity level, and it’s certainly not for every brand.
The common thread across these drivers is a digital foundation that is inherently connected to the customer profile and enables the marketer to deliver the best possible customer experiences. Transformation is overwhelming, complex, and not achieved overnight. But by road-mapping out and prioritizing key business components of transformation—the customer, the technology, and the data—2017 can be the year of actual transformation execution, rather than another year of looking for a starting point.