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CMO’s are at the Crossroads of Customer Transactions and Engagement

Part 9 in a series introducing my new book, The End of Business as Usual…this series serves as the book’s prequel.

Digital Darwinism is the evolution of consumer behavior when society and technology evolve faster than the ability to adapt. At the intersection of relevance and obsolescence is the ability to recognize opportunities for change based on shifting consumer behavior and the subtle coalescence between emerging and disruptive technology. Businesses must realize that change is taking place today with or without them. And, to what extent varies from company to company. But without an understanding of how technology and society are evolving and how decisions are influenced and made, businesses are either left to make decisions in the dark or change simply for the sake of change. We all know how difficult, if not nearly impossible, it is to change. We also realize that once we do begin the inevitable process of transformation, the distance between where we are and where we need to be is not expeditious in any sense. In the era of digital Darwinism, the journey toward evolution and revolution is in fact, the destination. It is perpetual.

Many of you know me as someone who has championed social media over the years, going back well before the days of the original Social Media Manifesto. This is a time I must implore you to think different. See, social media is not the catalyst for change, but merely one of its agents. While Facebook and Twitter are often the recipients of accolades for their roles in fueling revolutions, we must remember that they are the networks that facilitate an uprising. However, it is repression, angst, injustice, vision, aspiration and hope that serve as the true stimulus for insurrection and progress. Technology plays a part in transformation and it is up to you to learn how social, mobile, real-time, and all other emerging trends are affecting your industries and markets.

In the world of business, customers are using new technology to share experiences. And, those experiences are either to your benefit or detriment. As Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and Chairman of HDNet, shared, “To be successful in business, you need to see what others don’t.” To that I would also add, “and do what others will not or can’t.”

Through a Telescope, We Bring the World Closer – Through a Microscope, We See What Was Previously Invisible

I used to say, “in brevity, there’s clarity.” While I still believe this to be true, I also see that there’s a delicate balance necessary in understanding what is hype or trending and what is truly disruptive. Therefore we must look forward and at the same time, look closer at what’s taking place right now to analyze true impact. Separating fact from fiction or hype from disruption is now part of our job as our consumers are driving these results based on what they adopt, how they communicate, and how they influence and are influenced in decision making cycles.

To help, IBM reached out to over 1,700 Chief Marketing Officers, spanning 19 industries and 64 countries as part of its annual CMO study. The goal was to learn how consumer behavior and technology are changing business focus, forecasts and decisions. The results are both illuminating and helpful.

So, what’s keeping everyone up at night?

As you can see, big data, social media, the myriad of available consumer channels and devices make up the top three trends leading to corporate insomnia. But beyond those trends, the entire list is fascinating and worthy of study…

1. Data explosion – 71%
2. Social media – 68%
3. Growth of channel and device choices – 65%
4. Shifting consumer demographics – 63%
5. Financial constraints – 59%
6. Decreasing brand loyalty – 57%
7. Growth market opportunities – 56%
8. ROI accountability – 56%
9. Customer collaboration and influence – 56%
10. Privacy considerations – 55%
11. Global outsourcing – 54%
12. Regulatory considerations – 50%
13. Corporate transparency – 47%

If we break out the expected level of complexity and preparedness to handle what lies ahead in terms of emerging vs. disruptive technology, we surface what IBM refers to as the complexity gap…

The new IBM CMO study also reinforces my research and experiences with leading enterprises. Businesses do indeed seek to get closer to customers. To that end, CMO’s believe that there are three key areas for improvement:

1. Deliver value to empowered customers

2. Foster lasting connections

3. Capture value and measure results.

Addressing each of these items unlocks the true essence of the trends that are disrupting businesses today…customers are becoming increasing connected and as a result, they are empowered, influential, and increasingly elusive.

“Customers today have more control and influence with the brand than ever. We need to make sure it’s give and take—a two-sided conversation, with both parties having responsibilities in the interaction.”
– Ann Glover, Chief Marketing Officer, ING Insurance U.S.

