Tuesday, July 25, 2017

For CMOs, It’s A Brand New World

CMOs face lots of questions. Some force them to confront the very integrity of their company’s organizational boundaries.

  • Where are the edges of brand protection responsibility for a CMO?
  • When are they allowed to relax their concern for the customer’s experience?
  • Is there a point at which they quietly hand off responsibility for brand protection to Customer Success executives, Support and Services, Sales?

The argument that a CMO's brand responsibility extends all the way out to all the experiences of the customer is a sensible one. It’s a position supported here but what if the experience the customer has is under the control of other teams led by other executives? Should the CMO care?

I think so and I’d go so far as to say that the aggregate brand experience is no more and no less important than one customer’s experience. With social media, consideration of the aggregate experience of customers is increasingly critical because one person’s experience can influence another’s and be amplified for both good and bad.

Under the increasing pressure of the digital age CMOs are compelled to align more closely and to team more seamlessly with peer executives, all focused on a mission of executing strategies through their teams that burnish rather than tarnish the brand.

Here are three vignettes illustrating various forms of brand experiences and associated challenges:

1. The Existential

A few years ago, one of the big four Canadian banks had a reputation for making poor decisions around the subprime mortgage market in the United States. The media chatter at the time was that the bank in question was the one most likely to walk into a sharp object. That’s not a headline you’d want to discuss during a Monday morning marketing meeting. Brand perception is important, even critical, depending on the industry.

Challenge: Rebuilding trust which, for a financial institution, is the most critical element of their relationship with the public. In this case, clearly the CMO would need to work in concert with the entire executive team to ensure the brand is repaired.

2. The Pernicious

The City of Toronto, where I live, has 16473 restaurants. Ranging from superb to sketchy, massive to tiny, vegan to carnivore, they represent almost every culture on the planet. They endure, however, a hellishly competitive landscape. Not every restaurant has a CMO, of course, but many restaurants are part of large conglomerates that do. Would those CMOs care about a real situation I experienced with my wife not too long ago?

We thought we’d grab a late dinner and took a chance with one of the newer restaurants where we live in the downtown core. The hostess met us with a smile and told us it would be a 45 to 60 minute wait. Rather than leave we stepped aside and I checked the availability of this restaurant on OpenTable. Voilà, there were 2 free tables and so I quickly booked one.

We stepped back in front of the hostess and told her of the reservation (less than 3 minutes had elapsed since we last spoke with her). She seated us immediately. Her explanation for not offering the table right away? They keep some tables available for online booking even if there are people physically waiting in line. Uh?

Challenge: Accommodating all customer types. For this situation a CMO would need to work with the field organizations to ensure that policies enhance the customer experience rather than detract and that what’s convenient for the business doesn’t translate into an inconvenience for the customer.

3. The Convoluted

I watch cable television only when I’m running on a treadmill and spend an inordinate amount of time switching between two news stations. With the exact same commercials repeated every seven or eight minutes it’s like being slowly clubbed in the head with a rubber mallet. The thing about digital though is there are data trails. Digital cable operators know what channel a viewer watches and they know precisely when viewers switch to another channel.

If I was a CMO at a company paying lots of money to advertise on a specific channel I’d want to know the switch rate. Information like that would allow me to better-scrutinize my investments. Beyond the investment there is the potential brand damage. Seeing the same health insurance commercial played every eight minutes makes me want to put that sponsoring company on the never-call-them list. For more depth, check out this two year old article from Think with Google that elaborates on television advertising and associated perils.

Challenge: How to balance the need to message with the very real damage that over-messaging can bring. A CMO would need to work closely with the Sales leader(s), and other executives to calibrate the messaging so as to maximize opportunities for revenue while minimizing damage to the customer experience.

The job of Chief Marketing Officer is arguably the most dynamic of all the roles in the executive suite. It must deal with the rapidity of changes in consumer preferences, technology, market conditions, and the requirement to match strategy accordingly, in virtual real-time.

Increasingly a company’s revenue is tied more tightly with its brand, and brand is more tightly tied to how well a company is able to enhance the experience of individual customers. There’s no separation anymore. When it comes to the brand there’s no boundaries for CMOs either.

And Speaking of Convoluted...

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