Let’s Get Real About Marketing And The Customer Journey

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Q&A with Gene Foca, Chief Marketing Officer, Getty Images

Marketing is not a “gut game”—and if you disagree, then you might just be doing it wrong. AW360 sat down with Gene Foca, Chief Marketing Officer for Getty Images, to capture his insights and philosophy around 21st Century marketing and the customer journey. As he explains, navigating the terrain has never been more difficult, due in no small part to an ever-increasing number of customer touchpoints with big potential for impact. The key, he says, is to consistently triangulate around customers’ needs. Read on for a bit more as to how to go about doing just that.

Q: You’ve said that customers themselves haven’t changed, although their expectations have. Explain this.

Information is at our fingertips these days, so customers are obviously more informed—sometimes armed with accurate information, and other times with inaccurate information. Customers also have a greater number of touch points today, with nearly every brand or service. As a result, no single point of contact has as much influence over a customer as it once did, and messages can easily get diluted and overwhelmed by the actual end-to-end experience—with an emphasis on the phrase end-to-end—a customer has with your brand.

Think of it this way: While we can consistently highlight our brand’s value proposition through creative messaging, if we don’t prove it and support it every day throughout the entire customer journey, then we’re diluting the overall impact of our marketing investment. Customers expect friction-free experiences that deliver on a brand’s claims. They expect to be able to reach that brand whenever it is convenient for them, and always on their terms—not yours.

Q: When marketers talk about “gut instinct” or say that they’re just “following their gut,” what exactly are they referring to?

Well, you’d have to ask those who say that… as I rarely do. My suspicion is that they’re referring to how to reach a customer or with what message will appeal to a customer, or perhaps to what kind of human and financial capital should be put behind a program that seems on message, but which may have an unclear pay-off to brand value over time or even ROI.

The reality is that the impact we have on current and potential customers is now more measurable, across almost every channel, than ever before. Creativity is increasingly important given that the number of touch points have increased, and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. Using your gut as a marketer should only be applied once testing, research, response and ROI have been measured through well-defined KPIs, and you’ve exhausted your ability to apply data to your investments and decisions. It should never be the leading factor.

Q: Can you explain how marketers might be missing the mark if they rely on gut alone?

While leading with your gut sounds smart, creative and swash-buckling, it can potentially lead to investing a lot of money without real return. Frankly, I think it’s what marketers tend to do when they simply aren’t comfortable with the numbers or don’t really understand the intricacies of a particular business model. But a modern marketer is a business executive who understands (a) how to serve the customer with the best product and service possible—meaning, they must be able to work with product, technology and creative teams to develop that service, (b) how to communicate that value proposition to the target customer through efficient, effective touch points, (c) how to measure, evaluate and adjust programs in a timely manner to drive immediate and long-term ROI, and (d) how to make financial trade-offs with other business colleagues that might mean spending more or less on marketing activities at any given time, while simultaneously investing more in areas of the business that best serve the customer (stack-ranking short and long term business priorities). A marketer who makes gut investment decisions in a silo, divorced from a full discussion of overall business priorities, is a dangerous teammate.

Q: You talk a lot about the importance of data, research and ROI, as opposed to gut. Can you explain this a bit further?

When we craft a message and put together a creative treatment as part of our efforts to highlight our value proposition, primary research should come into play and customer behavior should be considered to ultimately create an approach prioritizing our benefits in an inclusive manner. Simply put, consistently using content that reflects our audience in an authentic manner is critical. Note that these choices aren’t made in the gut, they’re made with the expertise and information offered by each of the participants involved.

Many marketers, or people outside of marketing, divide the world into branding programs and channels, as opposed to performance programs and channels. But the reality is that every touch point with a customer, no matter how measurable—whether a channel like paid search or TV—is either an opportunity to build and support your value proposition and brand with the customer or tear it down. The real question relates to how we can use the combination of traditional marketing, data science, creative, PR & comms, product, sales, finance and development to create the best customer experience to support a value proposition and build a brand. In total, that’s what marketing is about—the sum of these disciplines to reach a customer with the best product at the right price, with the most friction-free delivery mechanisms, while using the most efficient promotions to do so. Marketing of old may have allowed for more siloed behavior and thinking, but marketing today requires working across disciplines to deeply understand the entire business model.

Q: The customer journey looks different today than it did even five years ago. Can you detail the various elements of that journey, as well as what has changed and what has stayed the same?

It’s about understanding the customer—research to help you grasp both their needs and potential gaps, as well as how they interact with your brand on a regular basis. But you must also conduct regular reviews and evaluations of what the competition is doing and the impact they are having. Each of these methods is necessary and coincidentally the reason we have a much better understanding now than we did 30 or 40 years ago of the entirety of the customer journey. They’re also the reason we can grasp the impact that the full journey has on how a customer feels about a brand. Years ago, we gave primary importance to a marketing campaign, message or delivery vehicle. But today, we understand more fully that those things simply support the overall journey that the customer lives and experiences with your brand.

Note that customers still want to be satisfied, just as was the case decades ago. They just expect “more” at every turn.

From message delivery to purchase experience and all of the details of that experience (depending on distribution channel and point of purchase), to experience with the product post-purchase, as well as customer service and 24/7 interaction offered by web and mobile sites and applications—These all collectively influence the consumer’s life or business, which is in fact the ultimate impact. Any one of these touchpoints, based on how dependent your brand or service is on that interaction, can undo all of your marketing investment in just a few unsatisfying interactions. If your business is primarily dependent on customer service, and it’s not excellent, then all of the marketing messaging and investment you can muster will be wasted. If for instance, you’re telling your customer about the high quality of your product or service and their primary access point is web or mobile, then those touch points must be optimized in all of the ways that are important to your customer. A strong marketing message cannot outweigh a poor experience with a primary touch point.

Q: Do you have any best practices you can share?

A marketing executive’s primary role is not just one of delivering a creative message. It’s about understanding the customer fully, getting out of your silo and collaborating with other departments to create an excellent end-to-end customer experience, while stack ranking the importance of each touch point and investing in the areas that will best serve the customer—even if that means investing a bit less in a marketing campaign for a period of time. After all, always consider what will have the greatest impact for the customer, for customer retention and your ROI. The answer? Great customer experience.

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