Ch-Ch-Changes: Marketers, Turn and Face the Customer

03-31 ChangesThere’s a wonderful quote by the Nobel Prize winning physicist Niels Bohr that goes – “prediction is very difficult, especially if it is about the future.” In a recent, and ongoing, study called Marketing2020, the Association of National Advertisers, in concert with the World Federation of Advertisers and EffectiveBrands have asked a number of senior level marketers to predict what the marketing organization structure will look like in 2020.

What Marc de Swaan Arons, Frank van den Driest, and Keith Weed – three of the contributors to the research as well as the founders of EffectiveBrands get so darn right about this research is captured in their Harvard Business Review article describing it.  In that article they say:

“Marketing leaders instead must ask, ‘What values and goals guide our brand strategy, what capabilities drive marketing excellence, and what structures and ways of working will support them?’ Structure must follow strategy – not the other way around.” [Emphasis mine]

And this is key. There will continue to be (and already has to some extent) gallons of digital attention spilled over the “hub and spoke” model coming out of one of the research deliverables.  But a second look at that model reveals just another way of drawing the same, classic hierarchical model we’ve always had. The CMO is at the center of the universe – with teams revolving around him/her.  Here’s my take: draw as many lines as you’d like between the boxes and arrange them however you like – as long as we understand that it’s the lines that are important (not the boxes).

Customer Centricity: Changing The Marketing Structure

My experience with the Content Marketing Institute’s advisory clients, partners and participants at our latest Executive Forum tell a similar story.  We are seeing brands have more success when a consistent and integrated experience is created – solely designed for customer delight at every single stage.

Okay, that’s too pat of a projection for sure. “Design for delight” is an easy, tweetable sound-bite – but what’s the reality? Well, certainly one of the largest challenges we see is that brands have spent the last 7 years fully stratifying the customer experience – and then adding discrete teams to address each stratification.

We now have brand teams, demand generation teams, sales enablement teams, field marketing teams, social marketing teams, social CRM teams, PR teams and even (my favorite) a separation in some organizations of “digital marketing” and regular ol’ “marketing”.

The interesting thing is that brands have been so focused on this structure – that it’s encouraged agencies to do the same. For all the strata mentioned above – there’s an agency to cover just that slice.  Even big agencies now have the “direct” group and the “digital group” and the “analytics group” and the “experiential group”.

So, before we look at hubs, spokes, agile or other structures – if marketing is to become customer-centric and a strategic discipline in the business by 2020 – we must simply agree that change is what’s important.  “Into what?” is another question that’s candidly less so.

Three “Better Practices” For Customer Centricity Change

As a quick note – I think it’s too early to call these “best practices” – so I call them “better practices” only because the early results are proving successful in the companies we’ve been working with.

  1. The Function Is More Urgent Than The Form

One of the key findings from our Executive Forum Research that we conducted in May, was that it was much less important to de-silo the organization, than it was to de-silo the process by which customer-centricity can begin to thrive. This is especially prevalent in B2B situations, where neither sales nor marketing should “own” the customer. Marketing and sales need to work less in service (or in some cases competition) to each other – and more as a collaborative team. Aligning both sales and marketing efforts around the buyer’s journey (rather than the inside-out looking sales process) can help to create a much more fluid process rather than the awkward “hand-off” that is so common now.

  1. Measure Content & Meaning Not Teams & Channels

Let me be clear here. Yes, of course the people who are responsible for channels such as the Web site, the blog, the social channels or the eCommerce platform should be measuring the efficacy of their efforts. But isolating the goals by team is so often the cause of contradictory agendas. The social team who is solely measured on “engagement” rarely integrates with the “web team” because their content doesn’t get as many “likes” or “follows”. By making a subtle shift to reporting the efficacy of content and/or data and how it helps us to reach goals – instead of as a weapon to understand whether a particular channel or team has “proof of life” can provide just the incentive for teams to work more closely together.

  1. Technology and Marketing Should Have One View Of The Customer

The importance of “alignment of the CIO and CMO strategy” is a bit cliché at this point. Yup, we get it – it’s important. But, the key is that success is not built from a mutual understanding of separate agendas. Rather, the technology and marketing teams MUST come together to develop a collaborative strategy for customer engagement.  As Wilson Raj, the global customer intelligence director at SAS (and also a very smart man) said in a recent blog post:

“Successful organizations rely on a centralized data [system] for a single view of the customer. Marketing and IT must enable different parts of the organization to gather customer interaction data – from all internal and external customer channels – in a consistent way.”

Built To Change

Ultimately there is no way to accurately predict what the marketing organization will need to look like in 5 year’s time.  It’s only been eight years since any business could even think about how to address such disruptions as Facebook, or the iPhone or Android. And it’s been less than five since any marketer even thought about what opportunities an iPad could bring.

So – what will the next five years bring?  Who knows. What is clearer is that we know that consumer’s buying habits have changed. And, we know that content and customer-centric experiences are the driver to creating more meaningful engagement with those consumers.  Instead of looking at each new disruptive technology (hardware or software) as a need for a new “team” or node to a structure – marketers should instead just look at structures where collaboration, content and data flow more fluidly to handle ANY new disruption.

Marketing organizations will absolutely need to be built to change – constantly. Instead of trying to figure out WHAT they should change into, perhaps we should just stop at the word “change”.

This article originally appears on The Customer Edge.

Posted on March 31, 2015 in Uncategorized

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