At Gartner’s Marketing Symposium, Setting the Bar for Customer Centricity

Gartner’s Marketing Xpo in San Diego was ready for marketers this year. With nearly two thousand marketers descending on the Marriott Marina, and a significant number of them first-time attendees, the place was a hotbed of not just the usual buzzwords, but the latest data that points to the consumer’s wants and needs. Armed with a consistent message, an ample venue in San Diego, and supported by rigorous data analysis, the message was somber, but not without hope or solutions.

Gartner turned the tables on marketers, putting them in customers’ shoes. Usually, it’s the marketers who are controlling the message, strategically placing solutions in front of the customer, trying to guide them through the buyer journey. That process was turned on its head this year. As the tide of conference goers surged and ebbed upstairs, downstairs stood a number of booths from major marketing technology companies like Oracle and Adobe, and up-and-coming disrupters like Dynamic Yield. You could say that the subliminal message was loud and clear: we’re showing you how to deliver to consumers. Now, go and replicate this experience with your customer base. And here are the vendors who can help.

Gartner’s keynote speaker, Distinguished VP Brent Adamson, began his speech on a relatively sour note: according to most of U.S. history, recessions occur once every ten years. The last time America was in a recession was in 2009…meaning we are about due for another one. That means that more than ever, the onus is on marketers to deliver not just their best estimation of a customer’s behavior. They must deliver the customer loyalty and revenue that keeps a business not just at status quo, but can also buoy a company in an economic downtown. The key is focusing — obsessing, even — over what consumers want, and making it easy to get it to them.

So what do customers want? Well, for starters, they’re anxious. With roiling politics, a potentially bleak economic future ahead, and a third of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, the average American consumer’s emotional baseline is stress and anxiety. Pair that feeling with more purchasing options than ever, Adamson showed in dramatic bar charts that customers want to helped, more so than wanting to be known. Sending an email with a personalized email subject line or a happy birthday coupon isn’t going to cut it. Such lukewarm attempts at connection were termed “faux intimacy” and don’t resonate with the consumer nearly as much as being taken by the hand and led to an experience that makes them feel calm, relaxed, and removes a weight from their shoulders.

I spoke to Pini Yakuel, founder and CEO of Optimove, a customer data platform conceived with the aim of equipping marketers with even more granular data as it appears in real time. Optimove says it does more than just claim to take a 360-degree view of the customer; it takes it one step further with Optibot. Optibot scours the marketer’s landscape, retrieving the most recent and relevant data from campaigns and suggests either continuing or discontinuing campaigns based on preliminary success rates. The idea for this sprouted from Yakouel’s passion for science and experimentation, and finding a way to make that process automatic for marketers.

“When we started [Optimove] from day one, this notion of focusing on incremental dollars that you drive is extremely important to [us]…” He continued, “To productize a [scientific] process  that does that systematically every time without the marketer having to sweat for it, is something that we did very early on.”

Patrick Tripp, VP of Product Strategy at Redpoint Global echoed similar sentiments of easing the burden on marketers in a brief sit-down with DMN. “It’s not about eliminating the marketer’s job as Brent joked about in the keynote,” Tripp said in reference to arming today’s marketer with digital tools. “It’s about making marketers’ lives more focused on strategy, more focused on content, and less on the tactical decisioning.”

My impression from the conversations I had was that marketers are eager to try out the new data capabilities that CDPs provide, and may even be open to merging their roles with more quant-heavy components. Whether it is hiring data scientists, or learning more aspects of data analytics, no doubt marketers will have to heavily incorporate data into decision making, because it will provide the source of truth about customers’ wishes.

The point, it seems, is that marketers need to be able to use data to deliver the same level of comfort and consistency that spans across the entire customer journey, whether it be on a mobile app, website, phone call or an email. We may not yet be at the place where AI can anticipate needs and deliver them, but that’s where the marketer comes in. Technology will always play second fiddle to human intuition and empathy. But pairing those two together may be the key to customer loyalty and retention.

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