Well in truth, 2015 will be all about mobile, social and big data. They are all components of delivering contextually relevant customer experience across all the channels, devices and platforms. They are tied inexorably to the continuing evolution of technology and the changing way consumers engage with brands. But technology in and of itself will not deliver the goods. The real big thing for next year will be about getting it all to work, deliver the value promised and producing the outcomes needed by the business for continued success.
Everyone agrees on critical strategic importance of customer experience. They agree that in the always connected, omni-channel world, consumers, both B2C and B2B, are in charge. And virtually everyone I speak to agrees that technology plays a key role in enabling experiences. In fact, one of the runners up for 2015 is “digital is dead.” The distinction between online and offline is quickly fading away. From digital billboards and in-store digital displays to wearables and every possible size and shape of mobile devices, there is a digital element in virtually every touchpoint.
The issue isn’t the technology. In 2014 we saw the beginnings of the marketing cloud wars. Adobe, Oracle, IBM, SAP, SDL and Salesforce.com all launched their versions of an integrated suite of marketing technology products. Even though none of the products had breakthrough advancements in functionality or even usability, they were hailed as the wave of the future. And yes, they probably are.
No matter how good the technology is, no matter how well the various software packages are integrated, the value only comes from how well they’re used. Most professional services groups or system integrators can do a good job of installing the plumbing and in some cases do the basic training; here’s all the knobs and here’s how to turn them. But there’s a big difference between learning how to use a tool and learning what to use it for and why.
That’s what I mean by getting it to work. And this is where companies are having the hardest time. A few weeks ago, I was speaking at an industry lunch on customer experience and was talking to a VP of a major insurance company. She told me that their biggest problem was getting things done inside the company. The problem wasn’t technology or even vision or strategy; it was business process engineering, organizational readiness and the most dreaded buzzword, governance.
She isn’t alone. The debate over how to get the CMO and the CIO to speak the same language fills thousands of articles, posts and conference agendas. The theme of breaking down silos is on everyone’s lips, whether they are data silos, internal organizational silos or P&L silos. Marketing departments are being given incredible new tools to use, marketing leadership has brilliant ideas to win and retain customers and yet, most front line marketers, website producers, email marketing specialists and media buys still operate in their own vacuums, assigned very tactical tasks like making sure the web links are functioning, the right number of email campaigns are launched and the media budget is spent. Their metrics reflect their tasks and in general are disconnected from the impact they may or may not have on the business bottom line.
And just like the need to improve customer experiences, everyone gets the need to think and act more strategically. The problem is they just aren’t sure how to go about doing it. The ROI of billions of dollars of investment in digital marketing and marketing technology is at stake. The CEO and the CFO won’t wait. The stock market won’t wait. It will reward the leaders and take down the laggards. And that’s why the overriding trend for 2015 will be getting it to all work together.