Four Trends That Might Just Make Your CMO Obsolete

Experience marketing trumps brand marketing in reaching the most valuable customers

While this idea may sound apocalyptic, I'd suggest the traditional post of CMO may well be on the way out. Consider British Airways, traditionally a champion of big brand marketing, whose recent top-level marketing restructure has seen the end of the CMO role entirely and its incumbent moved to the new post of director of customer experience.

This shift at such a big brand is emblematic of the thinking among more progressive brands: Customer experience trumps branding in delivering commercial performance.

Here are four markers that indicate these companies might be heading in the right direction.

The end of single-channel marketing

We're seeing the rapid death of single-channel marketing disciplines and a decline in the relevance of those who are responsible for them. The poster child for this trend is the now-antiquated idea of "mobile marketing" as witnessed by the recent demise of mobile agencies Hipcricket and Velti. While it once made sense to have someone in a business responsible for mobile, all of brand, retail, CRM, media, loyalty, e-commerce and customer service need to use mobile as a core part of their repertoire—and most are still failing.

Like mobile, social is a multi-purpose tool, with consumers turning to it for everything from search to customer service. Even physical retail these days is perceived as much a brand experience as a purchasing one. With channels no longer able to determine how we interact with them, the only unifying thread for building brand architecture is the consumer.

The growth of the experience economy

Millennials now comprise 25 percent of the U.S. population and control over $200 billion in spending annually. And it's not just their current spending that brands have an eye on; it's how they represent decades of business value as they mature. With this in mind, dialing into millennial traits is key. Chief among these is how experience trumps things. As well as obvious trends such as the huge growth in spend on festivals, travel and entertainment, there are radical shifts in how products are used and consumed. The rise in sharing services such as Airbnb and Uber are matched by an increase in importance for digital self-service and seamless experience. Slick mobile and online services now frequently rate as the critical factor for millennials in areas such as banking.

The rise of the personal narrative

Pivotal to the experience itself is the need for this generation to align with brands that fuel their own narrative. Brands that help facilitate this "me-styling" can win engagement and loyalty. Two ways of approaching this are Nike's ubiquitous FuelBand shares and Uber's hugely popular stunts such as UberKittens. Each of these offers the user participative benefits, rather than just flat content that can be shared and ignored.

The ascent of advocacy

Any brand that can offer these benefits in experience and personal narrative can ride a rising tide of consumer advocacy. While direct channels such as search and email should not be neglected for direct conversion, 40 percent of younger shoppers find out about new brands from their social networks, and 59 percent rely mostly on their friends family to make decisions.

So there's a clear red line among quality of experience, the consumer's own storytelling and the power of this to influence brand perception and purchase. If that's the goal, then how are brands currently set up to deliver on it? The answer is: rather badly in general. Silos exist across businesses with, in many instances, brand, retail, product and e-commerce having little or no relationship to each other. They have discrete data sources, fragmented technology, different commercial targets and few incentives to work together.

The idea of a central governing chief experience officer is probably the only way to deliver any kind of cohesive vision for how a brand looks, thinks, feels and behaves across the multiplicity of touch points now required to engage consistently with the modern consumer.

Years ago I worked at O2, a major mobile carrier in the U.K. It was a pioneer in appointing a board-level director for customer experience all the way back in 2004, and aligned its brand and operations around a connected customer experience. Over the next five years, the business halved its churn rate and became the leading carrier in terms of retention, from a starting point as the industry's worst.

My only caveat in any headlong rush to restructure is that we don't unlearn large-scale brand building. And there's the rub. Being able to redefine your brand proposition via the fine detail of customer experience while also communicating to a mass market is no easy task. But it's one that the folks at BA and other progressive businesses are brave enough to take on.

Tim Dunn (@timmcdunn) is the director of mobile and strategy at Isobar. 

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