Marketers: Don’t Let Data and the Cloud Become Bright Shiny Objects

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The impacts of the cloud wars may take years to materialize. In the meantime, companies need to start rewriting old playbooks to deliver a better customer experience.

Today’s business leaders and marketers are often seduced, justifiably, by the allure of deeper and richer customer data. The question is: Do they love their customers and value the customer experience as much as the data itself?

Marketers may find themselves debating this critical question with their heads wrapped in the cloud—or more specifically, the cloud wars. Announced earlier this month, SAP’s $8 billion purchase of Qualtrics is the latest in a string of mega-mergers between cloud companies, CRM providers and global enterprise software firms that demonstrate just how far businesses are willing to go in order to better understand their customers and get closer to that ideal, one-to-one, personalized customer experience.

Make no mistake: Data alone, even when it provides the fuel for these powerful new integrated experience platforms, does not guarantee successful campaigns or the brand love that every marketer craves. Companies will need to dig deeper into their creative talent pools and design tool kits in order to achieve those results (more on that below). The cloud wars are, however, setting the stage for new e-commerce ventures and other digital innovations that may substantially improve the customer experience.

What This All Means

The fusion of SAP’s operations data with Qualtrics’ rich customer survey data can lead to new business outcomes within one technology ecosystem—i.e., the cloud. Consider the potential impact in the airline or hospitality industry. Near real-time satisfaction data from customers can be read through language and sentiment analysis via a Qualtrics Net Promoter Scores survey and instantly fed back into the SAP cloud for taking immediate corrective action. Any traveler whose service disappointment has been met with a complimentary airline seat or hotel room upgrade knows how lasting such actions can be.

For other legacy software firms, the goal is to add capabilities that connect content delivery to commerce platforms and close the loop on a purchase. Take Adobe’s recent merger with Magento, for example. The partnership allows Adobe customers to distribute, measure and connect people from a content platform (e.g. a Snapchat or Instagram story) to a buying opportunity (click, view and purchase) while building a 360-degree view of their customers. “Consumers and businesses now expect every interaction to be shoppable—whether on the web, mobile, social, in-product or in-store,” said Brad Rencher, EVP/GM, Experience Cloud at Adobe, at the time of the merger announcement.

Making the leap from collecting customer data to activating against it quickly is the key to winning in a distraction economy. Trust, one might say, comes in on a donkey (i.e., is slowly built) and goes out on a freight train (evaporates in one action). Businesses need to be able to garner insights and get to the action faster—and that is at the core of what’s driving all the recent M&A.

Don’t Stop Talking To Customers

To be sure, the digital transformation will not happen overnight. These are big, unwieldy mergers of sprawling companies and disparate cultures that may take three to five years to complete, dwarfing the average lifespan of a CEO or CMO. The costs of hiring consulting firms and implementation partners, as well as learning, development and training tools, are prohibitive and require broad stakeholder approval.

While all of this is happening, it should go without saying, businesses can’t just stop talking to—and learning from—their customers. Herein lies a separate but related critical issue: Many companies today are not structured properly to foster information sharing, and their leaders seem to have lost the desire or ability to communicate directly with customers. There are world-class CPG companies with robust consumer/shopper insights teams that possess a deep level of empathy and understanding of the consumer—data that is rarely shared with the marketing and agency professionals who need it the most.

Meanwhile, company leaders spend most of their time with top-tier executive teams and do not talk to their customers. The average CEO devotes nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of their time to internal meetings, according to a recent Harvard Business study. In an ideal world, employees in every department from the CEO/CMO down to the interns would spend an allotted period of time each quarter engaging with customers and talking to sales teams to learn more about the role that MarTech plays on product development.

Design-Led Strategies and Other ‘Now’ Solutions

Making system-wide changes is not a substitute for doing the basic hard work of improving the way that teams function together, build experiences and gather customer insights. In fact, each of those initiatives can feed off one another. Here are three ways that every company can immediately begin to deliver a better customer experience:

  • Be disruptive and break down the barriers to creativity. Bring real customers together with CEOs into qualitative immersion workshops and allow every employee to have a seat at the ideation table. Human beings working in concert with data and machines to solve problems is a simple but powerful formula for true innovation.
  • Transition from Design Thinking (conceptual) to Design Doing (action). At Digital Surgeons, we’ve been running what Jake Knapp, formerly of Google Ventures, calls “design sprints” for years with customers. This is a fixed period of time where a cross-disciplinary team is focused on solving a specific problem for a specific customer.
  • Condition the entire ecosystem to think about the relationship between people and products differently. Embrace evolving disciplines including behavioral design principles to unlock the power of mental associations (e.g., sights, sounds, smells) that help explain the irrational ways in which consumers often make purchase decisions.

In the end, everything old is new again. Five years ago, an enterprise firm would never welcome an open-source company into its fold. Now we have IBM buying RedHat, Microsoft linking up with Github, and so on. Closed systems are opening up. Inclusion is replacing exclusion. Customers are actually coming first.

Any company that gets these fundamental principles right can revolutionize the world, just as 3M did by starting with a colorful little Post-It note. Which, by the way, are in vogue again.

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