In the late 90s, Forrester published an article about reorganizing the marketing department away from media channels and toward customer cohorts. I loved the idea then and still do now. Yet it’s been 20 years and many of us are still struggling to put the customer at the center of what we do.
Why is it so important? Because the customer is now in control. They own the purchase process. They can — and will — complete the majority of their purchase process without even talking to you. Which is why in this information-rich, tech-enabled world, successful companies are realigning their marketing, sales, and service teams around the customer.
The Purchase Process
It all changed around 2005. That’s when consumer voices took off online. Social media, ratings and reviews, outspoken employees, and ever-improving third-party content from researchers and analysts changed the paradigm. After all, consumers never really trusted ads. We’ve always been suspicious. (By the way: We don’t trust salespeople, either).
Today’s marketer must focus on giving customers what they want: straightforward, informative, and transparent content that is validated by other customers.
My favorite research on this topic dates to 2012. McKinsey asked 1,408 top global B2B brands what they thought were the most important messages within their brand. Brand managers answered with:
- Sustainability practices
- Social responsibility
- Global reach
Then they asked the same question to the brands’ customers. Those same themes didn’t register at all; instead, the top response was “cares about honest, open dialogue with its customers and society.”
It’s a new day, and if you want to win in this new business environment, you must adapt your strategy — and your marketing team.
Where Do You Begin?
Let’s start with the skills that are critical to success. I like to think about critical marketing skills in two buckets:
- Key skills include customer data, web technologies, and analytics.
- Here, you need great researchers and editors who can produce transparent and compelling real-life stories about your brand.
Together these skills work to answer the marketplace demand for personalized content that builds brand affinity and helps to close sales.
Critical Marketing Skills
This list is not comprehensive. I’m sure some of you can’t live without a strong event planner. But you get the idea: Know your customer, track their behavior, and deliver personalized content where and when they want it.
Unfortunately, building or restructuring a team around these skills can be a big hurdle for many marketing departments. In most large organizations, the first step is centralizing the resources. You may have key skills spread across marketing, IT, corporate communications, and sales, which makes it extremely hard to create and optimize high-quality customer engagement when your key resources are not on the same page.
Once you’ve pried loose those resources (and their budgets), you can begin to craft integrated campaigns. These will continuously improve as you gain more knowledge and insights into your customers and the strategies that drive results for your business.
How Do You Organize These Skill Sets?
There is a good answer to this, and — you already know this — it starts with the customer. Follow these four steps:
- Know your customer (research, brand planning, and data analytics)
- Create messages/content that move them through the purchase cycle (managing editors, writers, designers, and production)
- Deliver your message (ideally personalized) in the right place and at the right time (webmaster, web technologists, and digital strategists)
- Examine the results and optimize (measurement and analytics)
This last step is key — setting benchmarks and measuring your progress against them is essential to your team’s growth and success. Every company’s marketing department will take a slightly different approach to reach its full potential, but by starting with this structure, you’ll lay the foundation for a cohesive and effective marketing team.