Reimagining marketing

How to align your organisation around the customer

The good news? With lockdown restrictions easing in the coming months there are huge opportunities to reimagine marketing and make ‘customer’ a priority for the entire business to drive long-term growth. 

During our latest CMO Community virtual gathering we heard from three marketing leads from major blue-chip businesses about how they are helping their organisations to reimagine marketing as more than a function and working to align the entire business around customer wants and needs. The discussion was held under Chatham House rules but I’m happy to share the main headlines with you.

Meet the customer where they are now

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a shift in customer needs, desires, habits and routines in every sector. Take retail, for example, where previous consumer drivers such as the speed at which people can get their shopping done were replaced by a focus on safety. While safety is still important, consumer behaviours are shifting again with the vaccination rollout and lockdown restrictions easing. With this evolution, it’s difficult to fall back on pre-existing customer personas. At the start of lockdown, the rule book may even have been thrown out as we had to unlearn what we knew before to re-learn how people want to shop and socialise going forward. Become a listening organisation, regularly tapping into customer insight to understand changing priorities.

A purpose-driven customer experience is more important than ever

Even before the pandemic, broader societal attitudes towards the role of business in society were changing. To authentically adapt to new customer behaviours, CMOs must therefore start with the company’s purpose and then execute the customer journey end-to-end. One example of moving quickly to change a customer experience is in the funeral business, where empathy and support for grieving families is paramount. Employees were quickly trained to deal with the pressure of an extraordinary situation and the firm has started to offer new ways to facilitate grief and meet with families online. New services are also being offered, such as having processions drive by the homes of family members so they can honour their loved ones. This is putting customer at the heart of your business, not just getting the traditional marketing communications right.

As marketing becomes hyper-local, trust and empower colleagues

Across the UK, we’ve seen local communities banding together to support neighbours unable to leave their homes for food, medicine or other essential items. Colleagues are not only working in but are also part of their local community, and they are fountains of insight. In local stores, for example, colleagues can give real-time feedback based on what they’re experiencing from daily customer interactions. By trusting this information, CMOs can support their front-line colleagues to adjust the customer experience at a local level. Empowering people to do the right thing in the moment is win, win, win for the business, for colleagues and – most importantly – for customers. Developing systems to facilitate and gather localised information is, for many, the next frontier of insight generation.

Adopt a ‘test and learn’ approach

It’s a great time to innovate, so bring multi-disciplinary teams together in squads or scrums to get new propositions to market using a ‘test and learn’ approach. For example, a coffee company launched a subscription service during lockdown using Apple and Google wallets. This was achieved in a matter of months and has proven so successful it’s been rolled out to more than 400 stores. While this approach may previously have seemed risky, now customers and colleagues tend to be forgiving when things don’t work perfectly first-time round.

Balance the short vs the long term

Due to the scale of the pandemic and its impact on all areas of our lives, many businesses went into can-do mode when lockdown first began. The immediate focus was on short-term actions like enabling office-based employees to work from home and creating safe spaces for customers. Becoming a true business of experience, with the customer at the heart of your strategy, will lead to sustained returns in the long term but may require investment. For example, developing new digital journeys and hiring digital talent. This can create tension with finance colleagues who often don’t see the value in investing unless there’s a more immediate return. The difference today - and going forward - is that we need to meet customers where we’ve left them based on our recent short-term actions during lockdown. Marketing leaders need to keep the lessons learned from this period front of mind when planning long-term strategies. For example, this may mean keeping digital services running even when shops and offices re-open.

Embrace technology

There’s never been a more important time for CMOs to get on top of the digital agenda. Technologies like cloud enable you to capture the right data from legacy systems and other sources to provide the actionable insight that will allow your teams to build compelling and unique customer experiences. To maximise investments in technology and help to drive a new way of thinking about the customer experience, internal siloes between IT/finance/marketing/sales need to be broken down. You’ll know this is succeeding when data scientists and IT colleagues are in the room as you design new customer experiences.  

The good news? With lockdown restrictions easing in the coming months there are huge opportunities to reimagine marketing and make ‘customer’ a priority for the entire business to drive long-term growth.