Bridging the Gap Between Marketing and Customer Experience


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I originally wrote today’s post for GetFeedback. This is an updated version of that article from July 2020.

What customers are seeing and experiencing vs. what brands are saying can often be in conflict. The gap between Marketing and Customer Experience (CX) teams is largely responsible for that. In this article, I’ll pose some concepts to discuss to help bridge that gap and get everyone working together for the benefit of the customer – and, ultimately, the business.

In a 2016 Marketo study, 86% of CMOs and Marketing executives believed they would own the end-to-end customer experience by 2020. Well, 2020 has come and gone, and we know that this didn’t happen; as a matter of fact, we know that there continues to be a gap between these two groups within the organization.  

What is Marketing?

According to the American Marketing Association, “marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” In simple terms, it is the action or business process of promoting and selling products or services, of creating exchange relationships.

In other words, traditionally, Marketing’s function has been to do what it takes to attract and to acquire customers; it’s never been about retention. Unfortunately, when brands focus more heavily on doing what it takes to bring new customers in the door, e.g., discounts, promotions, freebies, etc., they do different things and do things differently than when they focus on what it takes to keep the customer.

In the dynamic landscape of business today, the concept of marketing has evolved beyond traditional advertising strategies and product-centric approaches. Today, successful marketing revolves around the paramount importance of customer experience. As consumers become increasingly discerning and empowered, businesses have to adapt their marketing tactics to prioritize the delivery of exceptional experiences. In this era of customer experience, companies must understand, anticipate, and fulfill the needs and desires of their clientele to thrive in a competitive market.

The Four P Concept Evolved

In the past, that work has been all about the 4Ps, i.e., product, price, place, and promotion. But marketing has evolved, and the Ps have evolved, as well, to include:

  • People (employees, customers, vendors)
  • Partnerships
  • Promise
  • Purpose
  • Packaging
  • Positioning
  • Platform
  • Process
  • Physical evidence (touchpoints)
  • Productivity (efficiency and quality)
  • Planning
  • Presentation
  • Passion
  • Perception

Peter Drucker defined marketing as “knowing and understanding the customer so well that the product or service fits him… and sells itself.” Knowing and understanding customers is not one of the 4Ps. So, you see, the Ps had to evolve. You can’t market your product without focusing on the people, the brand promise, and all of the other Ps in this list. What this list adds up to, ultimately, is all about the experience. Which means the natural progression for marketers is to work more closely with the CCO and the CX team to deliver a better experience from the moment the customer has a need and becomes aware of the brand!

Concepts to Help Bridge the Gap

There are nine concepts to discuss to help you bridge the gap between these two teams and get them working together toward a common cause, a better experience for the customer.

1. Culture is the foundation

The only way to ensure that the entire organization can truly work together is to develop a customer-centric culture. Your culture is the foundation of the organization and is a combination of what you design and what you allow. By definition, a customer-centric culture is a collaborative culture. It is deliberately designed to be customer-centric; there must be a commitment from the top, from the entire C-suite, to put the customer at the heart of the business, to always operate with the customer’s best interests in mind. You can see how, with this type of culture in place, there’s no room for warring factions or disconnected departments within an organization.

2. Customer understanding is the cornerstone

To ensure you always put the customer’s best interests at the heart of how you run the business, you’ve got to do the work to understand customers – and then bring that work into all you do. There are three ways to achieve that understanding: listening (feedback and data), characterizing (personas), and empathizing (journey maps). Customer understanding work is mainly done by the CX team, although Marketing typically develops personas; however, these personas need to be upgraded from buyer personas (demographics, what they buy, why they buy, brand preferences) to customer personas (needs, expectations, pain points, problems to solve, jobs to be done) so that you truly understand who you’re selling to. (Not only that, but you also design products and services that solve problems for them.) Think about how much more effective the marketing message would be – and how much more value would be delivered for the customer – if these two groups worked together!

3. Socialize and operationalize insights

It’s not enough to just do the work to understand customers (aka collecting and analyzing feedback); you have to do something with what you’ve learned. You need to socialize and operationalize the data and insights.

