The CMO who only delivers traditional marketing tactics wrapped in better analytics is losing relevancy
Much of what we do in marketing today seems anachronistic. We’re running campaigns to change minds. We’re chasing people around the Internet with banner ads. We’re still investing in the invisible value of impressions. Is that marketing in the 21st century? Is that what it takes to build a brand? While we try to shift focus from mere ad-making to data-driven, sometimes-automated ad-making, we may be missing the larger point. Digital transformation is not only about more relevant ads and content, it’s about better products. Actually, it’s mostly about better products.
You change minds when you change the product experience. The integration of data across channels and the personalization of content should be in the service of delivering a better end-to-end customer experience – because it’s the experience with the product or service that makes a brand today, and not much more. And that’s really what’s on the plate of the CMO tasked with spearheading digital transformation. They need to drive loyalty by delivering a better experience. Turn customers from one-time buyers of the product, which has traditionally been the goal of marketing, into lifetime users of the brand. From buyers to users, that’s the idea.
But to envision, and then ultimately deliver true product or service innovation is an extremely tall order for many CMOs. Connecting with a generation of digital natives – whether in B2C or B2B environments – is completely uncharted territory. CMOs raised in a pre-mobile culture, who have yet to commit themselves to learning the details of planning and executing leading end-to-end digital experiences, are finding themselves competing with CDOs (Chief Digital Officers) and CCOs (Chief Customer Officers) for ownership of their company’s vision for transformation.
CMOs who shunt the vision and execution of their digital transformation onto someone else ultimately put the company’s core value at risk. A financial services company, for instance, too narrowly focused on hard returns from their investment strategies, and not enough on the digital experience around consuming their products or services, won’t be saved from digitally immaculate competitors by investment returns alone. Core to the company’s value as those returns may seem, the end-to-end experience customers have with products and services is what ultimately determines whether they will be a lifetime user of the brand, or a one-time buyer of the product. It’s a new kind of CMO that both understands how critical the end-to-end experience is to the perceived value of the product, and how to get it right.
In B2B contexts, the challenge is the same. Take an enterprise software vendor who may be focused on delivering the broadest feature set in their market. As they look to attract a developer ecosystem around their products, they will struggle to compete for attention with outmoded portals, deficiently documented APIs, or anything in the way of startup-like usability. As good a marketing plan as they may have, they will have almost no chance against a competitor with a more limited feature set packaged in an experience that developers enjoy.
Everyone is competing on experience in nearly every industry, whether they’ve recognized it or not. No one is competing on marketing tactics. The CMO who is only delivering traditional marketing tactics wrapped in better analytics is moot. The value of the digital CMO is not that they mask customer experience issues with campaigns, but that they champion and deliver on a vision for a better end-to-end customer experience.
Marketing tactics are part of the job, for sure, but they should follow from the product experience. Amazon, for instance, can justify outspending Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Kroger and Best Buy combined in advertising because they can be sure that they have the experience right on the other end of the ad. Netflix spends a billion dollars a year in advertising aimed at driving potential subscribers to an experience that is so far superior to their cable cousins that they now have more subscribers than the top six U.S. cable companies combined. And while a billion dollars is a lot of money, Netflix has always been outspent by its competitors by many billions of dollars. Fortunately for Netflix, ads won’t make their competitors more attractive to consumers. They’ve got to first deliver a Netflix-like experience.
The digital CMO needs to think hard about the experience they are trying to deliver and how to be successful delivering it amidst such significant transformation. They need to think about how their product or brand strategy changes in the context of cultivating lifetime users. They need to think about messaging and how their narrative carries across the entire experience. Beyond “creative” as a brand or campaign deliverable, they need to think about experience design in general and how their brand standards and narrative are manifest in digital assets such as software interfaces. And what about those interfaces? How do you build truly exceptional software experiences? This is now core to the brand.
The successful digital CMO may need to have the broadest range of skills in the entire enterprise. They are being asked to outline the future of the company, the way it will interact with customers and the types of products and services it will create. They are being asked to craft a better experience, not to create better ads.
For more on building digital brands check out a recent episode from Agency on Record, our podcast about creativity and technology in a commercial world:
Michael Colombo is the founder and CEO of Maark where he oversees the overall direction and development of the agency as it continues to build its brand as a leading marketing and innovation engine for its customers. He has served as the executive lead in programs including corporate rebranding, solution marketing, sales enablement, digital transformation, and new product design for Fortune 500 companies around the world.