Thursday, August 4, 2016

Meeting Consumer Demand for Your Brand: The New Playbook for CMOs

Matt Preschern
Executive Vice President,Chief Marketing Officer
HCL Technologies

In this second decade of 21st century marketing, the playing field is changing swiftly. The pace of change accelerates month by month and often week by week. Consumers have upped their game through mobile technology and hyper-connected environments at home, at work and on the road. If you haven’t yet rewritten your own strategic playbook to identify and capitalize on this change, you risk being overrun by consumer demands for your brand to match their own constantly transforming lifestyle. 

It’s not just about speed—consumers have always sought faster access to products, greater responsiveness to their questions and faster deliveries. Our challenge as CMOs is to be agile enough to race ahead of the consumer’s expectations while anticipating them. If you don’t respond to a customer email within an hour, a customer call within 30 minutes, or a customer order request within seconds, you’re likely to lose that customer. She can order from your competitor in just seconds with the touch of a graphic button. 

Complicating the challenge is the need to personalize your response with contextually relevant information. If you’re still dumping pre-written answers to frequent questions into your online chat windows, you’re dying or dead. Instead, we can now use data analytics more extensively than ever before to ensure we meet each customer one-to-one and face-to-face, predicting the questions she will ask and the products she will prefer.

The new playbook also requires us to carve new crosslinks to connect channels. For the consumer, it’s all one big channel now. What she finds online she expects to see at the store. When she places an order on her phone, it had better be equally accessible in the aisle and on her front doorstep, whichever she prefers. With ever rarer exceptions, today’s shopping excursion is a single digital experience that runs across all social media and stores (online and off). A single customer may choose different outlets at different times or different points in the sales process--awareness on Facebook, preference on Yelp, selection and questions at the physical store site, purchase on Amazon--so we want to be ready to present a consistently attractive and convenient experience that cuts across all channels.

This new digitally driven destiny for marketers also embraces the sharing economy. Millennials increasingly make their way through the world by sharing data. They expect brands to have their data at hand, through social media and previous online shopping patterns. It’s important that we understand millennial consumers and present product information in the context of their individual preferences as gleaned from their shared data via analytics.

The pace is indeed frantic. Big data, therefore, becomes critical to staying ahead of the consumer, requiring more automated systems that digest consumer data and guide the buying experience. “Big strategies” no longer appear valid. In the months you might spend building a conventional campaign, everything will have changed--technology, social media, market conditions, competitors--and you may find that you never catch up, much less get ahead. And large, complex strategies can’t possibly furnish the agility and personalization that we need now.

Rather than attempting to pull consumers in, CMOs ought to consider adopting the characteristics of the consumer’s shopping style so as to join them in their hither-and-yon shopping journey. Five tenets are especially important to this process:

  1. Understand that the experience is everything. Create an authentic experience that resonates with consumer emotions. When a consumer can connect to a brand’s core values through experiences, engagement shifts from a company effort to a consumer desire. Context, coherency and collaboration within an ecosystem make for outstanding experiences.
  2. Measure outcomes, not opportunities. Consider putting a stop to chasing metrics such as “marketing-qualified leads” and begin working closely with sales to target and convert your best prospects, your most profitable customer segments.  
  3. Stay agile and lean. Build teams that respond quickly to unanticipated market changes. Demolish silos and flatten hierarchies with teams that prioritize small experiments over large bets. Create a culture of experimentation by transforming your workplace from one that values opinions and conventions to one that thrives in testing and data.
  4. Build your marketing operation like you build your IT operation. Trying to assemble all the technologies required for a world-class in-house marketing operation would be as expensive and inefficient as assembling all the software you use in doing your job. You employ software as a service(SaaS); it may be time for you to adopt a marketing-as-a-service approach as well. MaaS lets your marketers choose capabilities on demand to build out their marketing technology architecture. It’s scalable, efficient and fast.
  5. Redefine your partnerships. Today your best partners are your customers, and they can join your suppliers, affiliates and developers in a mutually beneficial ecosystem enabled by APIs. For example, when you search for directions using Google Maps on a mobile device, you’ll see a tab showing estimated pickup times and fares for Uber options available in a particular city, and a click on any airline site will enable you to search for a car and hotel room from hospitality partners. Application program interfaces, commonly known as APIs, make these connections both possible and valuable.  Advances soon will make every business a technology company, racing along the Internet of Things, growing smarter with artificial intelligence systems. Creating ecosystems of partners and developers to produce seamless, engaging customer experiences will be crucial to outrunning the pace of change.

It’s a new game with new formations and a new, much more expansive playing field. CMOs can benefit from rejecting convention. When you become more agile, adaptive and connected, you can build a winning brand that resonates with a vibrant marketplace.

Matt Preschern is Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of HCL Technologies. Matt leads all marketing functions, including global business, strategic marketing, sales enablement and corporate communications to drive demand, growth and value for the HCL Technologies brand. A global citizen, Matt was born and educated in Austria and has an MBA from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.