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Picture: 123RF/ 116846013
Picture: 123RF/ 116846013

More than half of marketing executives surveyed in an Accenture study of over 1,000 senior marketing executives across industries and countries say they often don’t have sufficient data to understand customers or anticipate their problems. The survey was aimed at learning how marketing is changing and what leaders expect for the future.

“No matter the industry, customer data and insights are vital in helping to deliver meaningful experiences, create strong engagement and achieve customer satisfaction,” says Moagi Bodibe, marketing services and transformation lead for Accenture Song Africa.

Given how critical marketing is to driving direct sales and revenue, why is the necessary data so elusive? “Marketers are stuck in the clutter from the haphazard way organisations have evolved in the digital era,” explains Bodibe. “Layers of technologies and touchpoints have made marketing complex, overwhelming marketers with endless tasks and data black holes. The pressure is on marketers to collect, connect and stay current with customer data to deliver business value.”

Bodibe concedes, however, that the tools, competing priorities and ingrained ways of working make it very difficult to modernise how marketing works. Marketing has changed, and marketing executives need to embrace the new world by investing understanding and by optimising new tools that will grow their organisation’s relevance to the evolving consumer needs.

The Accenture study segmented senior marketing executives into three groups – thrivers, strivers and survivors – based on specific aspects of the way they handle their customer relationships. These included how energised they are to serve changing customer needs, how much more responsible they are for meeting customer needs than they were a year ago, and how close they are to customers in understanding their values and motivations for purchase.

The thrivers have cut the clutter; they have delivered superior revenue growth, profitability and customer satisfaction, and their teams are invigorated. They continually collect data and extract insights and they act on them in a timely way.

The strivers struggle with customer data, don’t have a strategy for managing first-, second- and third-party data, often don’t connect anonymous and known data, and sometimes lose opportunities to derive signals and patterns that drive better experiences. Though they have data from more channels than they did two years ago, there continues to be a data gap, which is a liability and creates a clutter of ineffective marketing activities in its wake. This ultimately results in their brands losing relevance with consumers.

Survivors are marketers who are burned out and the least energised about and close to customers. They are not connected to the pulse of customer change and assume the change is temporary. They are less likely to be energised about servicing customers’ rapidly changing motives. Though they are trying to cope it’s becoming harder and harder to hold onto the status quo and wait for things to get back to normal.

The study found that:

  • Thrivers are over 1.4 times more likely to perform far better in revenue growth and profitability than survivors.
  • Thrivers are over 1.8 times more likely to perform far better in customer satisfaction than survivors.
  • Thrivers are more than twice more likely to perform far better in customer lifetime value than survivors.
  • Thrivers are over 2.5 times more likely to perform far better in customer awareness than survivors.
  • Thrivers are over 2.5 times more likely than survivors to believe that today’s marketing challenges are fundamentally new. 
  • Thrivers are 50% more likely than survivors to have already implemented technologies to conduct social listening and field surveys. 
  • Today, far more thrivers than survivors own customer experience within their organisations, and 74% of thrivers report that their input is highly critical to key business decisions regarding customer experience. Only 46% of survivors say the same. In addition, thrivers know that experience is inextricably linked to differentiation and growth. They are 67% more likely than survivors to provide essential input for corporate growth strategies. 
  • 91% of thrivers frequently collaborate across functions and move talent between groups, compared with 73% of survivors.
  • 95% of thrivers have increased their ability to scale at speed compared with 65% of survivors.

“Most consumers reimagined their values and purpose during the pandemic and expected brands to understand and address the way their needs and objectives have changed during this disruption,” says Bodibe. “Marketers therefore need to get reacquainted with customers by collecting rich data, which privacy-related policy changes are making more complex to obtain.”

Bodibe says thrivers are getting creative about how they collect data, with new loyalty programmes, polls and sweepstakes.

Knowing a customer’s name, e-mail address and purchase history is no longer enough, he says. “The holy grail is ‘golden data’ – hundreds of insights about customers, so marketers can tailor experiences genuinely. No matter what initiative is launching on a channel or in a market, the marketing team should collect, analyse and integrate data to deliver connected, omnichannel customer experiences. In fact, return on data should make the business case for all marketing initiatives.”

Modern marketers, says Bodibe, don’t have to be data scientists, but they do need some data skills.

“Because long-term data management is required to stop the clutter from reappearing once it is under control, this need for skills will influence how chief marketing officers hire and train people. The good news is that learning to ingest, process and share data in marketing can start small, with more straightforward business intelligence tools, and grow over time,” he says.

The big take-out:

Marketers are under pressure to collect and connect customer data and to stay current with it to deliver business value.

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