Forrester’s CMO perfectly captures the marketing imperative for 2016

When Victor Milligan became the chief marketing officer of Forrester a little more than a year ago, he encountered a problem with which many of his peers would be grimly familiar: data about the market research firm’s customers was spread across 11 different systems, none of which had ever been integrated or correlated before.

“Even if I wanted to see what a customer was, I would see 11 fragments,” Milligan, a former consultant, said in a speech about two months ago at the Inbound15 conference in Boston.

This is a challenge for any company, but an ironic one for Forrester, which tracks technology spending and advises on strategy — not only for CIOs, but increasingly for Milligan’s fellow CMOs in companies around the world. In fact, much of Forrester’s recent thought leadership in this area has been focused on urging companies to become “customer obsessed,” but Milligan suggested most of them are spending more time creating marketing collateral about how important customers are than actually changing the way they work.

FROM ‘CAPTURED’ TO FREE AGENTS

Victor Milligan, Forrester

Victor Milligan,
Forrester

Milligan defines customers as “captured” (citizens have to work with their government, for example), OR “committed” in the sense they are bound by contracts or natural brand loyalties, and “free agents,” such as retail customers who may purposefully continue to shop around. However, a number of forces — from disruptive startups competing with established firms to channels like social media being used to voice customer dissatisfaction — may mean more customers will begin acting like free agents sooner or later. This is why Milligan said the notion of being “customer obsessed” means going beyond the old adage the customer is always right.

“The additive effect of eroding loyalties, diverse and dynamic customers and disruptors are fundamentally altering the CMO’s agenda. They not only have to alter their messaging, their brand and those types of things, they have to take charge of customer experience,” he said. “They have to bring analytics to a fundamentally different level. They often have to influence the nature of product and innovation cycles in the firm to take on these pressures in the marketplace.”

I’d highly recommend watching all 45 minutes of Milligan’s talk, which is available on YouTube (and embedded below), as well as sharing the slides from his talk to your team. It’s one of the best overviews I’ve seen that shows not only where some of the pain points are, but where CMOs need to spend their time to fix them.

 

For example, Milligan suggested CMOs are increasingly in charge of helping carry out the CEO’s agenda. This not only means having tough conversations with other departments about becoming more customer-obsessed, but starting internally in the marketing department and with some self-evaluation. For CMOs that come from a strong branding background, there will be a lot of confusing language about data, digital and analytics they’ll still need to learn, he said. For those with more of a technology background, it will mean developing your people skills to change attitudes.

“Marketing departments tend to be insular, to think of the brand as ‘their brand,’” he said. “They’re non-empathic. They may say there’s a customer, but they don’t understand what it means to be a customer. It’s like a bad date when you spend most of  the time talking about yourself and the other person loses interest in the process.”

The most intriguing piece of advice Milligan offered was a call for more marketing leaders to think of avenues where customers can participate directly in the brand experience. He used the example of the auto sector, where 3D printing may allow customers to create a prototype design of their next car in just a few years’ time.

“That is where we’re heading — in a new competitive frontier where the way you garner and sustain powerful affinity connected to the experience and the emotion and the spend is happening primarily through participation,” he said. “There are a lot of decisions and org. design that typically the CMO is inflicted by or benefits from, but rarely ever catalyzes. This is the world we’re in.”

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