Image via Brian Solis

If you ask a chief marketing officer what keeps them up at night, the answers will reveal assorted glimpses of what essentially represents the future of marketing and business.

In my new book, “What’s the Future of Business,” I shared insights from IBM’s Global CMO study, which literally asked CMOs what keeps them up at night. The study revealed that the answers were more or less everything.

At the top of the list, at 71%, was Big Data, which included capturing and making sense of it. Not far behind, at 68%, was social media of course. And in third at 65% was the increasing array of screens, devices, and channels to reach customers. But numbers aside, an important pattern emerges when you review the entire list in aggregate.

It’s clear that CMOs are exploring technology as a way to stay in front of customers of course. There are also overtones of combating brand irrelevance while exploring new ways to do business with a new generation of connected customers.

I want to believe that CMOs are exploring new customer-centric technologies and philosophies because it’s the right thing to do. After all, customer centricity has long been an aspiration of business leaders, with getting closer to customers representing a stated business objective. But in face of connected consumerism, what’s keeping CMOs awake at night may have to do more with survival than leadership.

Better great than never

As customers become more connected, they become more informed. As customers become more informed, research indicates that they become to a greater extent empowered. As a result, your customers become increasingly demanding. All of this plays out of course across a myriad of devices, screens and networks where the touchpoints you invest in may or may not map to the behaviors and expectations of digital decision-making. The solution is partly tied to technology. Resolution, though, lies within the understanding the evolution of human behavior and the connected customer mindset.

Social, mobile, real-time technology is delivered today in form of innovation and disruption, and the speed of this is only accelerating. Thus, to lose sleep over technology is understandable but also fruitless. Technology is now a constant. Attempting to keep pace results in a series of strategies that are by definition only as current as the tech in play. There’s always something new, different and often counterintuitive on the horizon.

The future of business lies at the intersection of data science and social science. Understanding people and how technology (and other people) play a role in decision making requires more than customer relationship management, or CRM. To become truly customer centric requires a modern form of CJM, or customer journey management. Everything begins with uncovering the journey of connected customers and how it differs from the funnel you’re organizing around today’s familiar customers.

Image via Altimeter

 

Customer journey exploration and management is a subject I’ve researched in my new book as well as my earlier “The End of Business as Usual.”

This image represents a detailed customer journey map, which outlines the important steps your connected customers take during and following decision making. The map also introduces the diverse elements that factor in to each step.

Perhaps more important are the channels and screens individuals use to make their way along the journey. Mobile, social, web, IRL — they each contribute to a customer experience that either helps or prevents them from moving along in your favor.

The point is that CMOs must now invest in CJM as a means to shift from a reactive approach to new technology and use behavioral trends as a way to optimize and lead customer journeys.

I learned through my research and experience with working with enterprise organizations that, for the most part, each stage of the customer journey and the mixed channels that they use are managed by different organizational groups. The social experience is developed independently of the mobile experience, which is separate from the Web experience.

But customers only see one brand or business. Therefore, each channel should complement the others, delivering against a desired experience and journey optimized to the context and state of each channel.

I believe that vision and intentions of CMOs and business leaders must precede any investment in technology. There’s hope, as well. As IBM learned, CMOs aren’t simply staying awake at night worrying about technology, they’re reflecting on ways technology can improve customer experiences and overall processes.

At the top of the list is enhancing customer loyalty and advocacy, and that speaks volumes. Technology alone cannot enhance customer sentiment or the experiences they have and share. In a connected society, it is these experiences that inform others within the dynamic customer journey.

The future of business starts with defining the desired customer experience you want people to have when they think of your brand and when they use your product. Once this vision is articulated, technology, along with philosophies and methodologies, can help bring these experiences to life and reinforce them along the journey.

Brian Solis is principal at Altimeter Group, a research firm focused on disruptive technology. A digital analyst, sociologist, and futurist, Solis has studied and influenced the effects of emerging technology on business, marketing, and culture. His latest book, “What’s the Future of Business,” explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold and flourish in four distinct moments of truth. Solis’ other books are “The End of Business as Usual” and “Engage,” which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social Web.

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