4 Ways CMOs Can Cut Through the Digital Noise to the Insights that Matter

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You may have read recently about how the chief marketing officer role is in peril. While I wish this were not the case, statistics back it up. CMO tenures are the shortest in the C-suite, at an average of 41 months. In the tech space, that number is even lower at 36 months.

In 2020, things didn’t get easier for CMOs as the COVID-19 pandemic forced consumers to conduct more of their interactions digitally. People turned to Instacart and Grubhub for food and groceries. Amazon and Walmart saw their largest-ever online profit. People even stopped going to the doctor for non-emergency visits, shifting to telehealth.

McKinsey reported that the use of ecommerce in the U.S., previously forecast to reach 24% by 2024, increased from 17% adoption to 33% adoption in just two months during 2020. This accelerated transformation has permanently altered customer expectations for their digital experiences.

CMOs and marketing teams are adjusting to this new normal as they dig through piles of customer data to find the insights that’ll help the company succeed. But, as we all know, it’s not always obvious to pick out the signal among the noise.

CMOs need to know why

But one thing is obvious: It’s not enough to just know the WHAT (what customers clicked, what they viewed, what they liked). One way CMOs can be more effective in their position and increase their longevity is to help pinpoint WHY customers behave the way they do.

Why do customers dislike your logo? Why does your product video get lukewarm reviews? If you’re not addressing the root cause, you’re just fixing the surface problems and you’ll have to keep fixing them again and again.

CMOs should be able to answer both parts of this question: What specific elements of the digital experience are turning off customers and why? Ultimately, it’s the CMO’s role to identify the correct set of inputs that will empower the organization to answer those questions and ensure that everyone is aligned to those KPIs, instead of drowning in other data. Those metrics will vary by company, but I can tell you this: clicks, views and other vanity metrics do not provide enough insight. Marketing teams need to probe deeper to understand customers’ behaviors and expectations and deliver an experience that will move the needle to increase conversions.

Keep customers closer

It’s easy for CMOs to become distanced from customers, especially at large companies where layers of marketing staff stand between them and the end user. But the hands-off, big picture CMO role is becoming outdated in a time when customer expectations are elusive and always changing.

To that end, I encourage CMOs to close the distance between themselves and the customer. Make an effort to join customer calls whenever possible to hear unfiltered input firsthand. This is a simple but effective practice that’s often overlooked by executives. I personally like to be on five customer calls per week.

Measure qualitatively and quantitatively

It’s always helpful to hear customer anecdotes (“I’m shopping on your site a lot more these days!”), but be careful not to base your marketing strategy around qualitative data alone.

Qualitative, anecdotal data should be anchored by quantitative data. What are the top five customer criticisms of a brand’s website in order of priority? What percentage of visitors are converting on a landing page and what specifically is it about the copy, page design or offer that convinced them to sign up (or not to)?

When evaluating the user research tools, CMOs should look for a solution that leverages a combination of quantitative and qualitative data to tell a complete story. A customer experience platform like WEVO that uses human-augmented AI to provide powerful insights will make it possible for the marketing organization to uncover the why behind customer behavior. With these insights, CMOs can empower their teams to quickly test and iterate on the digital experience to better meet expectations.

Build a culture of experimentation

I love the section from Nate Silver’s book, The Signal and the Noise, about the fox versus the hedgehog. The hedgehog has one tool that it uses time and time again. The fox is willing to look at different options and assume it doesn’t know the best answer from the get-go. The CMOs of today need to be more fox-like.

Research shows that the fox and hedgehog personality traits are hardwired in people. But I believe people can evolve past old habits. One way CMOs can get out of hedgehog mode is to encourage a culture of experimentation. Google, for example, runs 13,000 tests and experiments per year. CMOs should aim to build an organization that incorporates user research to try new ideas and technologies before they launch and learn from each failure and success.

By establishing a culture that encourages innovation and leveraging customer insights to understand why customers act, CMOs can help their teams keep pace with the changing marketing landscape and deliver the digital experiences their customers expect.

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