OC&C: Personalisation priority for Chief Marketing Officers

23 September 2014 Consultancy.uk 5 min. read

Recent research has found that personalisation is the number one priority for chief marketing officers, says Fergus Jarvis, partner at OC&C Strategy Consultants, in the second of a series of articles on the challenges faced by today's CMOs.

At its most basic level, giving customers a great experience isn’t rocket science: find out what your customers want and give it to them. But when every customer’s needs are different, and when those needs are evolving on a daily basis and vary depending on the nature of each interaction, doing this successfully is exceptionally difficult. Consumers often won’t know what they want until they’ve tried it – and companies often have to second guess what they should offer them.

To truly differentiate themselves, businesses are having to deliver what consumers expect, and do it better than anyone else in their sector – offering a seamless, multichannel experience that is easy to navigate, tailored to customers’ individual needs, while offering them great choice and great personalised customer service. 

This is easier said than done. We spoke to over 50 CMOs at companies large and small to ask them what the biggest challenges they face are. Offering a personalised customer experience was their highest priority, with a third of them explicitly highlighting it as the toughest challenge on their plate.

Fergus Jarvis - OC&C Strategy Consultants

Why does personalisation keep so many CMOs awake at night? This is primarily for three reasons:

Making the best use of data

The concept of ‘big data’ has been around for some time, and its importance to future marketing practices is regularly discussed in marketing circles. However, far too many businesses are still struggling with some of the basics of data management, which means they’re unable to capitalise on greater analytical power and new data sources.

In fact, there are now more data types available than ever before, with organisations trying to use a variety of sources ranging from customer databases to web analytics to interpret their customers’ ‘browse and buy’ behaviours. Whilst each of these data types has its merits, they don’t yield a true view of the customer’s end-to-end experience on their own. CMOs are consequently confronted with diverse data sets which are incredibly difficult to combine and analyse in way that allows them to extract meaningful insights.

Many of the organisations we spoke to are also capturing data in silos, and struggling with the quality of underlying customer data; these are the basics that need to be in place in order to drive any more advanced decision making. Otherwise, CMOs are left grappling with a myriad of partial views which are impossible to translate into an overarching picture of typical customer behaviour.

Internal collaboration

Creating a truly integrated customer experience requires joined-up thinking across the business – and, although steps are being taken in this direction, in many companies this isn’t yet taking place. CMOs are facing the challenge of making departments communicate and collaborate with each other in ways which they aren’t used to. But for the customer’s experience to be truly personalised, from in-store to online purchasing, marketing, IT and sales teams all need to work together.  

Overcoming resistance to automated approaches

For organisations that manage to resolve issues with the underlying data and get internal teams aligned and working together, there’s one final challenge. Many organisations are simply not comfortable yet with a world of personalised campaigns and sets of interactions that are driven by data and algorithms. In many of the organisations we spoke to, we encountered a healthy scepticism that an analytical approach to dictating what the ‘next best action’ is will, in fact, identify the right action.

Tom blacksell

Tom Blacksell, UK managing director of marketing services at data analytics company Experian, says that many of the CMOs he works with know that predictive analytics and business intelligence are "absolutely crucial to better understand their customer and help solve the personalisation conundrum".

"However, CMOs are telling us that they continue to face challenge when they pitch these new concepts to their board. In particular, there is a need to educate boards regarding the benefits of the new techniques and available technologies; as well as overcoming concerns about a perceived ‘black box’ approach to analytics," he adds.

What’s the answer?

Creating a seamless experience for the customer requires equal seamlessness behind the scenes, which the CMO is increasingly tasked with orchestrating. Some CMOs, however, are opting for a different approach and interestingly, it was these who felt they were making most headway in bringing their personalisation strategies to life. Focusing less on how to engage every customer across every touchpoint, they’re developing more surgical approaches. This allows them to circumvent some of the data and organisational issues outlined above.

For instance, several CMOs are focusing on a cohort-led approach where they prioritise developing the right approach for specific groups of customers or campaigns rather than striving for a fully integrated strategy. Similarly, many CMOs are finding success with approaches that concentrate on one specific data type - such as ‘browse & buy’ data - and are developing the right algorithms to enable a customised journey.

These approaches illustrate the pragmatism required to gain traction, whilst highlighting that a fully personalised world is still some way off. 

Article 1 of series: OC&C: Major trends impacting Chief Marketing Officers.

This article was previously posted by Fergus Jarvis in Marketing Magazine.