Marketing is still deep in a product-centric mindset, but the future is all about a customer-centric approach. Here’s advice on getting your stack to match.
By Allison Hartsoe, CEO and Founder, Ambition Data
Marketing is constantly changing; so is the tech used to support it. We are in a product-centric cycle dominated by tons of siloed apps delivering rear-view data. Our future is a customer-centric approach where we build equity by identifying our best customers, determined by their customer lifetime value (CLV). Customer centricity means using data to build a better customer experience by learning what each customer is doing, where she wants to go, what she wants to buy, and how and when she wants to buy. Here are four steps to find marketing technology to support your customer-centric approach.
1. Strategy First. Adopting a customer-centric approach is a strategic decision; your technology choices should be, too. Joe Stanhope at Forrester urges companies to stop buying for tools and start buying for strategy.
“You have to figure out core elements of your strategy and use them to decide your technology choices,” says Stanhope, VP, Principal Analyst, Forrester Research. “It’s not about sending email, it’s about how to continuously engage with customers over time, across channels, and how to integrate the systems and use the data.”
The best strategic approach is to start with your biggest problem, says Bob McKinney, VP of Marketing and Omni-Channel, Batteries Plus Bulbs. “Figure out what real problems you want to solve before you choose a bunch of technologies,” says McKinney. “What problems can we solve with tech? What problems can we solve with people?” This quantitative compass leads to quick wins that help marketing teams build awareness of and support for a customer-centric approach.
2. Choose customer-centric tools, not channel-centric ones. The core of customer centricity is understanding each customer as an individual. Each tool provides a slice of data about the customer, so tools must talk to each other to gain the full picture. “Too many people buy a tool at a time, channel by channel, system by system,” says McKinney. “Instead of jumping from one short-term need to the next, build a roadmap of how you will get to your end goal.” In addition to providing a framework for decision making, it gives your team – and your customer-centric approach - credibility within your organization.
This means changing the way you think about analytics, too. Customer centric marketing requires continuous customer engagement rather than time-bound, individual campaigns. “Analytics become less of a rear-view reporting dashboard and more of a monitoring exercise,” says Stanhope.
Teams will need discipline when adding to their martech stack, as every day brings a brand-new toolset with impressive functionality. “It is easy to get blown away by a demo using someone else’s data or use case. You can over-index based on the wrong info,” says Stanhope. He recommends a short-term sandbox where your team can use the tool within your own stack and using your own data to identify red flags before making an expensive multi-year investment.
3. Approach shiny toys with caution. AI, machine learning, and other automated approaches are all the rage in marketing, but not all tools are meant for all environments. Moving away from systems where humans define rules – segmenting, engagement, or content delivery – can backfire. Not every company has the velocity and complexity to justify this approach. And sometimes automation can steer you away from customer centricity, not toward it.
4. People are part of the stack, too. There are times when what we need is not another tool, but the right person. For McKinney, people with critical thinking skills are the most important element of his marketing “stack.”
Another important skill: marketers who are facile with code. “Rather than always looking to new tools, we find people who can build queries and use APIs to aggregate data and port it into various systems,” says McKinney. “That’s how we build the mortar between our systems.”
No matter where you are in you customer-centric journey, you will need technology. Follow these steps to make wise decisions so that you are in control of the stack rather than it being in control of you.
Allison Hartsoe is founder and CEO of Ambition Data, a consultancy focused on customer-centric transformation, the host of the Customer Equity Accelerator podcast, and the founder of the Customer Centricity Conference.