Peter Harris

An IBM study released earlier this year confirmed what most CMOs already know: CMOs are under more pressure than ever. “No matter where they work, their industry, or how large or successful their organisations are, CMOs are facing many of the same challenges and most feel underprepared to manage them,” the report concludes after interviewing thousands of marketing honchos.

Complexity is what keeps the modern CMO awake at night. Various market and technology factors affect organisations today, and things aren’t slowing down. In fact, an overwhelming 79 percent of CMOs who talked to IBM believe the level of complexity will be high or very high over the next five years. Worse, they don’t feel completely prepared for the amount of volatility and uncertainly ahead.

It is worth noting that IBM’s conclusions mirror the Australian Marketing Institute’s recent global marketing review. Both studies highlight that CMOs feel anxious about the future.

I don’t think it’s surprising to hear that CMOs feel unprepared for what’s ahead. The technological and market pressures are enormous, but expectations are higher than ever for marketing teams to continue to drive new customer acquisition and loyalty.

While the IBM study identified four universal challenges—the data explosion, social media, proliferation of channels and devices, and shifting consumer demographics—it also found that CMOs from outperforming organisations address these challenges differently from others.

According to the study, high-performing CMOs possesses three qualities:

  1. An understanding of individuals as well as markets. Much like CEOs in high-performing companies, the best CMOs care about customer intimacy, according to the report. In addition to traditional sources of information, they proactively mine new data sources to get to their customers.
  2. A focus on relationships. Seeing beyond data, successful CMOs form bonds with customers. They connect with customers continuously, building and nurturing strong relationships that continue long after customers sign up.
  3. An ability to develop a clear “corporate character.” CMOs in high-performing companies take it upon themselves to help management and employees exemplify the company’s values and purpose. They strengthen the bonds they create with customers by creating a corporate character that manifests itself in everything their employees do and say.

There is a common thread among these findings: Successful CMOs are a lot smarter in the way that they use consumer insights to drive business decisions. IBM’s study makes it clear that marketers who drive better results are more engaged in customer interaction, proactively influencing the customer experience across different channels. To create growth and to sustain that growth, great CMOs understand consumers and build a long-term relationship with their customers.

The question for most CMOs is how to get customer engagement started. First, there needs to be a shift in the organisation’s mindset. Brands need to commit to having a two-way dialogue with customers and to close the feedback loop by informing customers how their input drives business decisions.

Secondly, CMOs need to enable customer centricity. In addition to great talent, CMOs need technology to make sense of the huge pile of data coming their way. To facilitate a two-way conversation with customers, marketing teams need the right tools, and this means investing smartly in technology. Consumers share their thoughts and opinions online through social media, insight communities and other similar tools—but it takes software to sift through all of this information and turn feedback into actionable insights.

The future is not completely bleak for CMOs. Many marketing teams are already starting to catch up on the technological gap. In fact, CMOs are expected to outspend CIOs in technology purchases by 2015.

Also, more CMOs are realising that they can help fuel their organisation’s growth engine if they retain ownership over their brand’s interaction with customers. From talking to Vision Critical clients and prospects, I can see that more CMOs are starting to get that customer engagement is more than just about one-time surveys or re-tweets and mentions from their social media followers. Engagement is really about fostering deeper relationships through insight communities and other online tools where brands can quickly and consistently talk to customers and gather actionable feedback.

As the business world becomes more complex, the key to successful marketing—the key for a better night’s sleep for a CMO—is a deeper understanding of consumers. As the IBM study rightfully points out, it’s about looking at the organisation through the consumer’s eyes as they progress through the full buying cycle. In the age of enormous data and empowered consumers, thinking about what makes sense for your customers will help you better navigate the increasingly complex nature of marketing.

Peter-Harris-146KBPeter Harris is Managing Director of Vision Critical Australia and New Zealand.