The Smarter CMO

By Antoine Vetrano, Dubai

On an oppressively hot afternoon in Dubai, I was sitting in a large ballroom at the Address Hotel, where a collection of great minds at IBM were all focused on the end of an era: the era of “one-size-fits-all.”

The demise of this notion for business leaders and marketers was the intellectual foundation of the Middle East and Africa Smarter Commerce University, where we spent two days in coffee-fueled discussions of the trends that are affecting our clients and their customers in the commercial domain. In the closing moments of the event, one of our leaders at the Strategy & Transformation Center of Competence and one of the primary drivers of the university – presented us with a challenge: to jot down three things we had learned, and three things we would do, as a result of our time spent there together. And so, to avoid the usual practice of acceptance without action, I am going to do exactly that.

I want to focus my takeaways on three emerging trends:

1. The individual consumer is increasingly empowered. They (we!) expect to interact with businesses when, where, and how we want to. In a very short period of time, the standards have been set high for the quantity, quality, and depth of touch-points between business and customers – this means not just accessing eCommerce sites from mobile phones and notebooks, but also making things customizable and providing special offerings based on the location, time of day, and customer preference profile. Loyalties are shifting to those businesses which can best provide this.

2. Value is increasingly added through extrinsic factors. That is to say, the differentiation between companies that thrive and companies that struggle in the future will be their ability not just to provide great products/services (intrinsic factors), but to deliver them in a way that fully takes into consideration the changing nature of the consumer, as described in #1 (extrinsic factors). This will put the advantage in the hands of businesses who own the operational agility and social engagement spaces.
3. There is a widening gulf between the information that is available (broad and unstructured) and the insights that we seek to derive from it (narrow and specific) – this can only be bridged by advanced analytics. We have all seen the numbers: the amount of data created in the last two years is equal to the amount created previously in all of history, and over the course of the next few years, 80% of the data created will be “unstructured”: text, sensor data, audio, video, etc. What happens to all of that data? Some will do nothing with it – at their own risk. The best companies will use it to better understand their customers and run their business proactively. The data doesn’t lie, but you have to ask it the right questions.

Having said that, let’s take some concrete actions.
1. Get even more social. After a speech on social business, one of our very own Managing Partners vowed to spend more time using social tools, saying “if I don’t keep up with these trends, in two years, I will be out of a job”. Our CEO has championed this and is disseminating it through the IBM leadership – in fact, the word ‘social’ was heard 116 times in a recent ‘vlog’ on the topic. A social business is transparent, engaged, and nimble, sharing information openly and candidly with those who need it – both inside and outside of the organization. Getting social means moving your expertise out of the sole repository of your brain and making it accessible to whoever might need it!

2. Think about ‘personas’ instead of ‘market segments’ when you are consulting in customer-facing industries. It will drive you and your client towards embracing what one of our VPs of Marketing calls the “Chief Executive Customer” – this notion of the individual empowered consumer I touched on above. Whereas market segments broadly cover characteristics like “Males aged 18-25”, personas start from the individual level and extrapolate to other individuals with very similar tastes and backgrounds. Typically, a brand will cater to between 9 and 12 very specific personas.

As we were speaking about IBM’s value to the organization in past and current engagements, a senior civil servant in the Dubai government noted that IBM’s approach had allowed him to deliver “the right service to the right customer at the right time”. This perfectly embodies what we can bring to the table with Smarter Commerce, and how we are helping rewrite the story of what it means to be a CMO.

If you’re interested in any of the topics discussed above, feel free to comment.

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