Last week I was asked to submit an article for the December newsletter of the Chartered Institute of Marketing's technology group. The topic was to be about how organisations could profit from 'Total Marketing'. This was great timing. Although I had no idea what 'Total Marketing' was, it gave me a great excuse to talk about some stuff that I had planned to explore here!
Anyhow it turned into quite the rant and I thought it worth posting:
"Marketing is in crisis" - so said Jeff Randall, the BBC business editor, at the recent Annual Summit of the Marketing Society. "How can marketing remain relevant?" the marketing press asks. We all know there are problems, but what can we do about them?
The recommended steps invariably include greater alignment with the business, more focus on ROI, 'learning the language of the CFO' and doing a better job of 'marketing' marketing.
These are undoubtedly important steps, but assume that there is nothing wrong with marketings output - we simply need to better justify what is done and dress it up with business friendly words.
This article looks to challenge that view. I want to show that marketing is changing more fundamentally and that a broader response is needed.
First, lets say the obvious - technology has had a marked impact on marketing. But, while companies focus on CRM, online and other technology projects, the greatest effect is being felt outside the organisation - by customers.
Using the internet, customers are more knowledgeable than ever. They quickly access reviews of products or services, ask questions of other users and find out how to get the best deal. Given this, it is hardly surprising that some commentators are beginning to question the role of branding and marketing more generally.
So what is the marketer to do?
I believe that there are three main areas where organisations need to focus:
1. Customer Leadership
We often read about 'managing the customer' and there are aspects of a relationship that can be managed. Customers, though, want to be lead not managed. Leadership is about taking the customer somewhere that perhaps they didn't expect. It is about products and services that surprise. Let us take a look at each in turn:
There is too much attention paid to focus groups and management committees in product design. Indeed, most new products are cop-outs - we are spoilt for choice with brand extensions and me-too products. They show a lack of imagination by the marketer.
We need greater innovation and risk taking. Future success lies not in the easier decisions of managing your category, but with those harder ones that change the category. It is only those category changing products that get consumers genuinely excited. And these don't often come from focus groups.
A great customer experience is not about technology, it is about your corporate culture.
Having said this, technology can be a great enabler. However, many CRM, web and other marketing IT projects have, in my view, the wrong objectives.
The Financial Times recently said in a supplement about CRM that "the aim is to make customers feel like they did in the pre-electronic age when service was more personal."
However, for more customers (and many marketers)a more personalised service means more Direct mail, junk email and tiresome upsell. The consumer starts asking "for whose benefit is this personalisation?"
Customers want to find new ways of doing things, more efficient (to them not you) ways of doing things and new experiences, not to do the same things with a computerised smile! Customers shop at Dell, Amazon, eBay and Expedia because they can shop as it suits them. Buying books, computers, plane tickets or just about anything else at a time that suits them, as they think about it, with reliable delivery, at a price that undercuts the high street equivalents is a pretty compelling offer.
Personalisation is a way of managing customers and their data. But customers want to be lead. Help the customer to do new things in new ways. Make your offerings easier to deal with.
2. Brand Honesty
A great product often leads to great marketing. How much easier it is to market the iPod or new Mini than yet another brand extension for a new shampoo!
But too often marketers are asked to do the impossible - create a great story out of average product. As the marketer stretches the possible, we arrive at the tenuous positionings, bombardment of advertising, celebrity endorsement and fatuous claims that are so common.
But customers are smarter than ever before. They see through this smokescreen more quickly than before. No wonder marketers are concerned for their jobs!
As 'Customer Leadership' takes hold, the marketing community will need to move to a greater 'Brand Honesty'. There are two key moves I expect to see:
Customers buy more than just a great product, they increasingly buy into the corporate philosophy. However, many companies have based themselves around what they percieve their customers want them to be, not who they are. This is a route to disaster. You can't become someone else's values.
And in the hyperlinked world, companies can't keep up the pretences any longer. Employees, shareholders, customers, the blogosphere etc are all looking to pull you down a peg or two. Their joy is far greater if you are faking it.
In future, companies will stop trying to be all things to all people. Values will come from the inside. Brands will become more honest about who they are and will let the audience decide.
Smarter customers need to be engaged differently. They do not respond in the same way to thousands of broadcast messages every day.
Successful marcoms will involve engaging and supporting your customers in conversation. Making them feel a bigger part of the experience, not just of the product but of the process too.
This has big implications. This dialog will need much more transparency than before. The customer wants to talk with your key experts - design to your car designers, tax to your tax gurus, talk software to your coders or tell your buyers what clothes they would like to see in the shops next season. But this becomes a fantastic opportunity for you to lead them, to educate them and to take them places they might otherwise not have gone.
A new corporate voice is developing - more open and more honest. Those that grab this opportunity early will reap many benefits.
3. Marketing Capability
None of this is any good unless the business is architected in the right ways to serve the customer.
But today, many marketers are so wrapped up in what they are doing, that they do not look at how they do things.
Putting the customer at the centre of the organisation is an imperative. In particular, marketing needs to become more responsive. Marketers need to think about the following:
- Traditional silos only infuriate the customer. Marketing has a major role to play in breaking down these silos.
- Marketing needs stronger, faster processes to be adopted. New technologies such as Marketing Resource Management automate many of the administrative tasks that marketers are drowning under, freeing up time for more valuable customer focused activity.
- Marketers need to become much more technologically aware - many of the new ways of working with customers willl need technological investment that the marketer should lead.
- Measurement is, of course, important. But make sure that you have the right balance of measures. To the customer, your efficiency or effectiveness matters not one jot
These are not small changes, indeed for many this will be a long journey. But, marketers that embark on this view of future marketing will set their organisations on the right path. And, I believe, start to earn the credibility that they want in their organisations.
These three themes - Customer Leadership, Brand Honesty and Marketing Capability - will form the basis for much of the discussion that takes place here in the future - you have been warned!
PS. Few of these thoughts are original. But due to word limitations, I was unable to give the necessary hat-tips in the article to those whose musings help educate me. So to right that wrong here, credit to the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto, Seth Godin, Hugh at Gaping Void, and Johnnie Moore. Thanks guys.