As a marketer, it sounds fairly horrific to find oneself faced with such an onslaught from the market, but I feel there are fundamental reasons that companies get listed on consumer activism sites such as the Greenwashing Index and one specific reason is that companies think they have real relationships with clients, when in fact, they don't.
And here, we must make a distinction - it isn't possible to 'have' a relationship with clients. It is only possible to be in a relationship. Being in a relationship requires an authentic, organic responsiveness to clients that has, until now, eluded most companies. This is largely because companies view a 'customer relationship' as a sum of all transactions rather than a 'sum of all interactions.' In short, customer relationships must exist beyond the sales floor, till points or marketing material and extend to the customer's viewpoint on your supply chain, production mechanisms and of course, corporate governance, to name a few touch points.
So, if customers these days can see right through you and expect to enjoy a more authentic relationship with you - how does the marketing team help companies achieve this?
The first step is to become part of the conversation at all levels of the process. Marketing remains in the outer circle of the organisation and has, until now, relied on commissioned research about clients to provide the insight marketers are expected to offer. But this kind of research has been sidelined in favour of more unmediated, regular information-gathering from clients. It is no longer limited to studying what consumers say they do, but about gathering real-time information on what they actually do - by studying buying cycles; understanding what customers value by studying their purchases or checking out how customers spend loyalty points.
The catch is that unlike research commissioned from traditional research houses, marketing departments do not own this information. Rather it is owned by the IT department or some other area within the organisation - which - through technological interface with clients - is able to gather masses of useful information at various stages of client interaction.
The rise of the 'CIO' is symbolic of the new role of IT - not simply as a support service to the organisation, but as a core strategic driver and 'owner' of the customer. However, all this information still requires interpretation, and if marketing is to reclaim its primary role of 'understanding markets', bridges must be built between the marketing department and the IT department. Likewise, marketing programmes should integrate an additional goal where possible - to gather insights about customers. IT departments can, in conjunction, with the CIO develop joint information-marketing strategies - for example, using tools like Radian6, Meltwater, Shoutlet to listen effectively, track on-line conversations, measure sentiment toward the organisation and manage conversations.
Using data in a smart way is a critical element in building deeper relationships with customers, and in creating competitive advantage, but it remains up to marketing to interpret, provide the insight and even innovate using information distilled from the raw data. Therefore, an alliance between IT and marketing is critical for future success. It is so critical that we might see marketing and IT converge into a single function in areas, in the not-so-distant future. And the ability of marketing people to remain at the helm of this function will depend on whether they can show measurable value to the organisation by delivering new market share through more real relationships.