With access to those insights, the Marketing team can ensure that communications and messaging hit the right people at the right time, that advertising is relevant and timely, and that content is personalized to the individual customer. 

Consider the scenario of a financial institution that surveys its customers about their satisfaction with the banking experience, including its various products. You’re a customer of a bank, and you use four of the bank’s products, i.e., checking, savings, and two different credit cards. You constantly receive offers from the bank to sign up for one of its credit cards – one that you already have; this frustrates you to no end. (“Don’t they know that I’m a customer?!”) You let the bank know as much in your survey response. The feedback is analyzed by the CX team, and it’s discovered that this problem is pervasive. This data is passed on to the Marketing team, which then identifies the root cause to be a breakdown in the process to clean addresses against the existing customer database. The cost savings in data processing, printing, and postage fees is phenomenal. And the impact on customer satisfaction is appreciable.

The onus is on the CX team to ensure that not only the feedback but also the insights are dispersed out into the organization to be acted upon. This can be done through developing and giving access to role-based dashboards in your VOC platform, telling customer stories (not just charts and data) in team or department meetings, getting on the agenda of your executive team staff meeting, sharing customer feedback and interviews on monitors throughout the organization, or creating a customer room where “all things customer” can be found.

4. People before products

Product is one of the original 4Ps, but without doing the work to really understand customers – their needs, pain points, problems to solve, jobs to be done – how can you design and then sell the product? You’ve got to design products for customers, not find customers for your products. I wrote about this in more detail in another article that addresses the gap between Product and CX. Marketing works closely with Product, so it’s important that both teams are equipped with the right data and insights to design and develop products that solve customer problems.

5. Retention over acquisition

Without a doubt, companies need to acquire customers in order to grow; but when that growth is driven by erroneous, lopsided thinking, then it’s tainted. Clearly, in order to grow, companies must bring in new customers (that they’ll then need to retain going forward.) The fastest way to grow, and the quickest way to boost short-term revenue, is to win more customers. In addition, focusing on acquisition solves another “problem” that can be a little messier with retention: the ROI is fast and measurable, and CEOs love to report to their shareholders that the business is thriving because their customer base grew by X%.

The problem, though, is that acquisition costs get more expensive as retention numbers decline. Companies must acquire more customers to fill that leaky bucket. Without customers to retain, acquisition costs continue to increase. Brands can really only fix the retention problem by focusing on delivering the best customer experience. And when that happens, acquisition costs can go down because existing customers will help drive acquisition through word-of-mouth referrals.

6. Experiences over marketing

Experiences are more powerful, more memorable, and more trusted than marketing. How do we know that?

  • 92% of shoppers now read customer feedback as part of their decision-making process, according to Trustpilot.
  • 70% of U.S. adults trust recommendations from others far more than statements from brands, according to Forrester.

Customer experience is marketing without marketing. It makes your job a lot easier! Turn customers into repeat customers and into an extended salesforce. Get the experience right, turn your customers into advocates. Let the experience do the work for you, and then your customers will do the work for you.

7. Brand promise delivered

Following on to the points made in #6, trust is earned over time, through consistency, through consistent experiences. When you consistently deliver on your brand promise, you will earn customer trust. When Marketing sets the brand promise, but the experience doesn’t deliver, the promise is broken, and trust is lost. Unfortunately, there is a large gap between what customers expect and what the brand delivers. Accordingly, these two teams must work together to ensure that the promise isn’t just about “selling the dream” and that the promise is delivered. Conducting training for employees that combines that brand promise with customer insights and understanding – and how to deliver a great experience – will go a long way toward building relationships, earning customer trust, and building brand loyalty.

8. Customers as humans

Marketers like to talk about customers being demanding, in control, in charge, owning the experience, holding the power, etc. Worse yet, businesses often only view them as account numbers or as transactions. But here’s the thing: there is a relationship; it’s just that no one owns the relationship. It has to be viewed as a string of human-to-human interactions. What customers really want is a participative relationship, co-creating with brands to ensure that their problems are solved. Refer back to #2 about customer understanding. When CX and Marketing work together to understand – and to co-create with – customers, the outcome is better for everyone.

