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The CMO’s data imperative

Trust and truth-telling for lifetime customer value

How marketing leaders can create lifelong customers by understanding, trusting, and making business decisions based on data.

The deluge of data

Imagine a job where the workload doubles every four years. Sounds like a setup for failure. Yet, the volume of data cranked out by servers and devices worldwide increases at roughly the same rate. For CMOs, this deluge has created a crisis of information inundation. Organizations struggle to know which data is available, correct, and important. Once they understand this, there’s often a lack of enterprise systems to capture, process, and visualize this data to drive true omnichannel engagement and acquire and retain the next generation of customers.

The availability of reliable data can be key to customer priorities such as the development of trusting relationships. Many marketers will tell you they’ve had to shift from making general assumptions about a segment or perceived persona to more personalized targeting and engagement methods. Increasingly, they’re having to arm themselves with unique, predictive knowledge about customers’ needs, identify moments of opportunity to deliver delight and differentiation, and listen for customer cues beyond how they respond to an engagement.

This knowledge often comes in the form of new data that previously was not combined, such as digital customer information to be used in a marketing campaign and later translated to an informational webinar. Marketers may not understand how to use this information in these discrete contexts or why it should even be examined collectively in the first place, and therefore, it may not be fully trusted.

As a result, there’s a puzzling dynamic: Marketers feel confident they’re largely following best practices around data acquisition and handling, but often can’t track down and access data in channels where they historically haven’t had access. According to research from The CMO Survey, marketers believe they’re most transparent with their customers about data collection and data usage. That’s especially important when things go awry: Customers who recognize transparency are 2.8 times more likely to continue purchasing from a brand after a data breach has occurred.

Yet, while marketers believe they are being transparent about data collection methods, 55% of marketers say their biggest challenge is finding the right data or aggregating the right information to have a clear view of their customers. For marketers, it’s that perception that they’re being transparent when capturing information that conflicts with the reality that they don’t know what is there, how it got there, or what to trust (or not). The result is often like the old game of telephone: Different visions of the truth emerge from discrete areas of the same organization.

Trustworthy data is a pillar of successful marketing, and when this is elusive, it may undermine an organization’s ability to tell a story and create lifetime value. For instance, if C-suite leaders view IT as a commodity rather than a specialization, functions across the business might seek out technical assistance on their own for a project or initiative, (for example, “shadow IT” operations set up based on a perception that the broader organization doesn’t produce or invest in IT). While it may help one function, it may hurt the broader organization, as departments generate conflict by seeking out applications they believe IT couldn’t or wouldn’t provide.

In turn, this can lead to half-truths. In more serious circumstances, it creates operations challenges, such as deciding who will make decisions, take accountability, or create feedback mechanisms to make changes in a nimbler fashion.

At worst, trust in data erodes.


Building trust in experience data

So how can marketers combat territorial instincts, enhance their view and influence across the broader organization, and improve the customer experience? First, they should be data storytellers. By taking their customer insights (and the data supporting these insights) to other business leaders, they can educate their executive peers about the financial impact of experience data and lifetime value on business profitability; new ways to use this undervalued data source; experience data; how data can drive different ways of working and engagement; how to transmit what is needed from the organization’s perspective to understand customer needs and expectations; and finally, how to make those data-driven insights a competitive differentiator. As a practical concern, this means translating customer data findings into the language and storylines of other senior leaders. For instance, a CFO might respond differently when discussing “acquisition” compared with “awareness.” The goal for the CMO is to become a partner who can influence decisions across the enterprise.

As expert data storytellers, marketers and CMOs also should be obsessed with data availability. Just as any good storyteller makes the environment and details of their stories real and available to audiences, CMOs have to be equally obsessed with making the right data equally available to all that want to use it to drive action and insights. This means focusing keenly on data transparency and pushing to get customer data in the hands of peers so they can better understand customer data, make better customer decisions, and, ultimately, drive lifetime value.

Finally, CMOs should be focused on operationalizing and scaling experience and lifetime value data through closed-loop systems and an outcomes-driven culture. Operationalizing outcomes means a mindset and skill shift for CMOs, who now need to think like creative operators by adopting an operations and execution mentality to complement their creative marketing capabilities. On the operations side, that means focusing on metrics that reinforce data availability and accuracy, investing in automation and machine learning tools to enable scale and better visualization, and removing operational roadblocks to change and execution. While these are not always skills CMOs are ultra-passionate about, they are critical for creating an experience and lifetime-value-driven culture. CMOs should look to leverage an operations partner or experienced COO to guide the execution of their experience strategy.


Creating a closed-loop system built on lifetime value

If the goal is moving from half-truths and different views of the truth to trust, the steps listed above can help CMOs can assess their organization’s understanding of and trust in data that’s likely to build business value while doubling down on the marketing basics that elevate the customer experience and drive increased lifetime value.

By restoring trust in data and building systems that allow the whole organization to access and make decisions based on it, marketers can help their organizations obtain a true understanding of lifetime value.

Achieving a clear view of data that’s clean, actionable, and complete is closer than we think. To create lifelong customers, it’s all about the data: understanding it, trusting it, and making business decisions based on it.