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It's going to take an indivisible organization to implement a truly optimal customer-centric strategy.

The last thing marketers need now is yet another technology solution. Not because these technologies are superfluous or ineffective. There's simply too many of them. If marketers hope to realize the truly customer-centric approach of the Amazons and Googles of the world in their own organization, they must conquer the principal barrier to customer centricity: fragmentation.

“Organizations should be figuring out how to rationalize consumer sets across brand and then across channels,” says David Williams, CEO at CRM agency Merkle Inc. and author of Connected CRM: Implementing a Data-Driven, Customer-Centric Business Strategy.

Here, Williams explains the rationale for customers as the primary business strategy, what's holding companies back from achieving such a strategy, and what needs to happen to fix the issue.

What does it mean to set the customer strategy as the business strategy?

There really isn't a consumer-facing brand in America that isn't trying to figure out what this means for them. They're all trying to put the customer at the center of the business strategy. The world isn't all about having a product and trying to get people to buy it anymore. It's about finding that group of people that love your brand and figuring out how to engage them properly. Equally important, business today is about finding new sets of customers and finding a new value proposition that will engage them appropriately.

What role does today's digital mandate play in customer and brand interactions?

If we look at the big trends in the marketplace, digital is a massive disruptor to the way brands and consumers engage each other. The driving force of that disruption is the creation of digital assets and how consumers engage with those assets. There are three dimensions to this disruption. The first is the idea that these digital assets are becoming very addressable. A consumer can buy something on Amazon and Amazon can understand the context of who that person was, for instance. The second dimension is social networks at scale. Facebook, Twitter, and the like are well documented. The final dimension is mobility, which is to say that none of these other things are happening only at home on a desktop, they're happening everywhere.

What's keeping businesses from achieving true customer centricity?

Part of the problem is that this conversation is too rational. It makes too much sense. It's not like you meet with CEOs or CMOs who say they don't want to know who their customer is. Nobody is saying that they don't want or need to engage their customers on a one-to-one basis. This rationalization of the issue doesn't allow business to put a lot of rigor into the planning of these strategies, so they take a capability approach from different vendors, but the reality is they can't really operationalize those things because they don't have the proper organizational design. There's not been enough rigor put into the business piece of what economic or competitive advantage this level of engagement is really going to require. How much time investment are we talking about over time? How are we going to change our incentive systems and organizational design to capitalize on these strategies? All of these things are meaningfully underestimated in these conversations.

Do you think the growing options in the automation field are part of the problem?

You're going to need all of that automation, but nine of 10 people who build and spend money on this stuff will take two to three times longer to realize its full value, if they ever do. They aren't thinking about their different organizational structures, the competency of their teams, and the incentive systems of their teams. They aren't thinking of these things early enough.

So the increasingly fragmented tech space may be hurting customer centricity then?

No question. The reality is marketing is buying more tech than at any point in history. In my humble opinion the CIO should be playing a bigger role in helping build out the road maps for how that tech will be managed throughout the enterprise. This connected CRM conversation extends beyond marketing. Most CMOs own the media budget. Once these things go out of the domain of the CMO then you have to integrate with another organization. Most CMOs don't own the Web experience or the commerce experience. These initiatives are ultimately going to have to be lead by a COO, a chief customer officer, or even a CEO to really find success.

DMNotes is DMN's around-the-clock blog. Yes, a blog in 2016.

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