9. CIO partnership

Technology is key to socializing and operationalizing your customer feedback and other learnings gleaned through your understanding work. There can’t be a conversation about Marketing and Customer Experience without including mention of the CIO, data, and technology. If there’s to be a shift in focus from acquisition to the entire customer journey, data and technology will play a huge part. Knowing the customer, generating that single view of the customer, and being able to deliver a personalized and simplified experience throughout the entire lifecycle is the direction the Marketing/CX partnership must take going forward. And they will need the help of the CIO.

Based on the business requirements, it’s up to the CIO to innovate, to identify data sources and how to best utilize them, and to determine what new technology will be required to make the shift a reality; however, the result to date has been more time spent innovating to bring on new customers than to service existing ones – exacerbating the disconnect between the top of the funnel and the overall customer experience.

Unfortunately, the CIO has historically had difficulty keeping pace with the rapid innovation and acquisition of both martech and CXtech platforms while continuing to maintain and support – and attempt to modernize – numerous and disparate legacy systems, which have been the necessary and primary source for attempted customer retention initiatives. The outdated legacy technology of yesterday does not allow for seamless, personalized, know-the-customer-at-every-touchpoint omnichannel experiences. Systems aren’t integrated and don’t talk to each other, ultimately rendering the data contained within useless and not actionable.

Fortunately, as enterprise-wide feedback platforms along with customer-nurturing technology have become more advanced (and with the addition of artificial intelligence to these platforms), there’s been a more-intense focus on developing an overall customer engagement strategy that moves away from legacy systems toward building the technology platforms of the future. These platforms will help to deliver a more-targeted, personalized customer experience.

This new technology allows marketers to measure and track results more easily, thereby solving the old dilemma of only being able to track ROI for top-of-the-funnel marketing campaigns; today, marketers have the tools at their fingertips to message, measure, and track ROI along the entire customer lifecycle. A partnership with the CX team only enriches their ability to deliver on the aforementioned brand promise.

In Closing

This last point (#9) is an important one to close out on because data and technology support and facilitate the delivery of customer experiences. With the emergence and importance of artificial intelligence in your toolboxes, this concept is that much more critical to discuss. Marketing does some of their own research, and CX carries out a lot of the customer understanding work. Between that and the bread crumbs of data customers leave behind, there’s a lot of data from which to design and orchestrate customer journeys. If the two teams collaborated, there would be less overlap, less fatigue on the part of the customer, and more shared insights to design and deliver a great end-to-end experience.

Marketing in the era of customer experience also requires a shift in mindset from transactional to relationships. By placing the customer at the center of their strategies, businesses create memorable experiences that foster loyalty, advocacy, and sustainable growth. In an increasingly competitive marketplace, investing in the delivery of exceptional customer experiences is not only a strategic imperative but also a moral obligation to uphold the trust and confidence of consumers.

Bridging the gap between Marketing and Customer Experience is critical to that. Companies have been pouring disproportionate resources – human, time, effort, capital – into the top of the funnel, on attracting and acquiring new customers, while retention efforts have often gotten little more than loyalty programs and discount offers. Imagine what a closer partnership between Marketing and CX teams could truly mean for customers (and their end-to-end experiences) – and for the business!

Let the discussions around these concepts help bring these two teams together in your organization. In the next week or two, I’ll offer up some conversation starters to help bridge the gap, too.

Marketing is not the art of finding clever ways to dispose of what you make. It is the art of creating genuine customer value. ~ Philip Kotler

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Annette Franz
Annette Franz is founder and Chief Experience Officer of CX Journey Inc. She is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, consultant, and speaker. She has 25+ years of experience in helping companies understand their employees and customers in order to identify what makes for a great experience and what drives retention, satisfaction, and engagement. She's sharing this knowledge and experience in her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the "Customer" in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business).


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