The UK CEO for Google recently gave a talk in London about the state of marketing today, which he termed the 'acceleration of everything'. I don't think there is a better phrase to describe the shift into the digital era. Even as marketers scramble to familiarise themselves with the new tools and terminologies and user expectations, the goal posts move. By the time best practices are well known they are no longer best practices. We are at the base of the hockey stick in terms of innovation and, on the people side, the generation gap may shrink to a year or two : I will find it as difficult to relate to people two years younger than me as my parents do to me when I try to explain Twitter to them.
But what is it about marketing that has accelerated so much? I think it is simply the move towards genuine customer-centricity. Digital tools, and the behavioural revolution they unleashed, have made it imperative to centre everything an organisation does on its customers. And that does not mean placing a pretty poster about 'customers first' in your office. It means reengineering the structure of your company to open up conversation with - and incorporate feedback from - your customers. They are your directors and demand to be listened to.
This means that research is not a once-off event. Your customers are talking about you all the time, and if you only listen in once a year, you're missing all those valuable, potentially game-changing ideas they may be having.
Listening in all the time means that marketing needs real intelligence to maximise these relationships. There is a constant downpour of conversations, live data and usage analytics. The role and skills required of marketing are expanding to include flexibility, fantastic interdepartmental and interpersonal skills and formidable intelligence to be able to make sound strategic decisions quickly and often, to adapt and learn based on relevant, insightful take-outs from the feedback, and to advise the rest of the organisation on customer-led innovation.
True customer-centricity means getting rid of organisational structures that suit you and not your customers. They don't care what department you're from. Digital tools have enabled customers to be more demanding, vocal and powerful. They are not interested in why you can't do something, only that it gets done. And they expect the brands they interact with to treat them with respect, to tell them only what is relevant to them and will interest them. That requires centralised customer information that informs how your brand behaves at every touchpoint with that customer. I still cannot fathom, for example, why my bank's credit card division can't help me with my current account. Their internal complexity just irritates me. And an irritated customer is never a customer for very long.
These same customers, with their digital broadcasting tools and their expanded expectations and demands, are entering the workforce. In a blurring world of convergence, the accelerating focus on the customer also means focusing more on your employees. The distinction between marketing to your customers and marketing to your employees is becoming artificial, as is the distinction between HR and PR. How you treat your employees will be tweeted about and contribute to the reputation of your brand and business, online and off. So how do you engage your people and encourage them to love you? Open up genuine dialogue, listen to them, do things more the way they want them done. Everyone in your organisation now has a voice that every customer can hear, so ensuring they love you will greatly increase the chances that your customers do too. A timeless lesson to hold onto in the acceleration of everything is that winning in the digital era means first and foremost winning with people.
(As published on Marketing Mix March 2011)