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Accenture Interactive

CMO v The board: connecting the brand to the customer

Three ways to deliver quality consumer experiences and drive business growth from top marketers at Disney, The AA, LÓreal, E.ON, Atom Bank...

CMO v The board: connecting the brand to the customer

Every marketer knows that the best route to create value for customers is through better, more relevant and more human experiences: put the consumer at the heart of brand experience then repeat for every customer. As Joy Bhattacharya, managing director, Accenture Interactive UK and Ireland, says: "Forward-thinking CMOs realise they need to create experiences that deliver a ‘wow’ factor to stay ahead of the competition, but ones that are performant, scalable and connect to the brand in every way."

Knowing exactly how to achieve and evaluate this brand nirvana is more tricky. Fulfilling brand promise now means making challenging choices. Ultimately, the chief marketer needs to balance driving consumer value with creating business growth.

As Bhattacharya explains: "The board is increasingly asking marketing to become a growth engine. This is good as it ensures marketing is relevant, but it changes the equation. As a result, I am seeing many bold transformations of marketing departments that drive real business value."

That is all very well, but transformation doesn’t mean throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Keeping true to your brand promise is important both for the success of the brand and sales. The Advertising Research Foundation’s "Insights 2020" study revealed that 83% of companies that overperform on revenue growth build everything around brand purpose, compared with only 31% of those that underperform.

So how do you get this balance right? To help respond to calls for cost-cutting and efficiency boosts, while protecting the brand, here are three imperatives that, if you perfect them, will bring the board firmly onside.

1. Improve preference: effectiveness and engagement
Don’t rely on a superficial "knowledge" of the customer based on their buying or browsing history. Use more detailed artificial intelligence-fuelled data mining and analysis to understand consumers – but do it in a cool, not creepy, way. Research from Harvard Business Review and Salesforce shows that 71% of global leaders believe employee access to customer data analysis is the most important factor in delivering a relevant and reliable customer experience. 

Understanding people is about more than just purchase data for Disney. "We listen to consumers and what they are buying, but also what they are talking about and we watch trends closely," Disney UK and Ireland CMO Anna Hill says.

L’Oréal CMO Stéphane Bérubé puts "social listening" at the core of his marketing strategy. "We have a passion for understanding and listening to what our consumers want, even if those ideas are changing quickly," he says. "By personalising our interactions with consumers, we get to understand them and react accordingly."

"It’s all about ensuring we deliver a seamless online ordering experience for customers," Barnaby Dawe, outgoing global CMO of Just Eat, says. "And building more personalisation into our product or predicting exactly when a customer will want their meal, which in turn helps restaurants optimise their processes."

Jon Wilkins, chairman of Karmarama, says: "To create human experiences, we must ride the ‘karmic loop’ between culture and consumption. People connect the products they consume with the wider cultural role those brands play in their lives. Viewing experiences in this way mirrors the connections that the human brain naturally makes, but also reinforces that every action has a consequence."

2. Efficiency: changing the people and the model
Efficiency comes from improving your whole operation, not looking at individual processes. This includes your agency and partner relationships. Add to this improved experiences with customers and you’ll glean insight on how to interact more efficiently.

The people
As times change, job titles once unheard-of become central to the marketing function and the non-linear career path is increasingly common. By finding people with diff erent skills and backgrounds, you can establish an environment to create better customer experiences.

Lisa Wood, chief marketer at Atom Bank, says this can require a culture change. "Build a strong team around you, with a diverse skill set that can input and guide decisions. Then work as a team, not a hierarchy."

Hill warns that an open attitude still requires focus. "People need to seize opportunity, but also to be able to respect guidelines and boundaries. We need people that are creative, that are willing to try things, but also willing to learn from others."

Wilkins adds that attracting the right talent is down to a brand’s purpose. "There is a culture element at play which the CMO can infl uence. When there is a strong commitment to a brand purpose and you have smart people taking that out into the world, your customers buy in. People like authentic, genuine people… and that extends to brands. People have an emotional connection to brands that exist for the right reasons and behave in the right way."

The chief marketer needs to balance driving customer value with creating business growth

The model
"Inefficiency happens when many small parts of your brand spin off in different directions," AA marketing director Cheryl Calverley says. "If this is the case, your communication strategy is not pulling in the same direction."

By creating a more connected agency model, there are no ring-fenced budgets and there is greater collaboration between the diff erent cogs in any campaign.

Bhattacharya, for example, says: "If CMOs could be confi dent that the people they rely on to do great creative and to buy their media have the same definition of ROI as them, they would be in a much stronger position. The only way you can truly do this is at metrics level. The agency business has to commit to outcomes, rather than outputs."

Calverley adds: "It’s the CMO’s responsibility to create a culture where there’s cross-business collaboration and constant, open dialogue rather than rigid, separate silos. Every penny of investment has to support the business as a whole."

On the other side, some argue that this is unrealistic. Zaid Al-Qassab, chief brand and marketing officer at BT Group, is one such marketing leader. While he believes that there should be greater transparency and more accurate metrics in digital, Al-Qassab says that it is "naïve to believe that agencies will ever be fully aligned to exactly the same measures and goals as clients".

He adds: "They are different organisations, with different people. They simply wouldn’t attract the talent they need if they became single-mindedly focused on exactly the same things as their clients."

Naturally, Al-Qassab expects his agency to "care deeply" about delivering business results (they know they’ll lose his account if they don’t), but he’s "unconvinced by the evidence that remunerating them that way has the desired results".

But with broken siloes, ideas become fluid and converge around better ideas and greater innovation, particularly when it comes to technology driving growth. 

3. Growing the business: new propositions
Senior marketers need to be the force behind creating bankable new products and services, which are based on what customers want. One place to start is by talking a new language: linking the consumer (human language) with the business (growth-, target- and investment-driven).

Emma Inston, global head of brand and customer at E.ON, advises involving the board in brand- and customer-oriented discussions and always focusing on commercial outcomes. "We plan campaigns thinking about the sales funnel from brand awareness, consideration, customer acquisition, loyalty and NPS," she says. "We have a framework of KPIs that focus on the same outcomes, albeit measured diff erently where flexibility is needed across regions."

Nonetheless, Calverley warns that "few boards want to see the ‘working-out’ of the detail in a tech or data marketing strategy". She adds: "The key thing is to ensure the board has confi dence in your consumer insight and overall communication strategy."

Pick your words wisely, is the advice to bear in mind here, says Calverley. "‘Cost’ is not a word I ever use – it is investment choices that we make, together, as a business."

Growing in a tech-enabled world also means that utility is part of the brand experience, Wood says. "You have to serve a clear purpose in people’s lives and provide an experience that people can engage with."

A marketer’s role transcends all business silos in this tech-driven future – from talentacquisition and retention, through product to technology and data. That’s before they think about their traditional function.

Marketing is more relevant to the board than ever – so speaking the board’s language and driving a business purpose has never been more important to delivering strong customer experience. 

Five key takeaways

  • Look at the data intelligently – use the tools and analytics available, then listen.

  • Recruit diverse people and skills across all areas… then constantly iterate.

  • Restructure your agency and internal relationships: break the silos. 

  • Speak customer language to the customer and board language to the board.

  • Focus on your brand purpose – a brand purpose that has the customer at its heart.

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