Market research has over the years, helped to guide executive decisions. Nowadays however, market research is simply studying the equivalent of a mass audience without surfacing the nuances that define the audience with an audience of audiences. The study found that 75% of CMOs use customer analytics to mine data, but only 42% study customer reviews and only 26% track blogs. What CMO’s are largely missing of course is context and the ability to foster empathetic strategies and supporting protocol.

As we can clearly see, CMO’s are missing the ability to extract and introduce a truly human touch, focusing on markets rather than individuals.

If you take a look at the graph above, it these traditional metrics that drive increasingly ineffective decisions at a time when those very decisions are starting to also work against the company. Customer analytics is at least in the fourth spot, but as you can see, it isn’t until we get down to the 50% mark that personal data factors into strategic decisions. As you’ll notice, the either disregard or underestimation of blogs, even today, edges supply-chain performance data by a mere 1%.

Customer Engagement is not the Same as Conversations

Remember, at the top of the list of priorities of CEOs is getting closer to customers. Yet, looking at this information, it’s clear that the customer and the idea of the true picture of customers are contrasting.  To truly engage, businesses must not only understand customers, but also act. It really is a play on the old saying, actions speak louder than words. But here, actions speak as loud as words and therefore, anything social, requires social action.

When I was writing the new book, I sought out a working definition of the work engagement. It was both unbelievable and also understandable that the results were varied and confusing. I proposed a working definition in the manuscript that explained engagement as the act of a consumer and an organization or brand interacting within the consumer’s network of relevance. Engagement, and here’s the important part, is then measured by the takeaway value, sentiment, and resulting actions following the interaction.

With this definition is mind, we zero in on the discrepancy between how businesses view the customer and how they measure “engagement.”

According to the IBM CMO study, CMOs reveal that data is focused on managing the customer transaction and not the relationship. This is not engagement. And, this is why I believe that any discussion about sCRM is premature at best. As the following data demonstrates, companies are still placing greater emphasis on the “M” and not the “R” or relationship.

“We have to get scientific about the customer experience.”
– Nick Barton, Vice President Sales & Marketing, Greater China, InterContinental Hotel Group

This is the end of business as usual and rather than merely focus on the transaction, businesses must focus on creating a meaningful and shareable customer experience first.  In the above chart, we can see that awareness/education, interest/desire, use/enjoy, and bond/advocate make the list. And, the direct beneficiary of those initiatives is the customer.

Engagement is not just about communication. It’s about creating experiences that mean something, something that’s positive and worth sharing. And, that’s what’s possible today. In fact, if we look beyond transactions and measure results as they define and drive experiences, we can expand our toolbox to include what I refer to as the A.R.T. of disruptive media. How can we best use our customers networks or services of relevance to inspire or spark actions, reactions and transactions. How can we shape experiences and outcomes?

IBM found that at the top of the list of course, is the now infamous quest for what seems like seeking the holy grail without a map, ROI. But there’s hope as customer experience is second on the list. Truly, with the customer experience defined from beginning to end, the other metrics fall into place.

As we said early, actions speak as loudly as words and as CMOs focus their priorities for shifts toward disruptive technology, the customer is at the front and center of corporate transformation.

CMOs have their work cut out for them of course, but at least their hearts and minds seem to be in the right place as we look at 2012 and 2013. Everything comes down to customer relationships and experiences and that’s what will separate today’s CMO strategies from tomorrow’s success stories. To that end, at the top of the list is enhancing customer loyalty and advocacy. Following is designing experiences for tablets and mobile devices. Third, CMOs will use social media as a key engagement (hopefully as defined earlier) channel. Now we’re talking!

“In a corporate setting, instilling an entrepreneurial attitude in our own people is the most important challenge. After all, our people are our best marketing tool.”Vivienne Tan, Executive Vice President, Philippine Airlines


While this post serves as part of a prequel to The End of Business as Usual, I’m starting to see that this series could really serve as its own book. Perhaps it’s a bridge with Engage representing the side of strategy and execution. Either way, I could keep writing and we must draw this chapter to an end. But, before I do, I’d like to take a moment to share a key finding deep within the IBM report.

