Connecting the digital way

Last Updated: Sun, Nov 18, 2012 19:21 hrs

It is encouraging to see a lot of Indian companies across industries engaging customers in the digital landscape. While some have successfully created high volumes of conversation across various channels including blogs, forums, and social media sites, others are reportedly engaging customers through contests, humorous videos and events on social media. What is also interesting is the alacrity with which companies are transitioning their operating model to keep pace with the customers in the digital landscape. Leaders are also putting together digital strategies to understand what customers value most and creating operating models that take advantage of what’s possible for competitive differentiation. What is the reason for the focus on the digital landscape?

Any avid marketer would state three key reasons: first is that customers are leaving behind a lot of data about themselves in the digital landscape. Second is the opportunity to leverage this data to connect with customers as individuals at the appropriate time. Third, increasing transparency as a result of activities in the digital space is leading companies to rework their internal culture.

The increasing focus on the digital landscape is also a reflection of the shift in balance of power between customers and the brands with the former taking charge of the relationship. It is also an indication of the opportunities and challenges that marketing function will experience in the days to come.

Technology and the chief marketing officer
With the digital revolution changing the balance of power between the customer and the organisation, digital technologies are also driving th change in the IT industry. In fact, a similar transformation is taking place in the marketing industry. While marketing has always been responsible for knowing the customer, it is now required to understand and respond to customers as individuals. Marketing can only do this if it manages vast amounts of unstructured data, makes sense of it with analytics, and generates insights that are predictive, not just historical — all on a massive scale. To connect with customers at every touch point effectively, marketing needs a system of engagement that maximises value with each interaction. It should marry the culture of the organisation with the brand to create authentic experiences that consistently delivers the brand’s promise. This can be achieved through technology.

Interestingly, marketing and IT functions have undergone tremendous change in the last five years. Technology and the insights derived through marketing and IT have completely transformed how organisations — and indeed, society — think, work and innovate.

Re-thinking the marketing function
The proliferation of digital natives are giving rise to customers who are more informed. As their number go up; the challenges for the chief marketing officers (CMOs) also increase. Their role is expanding to encompass management of the customer relationship and stewardship not only of the brand but the very character of the enterprise. It is, then, important for CMOs to work towards understanding customers better, in fact, connect with them one-on-one at the most appropriate touch point and ensure there are no gaps between what the brand promises and what it delivers in reality.

In the past, marketers profiled broad demographics such as “women 25-35 years old” and not really as individuals. Today, the scenario is very different. Customers are leaving behind a trail of data about them in the digital landscape and marketers are sifting through this enormous amounts of data to paint a vivid picture of each person as an individual. What this also implies is that marketers can actually predict the precise moments to engage customers with the right information or right suggestion in a personalised, authentic way so that marketing feels less intrusive and more like a welcomed service. How do they do that?

Progressive companies are seeing substantial benefits by investing in technologies and the insights produced by the use of technologies. Take, for example, a large public sector bank in India that adopted analytics. The solution helped it gain corporate visibility into all its accounts and customers, enabling it to launch creative sales campaigns targeting specific customers, thereby significantly improving customer service and profitability. In yet another instance, a leading mobile communications company extends its insights about customer behaviour throughout the organisation to support detailed market segmentation and customised service offerings.

In the past, marketers had to place their bets on big campaigns and there was no place to go if a campaign failed. Now, analytics is rewriting marketing measurement and CMOs can course-correct a campaign midstream.

Today, customers are judging brands by what they do and what they say. In turn, because of the stream of instant customer feedback via social media, companies are constantly rethinking the ways they design, produce and market products and services. Since social media has opened up a direct two-way channel between brands and their customers, marketers are becoming obsessed with how a company’s culture and purpose impacts a brand. Marketers must turn their companies into social businesses not only to establish a long-term relationship with customers but also to improve core and ad hoc processes.

Reskilling through collaboration
Having to embrace these technologies, CMOs are looking in-house to CIOs to equip themselves and to streamline their technology needs. With the evolution of their functions, CMOs and CIOs, as corporate leaders, have moved to strategic seats at the executive table and they are forging a shared agenda as the new C-suite power team to drive organisational benefits by blending the art of marketing with the science of technology.

Why is this partnership crucial?
Earlier, in the absence of such a partnership, companies relied on fragmented approaches in connecting with their customers. With customers increasingly switching between web sites, social networks, mobile applications and phone calls in their interactions with companies, this lack of a unified approach can have a critical impact on business. At the same time, the deluge of online activities that customers are engaged in gives marketers the opportunity to start connecting with individuals one-on-one, to understand what customers expect from the brands they do business with, to learn how their tastes are changing, and to target the new products and services that customers want. To thrive in the new era of the digitally empowered, socially connected customers, marketers have to leverage the power of analytics, big data and social media. Armed with these effective technologies, marketers are continuously inventing new ways to engage with consumers through customised information and vivid digital experiences, designed to create an aspirational journey starting with digital engagement.

CMOs realise that it is important to partner with CIOs to carry out their strategy, which is increasingly intertwined with the company’s business strategy. Digitally empowered customers have transformed the marketplace. So marketers are remaking their profession. They’re developing new skills and relationships and becoming more crucial to their companies. The transition will be a lot easier with a strong partnership with the CIOs.

Vanitha Narayanan
Managing Partner, IBM Global Business Services, India/South Asia

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