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.

Consulting by Degrees – Middle East & Africa

By Naufal Veqar & Antoine Vetrano, Dubai, U.A.E.

Our Regional Perspective

On November 4th, 2012, the IBM office in Dubai Internet City welcomed the inaugural CbD class for the MEA (Middle East & Africa region), consisting of 30 graduates representing 9 regional offices and hailing from 13 countries. The HR leader for Middle-East & Africa stated that “this program is a fantastic representation of the evolving IBMer of the future and forms the foundation of our professional services culture.” It’s an exciting time to be a CbDer – all around the world, technology and core business functions are converging to transform the space in which individuals, companies, and governments operate. IBM is aiming to place itself at the heart of these intersections.

We would like to commend Ryan Watts and CbD Leadership on their initiative to jump-start a global blog where CbDers can contribute from around the planet on how they are navigating this period their lives. In addition to posting our reflections on client experiences, success stories, and influential IBMers, we will seek to contribute by providing some regional insight and perspective, coloring our content with the character of what is undoubtedly one of the largest and most diverse region of the IBM geographies.

As a frontier region in global markets, the Middle East and Africa region is not always situated to capture the entirety of cutting edge global developments as they happen – however, there is great potential for companies and governments to leapfrog certain legacy technologies and start ‘Smart’ at various core development stages, as Ginni Rometty stressed at the Smarter Leadership Conference in Nairobi, Kenya. This is part of what makes the MEA region extremely dynamic, and full of potential.

Understanding the subtle trade-offs between such needs and desires among current and potential IBM clients in this region requires an experience that is grounded in local knowledge. This is the main reason why IBM has kick started the CbD program for MEA this year with it’s first batch of graduates entering in the final quarter of 2012. It not only serves local needs, but ties in with IBM’s global goals of grooming people into the leaders of tomorrow. As our CbD MEA People Manager notes, “building teams like this from the start helps IBM build a strong future in MEA and eliminates borders” by placing all graduates together in the MEA regional headquarters in Dubai for the first year of the program.

We’re looking forward to building deeper connections with CbDers around the world by sharing our thoughts on this forum. Our hope is that, in doing so, we can help each other navigate the first steps of our careers, and pave the path to a smarter future in consulting as young, global IBMers.

The postings on this site are those of the authors and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.