Strategy Shift for CMOs: Marketing in the Digital Age

A recent Huffington Post blog post offered insight into how B2B CMOs will need to think about connecting and engaging with buyers. In the post, several CMOs were interviewed, and research was cited that paints a clear picture as to the shifting digital landscape facing today’s marketing executives. One such study is recent Gartner research showing the growing impact of digital channels puts pressure on B2B brands to engage with customers in a way that they have not in the past. The digital age has given extra empowerment to customers and their expectations of how brands should interact with them have changed. 

For businesses to succeed, they will need to redefine how they interact with customers by providing information and support that is customer-driven, not company-driven.

Best-selling marketing author Seth Godin has been asking marketers whether they are “buying momentary attention or are you investing in a long term asset?  Stop renting an audience – build one.” A decade later the research continues to mount that this is no longer an option, but a requirement for marketing strategy in the today’s competitive environment.

This new marketing “strategy,” which includes having to build a community and communicate one-to-one with customers on multiple different channels, can be downright overwhelming to a CMO who may not have had a lot of experience with direct customer interactions. This shift from a monologue (pushing messages) to a dialogue (engaging in conversations) essentially shifts control from the brand to the buyer. CMOs are just now coming to grips with this new reality, and this means traditional marketing tactics need to be re-examined.

The rise of the digital CMO was recently highlighted in a Harvard Business Review post, noting that by 2015, 25% of the enterprises will appoint a chief digital officer to potentially drive digital transformation initiatives. So how can a CMO overcome the obstacles of marketing in the digital age and achieve success?

Here are some ideas to consider:

Partner with the CIO: According to a recent Wired magazine post, “Who Owns Big Data: The CMO or CIO?” there is much discussion around who should own big data. The Wired blog concludes that, “The CMO can’t own big data, because the CMO cannot architect a cloud solution that will help big data be stored and quickly processed. The CMO can choose the tools for the purposes of analytics and data reconciliation, but the CIO makes them work.” We believe that the CMO will own the data generated from Big Data infrastructure, and that presents an opportunity for CMOs willing to understand today’s transformational technology.

Make Brand Touch Points Count in the Sales Cycle: Recent studies point to consumers being engaged with as much as 11 touch points before making a decision to purchase. In addition, a B2B study found that 60% of the decision-making process is complete before the customer even picks up the phone to contact a business (some studies have shown up to 75% of the process being decided). This means that every touch point a brand has with a customer is critical, because there aren’t as many of them as their used to be in the sales cycle.  The implication for CMOs is to ensure that their brand is “helping customers buy” instead of “selling.”  Educating buyers along the buying cycle is critical.

Broaden Customer Communication Platforms: Brands must embrace those communications channels preferred by their customers and buyers.  Not only will this aid in building a sense of community and trust with target audiences, but digital channels such as social media provide a rich source of insights. Brands can generate four types of insights from monitoring online conversations: (i) brand perception/sentiment, (ii) competitor perception/sentiment, (iii) sales inquiries, and (iv) product/service feedback.

Understand Marketing Technology: In today’s digital world, CMOs need to think in terms of technology “stacks” that they can deploy to support their marketing initiatives.  The first component is the website CMS environment that allows real-time content updates to the “hub” of any digital strategy — the website.  The second component should be the analytics platform that provides insights into website behavior and attribution. The third component should be the CRM container that will warehouse data collected from website traffic and other marketing lead capture activities. Understand whether the selected solution offers open API access and native applications, or whether it requires bigger commitments in development funding to extend over time. The fourth component should be marketing automation layer that integrates with CRM to automate ongoing email/social touch points with the CRM records, based on time-based or behavior triggers.  The fifth components should be the social Engagement layer that allows marketers to monitor and engage social networks to build community and build SEO value via inbound links (“social signals” in Google-speak).  The final component is the Content Curation and Editorial layer that allows marketers to gather and organize articles, blogs, RSS feeds, and other sources for use in executing content marketing initiatives. ESNs (enterprise social networks) can also be deployed to connect employees inside a brand to empower collaboration and problem solving.

The real question becomes how do we take all this — the relationships created by social systems and the data analytics — and put it together, in real-time, to help make decisions and solve business problem that can’t be solved in a traditional system?   The answer may lie in getting people and data together in real-time to help facilitate a specific problem and get answers – something that could never be done in the past because all the pieces were separated.

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