The last year has seen a focus on customer experience that nobody could see coming.

It’s widely believed that the first few weeks of the pandemic saw a 5-year leap in terms of digital adoption. Already digital-savvy consumers were able to go virtual overnight and others turned to accessing services online that they previously might never have imagined using. In a Wunderman Thompson Technology survey, Experiences Customers Want, conducted in July 2020, some 4 months into the pandemic, 62% of consumers told us that they were using more online services than they had previously. Not a great surprise. However, almost half (46%) told us that they were less forgiving of poor online experiences than pre-COVID.

The survey also revealed that it’s the fundamentals that are often costing brands dearly when it comes to engaging customers online. 37% of consumers called out slow websites as their number one frustration when dealing with brands online, with 33% saying that targeted ads come a close second. 21% of consumers claimed that a slow website is a deal breaker and would stop them interacting with a brand altogether.

To discover where organisations are struggling with the challenge of engaging their customers online in this post-COVID era of increased demand, WT Technology joined forces with Adobe to speak to a group of leading enterprise CIOs at a recent roundtable event. In the spirit of Chatham House, they and their organisations will remain nameless but here are some of the key take outs of what was a fascinating conversation.

E-commerce redefines the competition

A successful Martech strategy underpins and supports the core business strategy, seeking to help solve the most pressing business challenges. For many businesses, these challenges are evolving as the rise in e-commerce redefines the competitive set. Products that may once have been considered the domain of a specialist retailer, for example, are now equally as available as part of a weekly grocery shop. And Amazon will sell you pretty much anything that you want to buy.

So how do specialist retailers maintain their edge when the competitive landscape is shifting? And how do D2C brands compete? In these scenarios, the customer experience is the differentiator and CIOs are collaborating more closely than ever with CMOs to ensure that the customer is the focal point when it comes to Martech strategy.

It all begins with data

Data forms the building blocks of any customer experience. And although organisations across the Martech industry have been talking about a similar set of data challenges for many years, it seems that some of them are no closer to being solved. In fact, the complexities of the data challenge are compounded year on year by new regulations, not least, on the immediate horizon, a future without third-party cookies.

It would appear that for CIOs and CMOs the issue of data silos is still one of the toughest nuts to crack, alongside a fundamental need to bust some myths around certain technology buzzwords being the panacea to all problems. For instance, CDPs potentially offer organisations game changing data capabilities. But unless those capabilities are clearly mapped out alongside an accompanying organisational design strategy, the real benefits of the new technology will not be realised.

Technology vs capability

It’s widely acknowledged that technology implementation does not equate to new capability without a wider focus on the entire Martech platform as a combination of technology, people and process. Our group of CIOs was unanimous in agreeing that collaboration lies at the heart of ensuring that technology implementation actually translates to new capabilities and better, more efficient ways of working.

Projects with shared ownership across business and IT teams, and a clear alignment of goals are more likely to succeed. And a fortnightly joint check-in around sprints to sense check those goals builds in better assurance that technology investments will work hard for the business. Open lines of communication between teams are essential, particularly in the context of rapidly spinning up new Cloud services, to ensure they can be sustained in the longer term.

Another area on which our group of CIOs were in accord was on the importance of finding the right partner to help navigate this translation of technology implementation through to business capability.

Finally, balancing ExCo expectation is a fundamental skill that the modern CIO requires when it comes to seeing technology investment and business capability convert to new revenue. Often the hype around a large tech investment is not measured with an expectation around the business transformation and time required to realise the benefits.

Building a focused roadmap

A Martech roadmap should not be centred around technology. Instead, roadmap conversations should begin with the customer. Questions should centre on the challenges that customers are facing and how the business needs to solve them. Technology comes into focus at the point of asking how the business will deliver on those needs. In order to balance the resource required to affect change, strategic thinking should concentrate on the capabilities that the business will require to get something done. This ensures that technology investment is best placed to make real change happen.

Agile marketing

Closer collaboration between marketing and IT relies on aligning ways of working and historical campaign cycles have not been compatible with agile development methodologies. However, marketing teams are now learning from their IT peers and adopting more agile ways of working to get to market and to results more quickly. With big bang launches being consigned to history more and more, marketing teams are fundamentally changing the way that they go to market with a more iterative approach based on the initial launch of an MVP.

With a more agile mindset, marketing organisations can also reappraise the end-to-end production cycle to orchestrate personalised experiences. There’s more emphasis being placed on content and assets as building blocks to be pulled into a curated experience at the right time and for the right device, creating new challenges to be solved around content and asset management, structure, governance and taxonomy.

Maintaining an innovative edge

With so much constant change required just to maintain BAU, making time for real innovation is hard but essential. Collaborative hackathons can be game changers when it comes to accelerating innovation. With marketers bringing their lens on customer experience to the table and IT adding the platform experience, months of work can be packed into a few days, resolving friction points in the customer journey with some blue-sky code development.

CIO top tips

When asked what tips our CIOs would give to anyone in the Martech space looking to learn from their experience, the advice was pretty clear. Always focus on the customer and the business objectives; build R&D into the day-to-day; choose the right partner to help translate technology investment into capability and finally, collaboration makes all the difference. Listen, learn and constantly evolve was the mantra of the day.

CIO CMO Live Illustration

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