Every year, Gartner publishes a set of marketing predictions based on our research, data gathered, and observations through the year. These predictions can be wide-ranging – even sometimes in opposition – and give Gartner clients an intimate view into the trends our analysts and advisors discern through hundreds of client conversations.
This year, a surprising theme emerged. Gartner analysts and advisors were left asking: “Has data killed customer-centricity?”
Marketers, more than ever, are focused on gathering and using customer data to personalize the messages they send. Marketers are investing in AI, new martech or CRM that promise to bring all those data sets together, even in new kinds of marketers who seem to have the research chops to synthesize data into new views of the customer.
It seems these efforts are bearing bitter fruit. Consumer trust across a range of entities (even trust in family and friends) has fallen in recent years. Customers are more prone to use ad-blocking software. Some of the technologies marketers are poised to invest in could potentially backfire or be misused. And gathering yet more customer data can be risky on its own: Gartner analyst Charles Golvin suggests that in 2023, one-third of all brand public relations disasters will result from data ethics failures.
In short, marketers may be seeking client centricity and personalization, but the more strides marketing makes in that direction, the more customers appear to be resisting it. And for some brands, it may seem the risks of gathering and using more customer data outweigh the rewards.
Retrench, Revise, Redefine
Certainly, navigating perilous data terrains will require marketers to rethink what data they collect and how they store it. Predicts 2020 makes frequent reference to ethical data storage and informed collection of data: adopting and adjusting consent and preference management platforms to allow customers transparency and control over their data.
Gathering data ethically and storing it safely are imperatives! But there’s also an opportunity for marketers to rethink why they gather data, and what they use it for. Indeed, as technologies continue to rapidly evolve, and as more and more data becomes available for marketers to harvest, rethinking data application, revising data collection guidelines, and redefining the goals of data collection and usage will be essential.
Risks vs. Rewards
I once heard a CMO of a large software company say that when her team approaches her with a proposed addition to their martech stack, she asks “why is this investment worth fragmenting the customer experience?” What do we gain from this that would be worth the potential harm?
Being forced to clearly articulate the goals of technology investments and their potential negative impact helps the team keep the customer squarely at the center of their decision-making, rather than the outskirts. They’re less likely to be lead astray by vendor promises of “better” (better what? in what way? for whom?) into making investments that backfire. Taking a customer-centered perspective means the team often finds themselves redefining what kind of solution will serve their customer, rather than trying to force-fit the solution backwards into a customer (or marketer) need.
Marketers who are crystal clear on the customer-centered goals they’re seeking to accomplish will have a better path forward for determining which technologies to adopt, what data to collect, and how to apply it.
Don’t Use A Sledgehammer to Crack a Nut
One of the predictions I co-authored this year focuses on the application of Artificial Emotional Intelligence (AEI) to marketing activities. On the face, the risks of AEI seem clear: consumer distrust or outright rejection, data mishandling, algorithms applied with prejudice or applied in such a way as to take advantage of consumers in vulnerable states.
And marketers who invest in AEI solutions without taking a customer-centered approach will run the risks of eventually using AEI in precisely that way, taking the most forceful application because it seems the most obvious. When all you have is a sledgehammer, everything looks like a shattered nut.
But what if, instead of using AEI to target a specific message to a specific person at a specific time, marketers used it to help them avoid sending the wrong message at the wrong time (e.g. an ill-timed message to a person in grief)? Or what if, instead of using AEI to drive 1:1 personalization, marketers used it during VOC initiatives to better assess reactions to ad copy, soundtrack, visuals – and then applied those learnings to mass media advertising? What if it was used to determine whether people – specific demographics, geographies, target markets – experience happiness or stress at certain times in the year, or during certain portions of the research journey, indicating the need for a different advertising or CX approach? AEI applications should be determined by marketer goals, not the other way ’round.
Customer-Centricity Isn’t the Goal, It’s the Moral Center
Let’s be clear: whether you use AEI or not (other Predicts this year examine shifts in influencer marketing strategies as a response to declining levels of consumer trust, a “back to basics” approach to personalization engines and technologies, investments in qual and quant data helmed by ethnographers or behavioral scientists), the rapidly changing marketing landscape requires not just careful navigation, but a deliberate, concerted marketing commitment to make customer centricity not just a goal, but the moral center of marketing activity.
Customer-centricity means asking ourselves not, how do we get the customer to do XYZ, but rather what does the customer need or want to do and how do we help them? And it means being really honest with ourselves about the answers to that question. Don’t fool yourself by saying the customer wants a trusted advisor when the truth is that you want them to consume more of your content. Do the work. Ask the right questions. Listen to the responses you get – in customers’ own words. Pressure-test and verify, but don’t dismiss what you hear simply because it’s inconvenient or unexpected.
A Final Question
Gartner Predicts asks a lot of questions. What do we do with machines that can read our minds? How do we reach a mistrustful populace? What new skillsets help us synthesize customer data better? How much should we invest in personalization?
I propose asking just one more. In the tradition of a very wise CMO: “What makes this [investment/ technology/ platform/ tactic] worth fragmenting the customer experience?”
Read the full Gartner Predicts 2020: Marketers, They’re Just Not That Into You here, and join us January 29 at 11:00 EST for a panel webinar discussion on this year’s predictions and what they mean for marketing teams. Or reach out to one of our analysts and advisors for a 1:1 conversation!