It has almost become too common for all types of brands—from financial services to packaged goods—to say they really are “technology companies.” Yet a new study validates that mindset. Brands that leverage technology and data to be most visible in digital media when consumers are “mentally available” will live to see tomorrow, says a new Altimeter research report.
Those that completely overhaul the customer journey and its place in the company will be winners in this process, according to the report. At the same time, the best marketers are changing their job descriptions from planning marketing efforts to building a customer experience strategy.
“The marketing function itself needs to be reinvented,” said Brian Solis, principal analyst at Altimeter and the study’s author. “It’s not even modernizing the customer experience. It’s modernizing the corporation.”
Leading With Tech
The report, “Digital Experience Innovators: How Leading CMOs and CDOs are Modernizing Experiences and Brands for Digital-First Customers,” makes the point that today’s more demanding, digitally empowered consumers are forcing marketers’ hand to embrace disruptive technologies. The study includes input from chief marketers and chief digital officers at several major corporations identified as digital leaders, including Carnival Cruise Lines CMO Kathy Mayor, Electronic Arts CMO Chris Bruzzo, and Dennis Maloney, CDO of Domino’s.
For consumer brands, technology has become a way to showcase their ability to innovate, Solis said. Leading brands are using new tools, from mobile apps to artificial intelligence (AI), to deliver a more personalized, frictionless customer experience.
But many marketing professionals have let business reasons, and not customer needs, lead their tech implementations—for example, by adding automated customer service and chatbot to bring down their own costs and deliver business growth. In doing so they have gotten further away from customers, Solis said.
“When you understand who the customer is, you use technology like AI and machine learning to scale real customer engagement in ways that are meaningful to the customer,” he said. “It takes a new narrative, and it takes a new vision that this needs to be.”
One example is Domino’s, which decided to transform itself from a pizza chain to an e-commerce company. It experimented with 15 new ways to process pizza orders, from pizza emojis on social media to voice commands on digital assistants, and has doubled its market share since 2009, according to the report.
“People are ordering pizza, they have to make it, they then track it, they deliver it, and when you look at that entire experience, technology plays a really big role,” CDO Maloney told Solis.
In many companies, ownership for the experience is still split among dozens of groups internally. Future-proofing a brand involves breaking up the company structure, as in the case of Electronic Arts, which had marketers working next to the game developers to gain a better understanding of gamers’ relationships with their products.
“That has [allowed] us to move much faster, collect insights, turn them back over to the product teams, and take action,” EA CMO Bruzzo explained in the report.
Leading With Data
Indeed, data is a large part of the conversation around marketing and business results, not only to show ROI, but as a proactive step to understand customer experience and where it can be more effective. Data is not only sales figures, and it’s not just backward-looking, the study maintains.
“Numbers only tell you so much,” said 21st Century Fox Film president and chief data strategist Julie Rieger, in the report.
However, data scientists can turn those numbers into forward-thinking insights. Brands need to have real-time data that reflects what customers are doing in the moment, not just what they last bought.
The study cites Carnival Cruise Lines as an example of a company that studies customer data to understand when and how to approach consumers, and then applies that to cultural touch points such as entertainment and food websites, to be top-of-mind when consumers are considering vacation planning.
“We actually don’t need all of the world to be cruisers,” CMO Mayor explained to Solis. “We need to find those who are in vacation mode right now and who we can predict are most likely to be a cruiser.”
Legacy business models are the biggest hurdle to digital evolution, according to the study. Dated corporate structures and old views of the customer keep brands from breaking new ground, but data can help free them from the legacy bounds. For example, the study notes that Hyundai CMO Dean Evans used data to reshape the company’s view of a customer journey that was no longer led by dealership visits, but was mostly done online instead.
Until relatively recently, marketers have been modeling the experience based on the traditional mindset and metrics that existed before. But now that consumers base their expectations on what they experienced from digital leaders like Uber, they expect the same from all brands. This changes the nature of customer experience and marketing, Solis said. But it’s a leap not every organization is ready to take, even if they know they have to.
“That takes expertise,” he said. “That takes courage.”