Customer-obsessed marketing

Marketing Innovation Starts And Ends With Customer Obsession

Keith Johnston
Vice President, Research Director
May 10, 2018

Despite all the monumental changes to technology and media that afford marketers the capabilities to build emotion-rich customer relationships, they frequently struggle to rise above roles as brand despots or sales vassals. But don’t blame the tools; it’s because marketing functions are mired in minutiae while prioritizing internal tasks and artificial organizational constraints over solving customer problems. Existing talent and mindsets are also misaligned with the goals of nurturing customer relationships and challenging new ideas. Companies seeking to become customer-obsessed must rectify these deficiencies. Specifically, marketing must elevate itself to function as a mode of innovation within the enterprise and establish valuable relationships with empowered customers.

This transformation of marketing to a center for innovation rather than a cost center involves moving on from staid, traditional marketing approaches to a new worldview that asks CMOs to:

  • Think without limits first. Create a vision for customer obsession that will guide the evolution of marketing’s function — and the firm as a whole. Imagine the entire company benefiting from the creativity and speed that marketers embrace by habit. This loud voice may inspire a movement, even if the appetite for change is limited to marketing’s common domain.
  • Let brand take the lead. A brand that is true to itself and its customer creates purpose. Aligning marketing’s model with those values is powerful and by design becomes the connective tissue that drives marketing and CX strategies across an organization.
  • Always keep the customer in front. Companies need their CMOs to transform the marketing function to be creators and ambassadors of the total brand experience to drive growth. When there’s a divide in leadership, organizational conflict over ownership, confusion regarding budget allocations, or operational uncertainty, then let the customer be the force driving decisions — this will catalyze everyone’s success.

With this in mind, reshape your responsibilities. Marketing as a key driver of innovation requires organizing around a greater purpose.

That starts with customer understanding: what your customers value and why. To marketers, this sounds intuitive, but organizational structures often preclude this. Again and again, we see customer insights managed in silos, making a clear — and actionable — picture of the customer rare.

Then it’s about taking ownership of brand strategy. Yes, brand has always been table stakes for the CMO. But we mean truly defining the brand promise so it can demonstrate how leaders, employees, and partners will consistently live its values.

And finally, embrace taking responsibility for the total brand experience as a means to solving customer problems. Your brand manifests itself in many physical and digital forms with your customer and across a range of touchpoints connected to different areas of the organization. While we don’t propose that CMOs formally own all customer-facing functions, they should ensure that marketing’s brand promise guides customer experiences outside of media and communications. This is as much a cultural imperative as it is a business mandate.

To help CMOs begin this journey, Forrester has recently published our marketing innovation playbook, which can assess the marketing function’s maturity; elevate its purpose with a new vision; and pivot marketing’s mindset, processes, talent, and use of insights to enable customer obsession.

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