IBM found that CMOs that use customer data to improve customer experiences are actually outperforming those businesses that do not invest additional effort in fostering customer relationships.  This is the chart that should bring it home for you. This IS what you’re fighting for. This is data to savor as it demonstrates the end of business as usual and the beginning of a new era of relevance. You are the change agent and your organization, your team, your peers, need you now more than ever.

Lead the way!

Order The End of Business as Usual today…

Part 1 – Digital Darwinism, Who’s Next
Part 2 – Social Media’s Impending Flood of Customer Unlikes and Unfollows
Part 3 – Social Media Customer Service is a Failure!
Part 4 – I think we need some time apart, it’s not me, it’s you
Part 5 – We are the 5th P: People
Part 6 – The State of Social Media 2011: Social is the new normal
Part 7 – I like you, but not in that way
Part 8 – Are You Building a Social Brand or a Social Business?

30 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “CMO’s are at the Crossroads of Customer Transactions and Engagement”

  1. very interesting post! thank you for sharing!

  2. Arantxa Ros says:

    Thank you for putting the right words into those concepts and facts I can clearly see in my mind but I’m unable to express.
    I feel much better my thoughts are not strange ideas in my head.
    I’m specially keen on the fact that  customer engagement is not the same than conversations and I obviously support
    Vivienne Tan’s view. 

  3. Kpar says:


    Your new book is right on …and thanks.

    A few questions:

    In your travels/conversations in speaking to CMO types –
    have you come across any senior managers that are genuinely enthusiastic?  Please
    be honest. I think it was Peter Senge, a thought leader of yesterday who stated
    something like “ complexity undermines confidence”.  Do you really think this stuff is really that
    complex or is it just big companies adversity to embracing what they perceive
    as risk? I’m not sure education up the ladder works either. My experience in
    dealing with CMO types is usually they will jump in second. Something like the –
    earliest Christians get the hungriest lions… you know.  But seriously have you met a handful of real
    enthusiasts? I’m please to see that I.B.M. has done a survey – but gosh these
    guys missed the PC and client server stuff altogether.

    In my humble opinion smaller to mid- sized companies should
    be more excited and revved up to go. I love your term digital Darwinism…although
    I’m thinking we can’t accelerate the evolution of social techniques when it
    comes to the Fortune 500 dinosaur types companies.  And besides the meteor (the financial crisis)
    has already sent them scrambling. Maybe better to run between the toes of the raptors
    and engage with the next generation of social dominators that get it. Otherwise the
    long slog forward with the big guys will be frustrating. Didn’t you say you’ve
    been pushing this phenomenon since 07?

    Don’t want to sound negative at all  – there’s so much potential to make a difference
    and dare I say do some real good.  Am I
    way off here?

    • briansolis says:

      Thanks you for the thoughtful comment. I started an agency in February of 1999 that attempted to solve these problems. Needless to say the demand then was nothing like today. To honestly answer your question, yes, there are some CMOs that are genuinely excited about this opportunity (with all of the complexities) and are fighting for change within to earn relevance outside. Hope Frank of Webtrends and Evan Greene with the Grammies are two CMOs that are blazing the trail. Danna Vetter at ARAMARK is also pushing boundaries through her great work. But, it’s not just because of social media. And note, it’s not because they’re CMOs. They see the changing landscape for their consumers. They can put their finger on its impact. They are change agents in addition to CMOs.

    • Kpar says:

      Thanks – Good to know some higher ups are truly walking the walk!

  4. Thanks for putting together this series and sharing it with everyone! It’s very insightful and useful information!

  5. Ivan Hamilton says:

    There’s no substitute for face-to-face meetings … The forum where a meaningful shared understanding is derived.

    • Kpar says:

      for a number of reasons face to face is almost a thing of the past – except in some metro areas where one can justify the uptown downtown commute…i agree with ya and miss the those days….

  6. Measuring & understanding data is SO important, expect baseball-like “sabermetrics” to be developed around the social consumer.

  7. This is a good article and offer some helpful information for me,thank you!

  8. Birdspc says:

    article very interesting and detailed, thanks for sharing this information

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