We are moving away from brand positioning to marketing that generates sales through the purchasing funnel.
Isidoro Martínez de la Escalera Álvarez,
CMO, NH Hotels Group
A New Whole Brain Customer Experience
Sid McGrath, Chief Strategy Officer, Karmarama
A consequence experience
The customer experience for brands is driven by consequence: when customers have a
good experience they continue to engage with the brand; if the experience is bad they
disengage, often telling others about their disappointment and spreading a message of
This makes for some pretty precarious brand relationships. However, the issue that so far
no-one seems to be addressing is that the very notion of the customer experience is
A disconnected, transactional experience
Marketing leaders see customer experience as their number one priority, but they are
rarely in control of all of it, or even enough of it to make a difference. Recent focus on
using digital technology to influence customer purchasing decisions is causing some
companies to concentrate too narrowly on the customer’s interaction with a brand at the
moment of sale. These ‘experiences’ can be relentlessly sales-focused and annoyingly
interruptive. Organisations calling themselves customer experience experts encourage
companies to increase the number of transactional messages, but is this really leading to
better, worthwhile and relevant experiences for the customer? The fact is that global use
of adblockers is rising while trust in brands is rapidly declining.
Reducing a person’s relationship to a brand solely to that of a ‘customer’ demonstrates a
lack of understanding about the role that brands actually play in our lives. A transactional
focus also shows a brand’s hand: their audience is perceived as a wallet ready to be picked or
a purse ready to be opened, rather than a person to be understood, respected and served.
A human experience
What then is the answer? To start with, people must be respected as human beings with
fairly low thresholds for unwanted buying messaging. This doesn’t mean no messaging;
it means messaging that is empathetic to the individual and to the context. With this in
mind the customer experience can then be reimagined as the human experience, from CX
to HX, where a brand’s pathway into people’s lives is fully understood and delivered with
relevance rather than persistence.
The transactional experience previously locked into consumption and category gives way
to one that connects with culture and allows for meaningful, useful and relevant communication,
with the selling left to the right place and the right time.
A fully-connected experience
If the human experience is the answer, how do we get there? Again, it’s about understanding
how humans, and more specifically, how our brains, work.
The brain is an astonishingly connected piece of hardware. As much as we may try and
separate it into left and right hemisphere, or occipital and frontal lobes, or neocortex and
limbic system, every part of the human brain is connected to another part to improve its
understanding and response towards any situation. This connection ensures an integrated
response, a mix of logical and emotional consideration, instinct and intelligence.
The interconnectedness of the brain serves as a model for understanding how to create
better, balanced and truly human experiences for brands. Approaching any experience
with a whole-brain mentality means finding a way to connect everything with everything,
from consumption to category to culture. This is how humans see their world — fully
connected — so it stands to reason that it’s also how they should engage with their
brands and how brands should engage with them.
Now consider once again the classic customer experience — an experience that ushers
customers through the consumption and category phases of their relationship with a
brand, but stops short of connecting to the culture of the wider life they lead.
Without the insight and intelligence required to understand the implications — the
consequences — of the brand experience, the experience itself breaks or, worse, is biased
towards buying rather than being. This is the fundamental reason why customer experiences
A meaningful experience
Once a brand is able to connect to a person’s wider life, understand and respect them as
a human rather than a data point or part of an algorithm, and can connect that back to
the category and consumption phase of the relationship, there emerges a new type of
powerful, meaningful, connected human experience — one that people will actually want
rather than one that will frustrate them.
So, paradoxically, we don’t live in the age of the customer; they are not “king”, “queen” or
“the answer”. We need to move to the age of human, to human-centricity where what the
human wants and needs can be fully, relevantly connected to the relationship that brands
want to have.
The advantages of tradition
Not every sector is using digital marketing to the same
extent. In the past 10 years, companies in the technology,
media and telecommunications, professional
services and financial services sectors have generally
undergone greater digital transformation than
consumer goods and industrial companies. Our survey
indicates that within the consumer goods sector, 65 per
cent of companies spent less than a quarter of their
marketing budget on digital. By contrast, 45 per cent of
respondents in professional services firms said that
digital takes over half of their marketing budget.
While all the marketing leaders we spoke with agreed
that digital will significantly shape the future of marketing,
many saw traditional marketing as still vital, and
urged caution in being too technology- focused. “The
objective of marketers should be to delight consumers
and make them dream,” says François Bazini, SVP
global marketing excellence & international marketing at
spirits manufacturer Beam Suntory.
“In my view, people have neither the time nor the desire
for deep relationships with brands and, as a result, most
social media marketing programmes are failures. Digital
marketing is another story, but there too we have seen a
lot of companies wasting money in ineffective banner/
display campaigns. This is due to ad blocking, fraud,
unclear metrics, and/or poor creative. The good news is
that even the big guys (e.g. P&G, Unilever) are waking
up and we now know that brands should proceed carefully.
But no one is more gullible than marketeers who
feel like they’re missing out on a trend.”
Brands should proceed carefully. No one is more gullible than marketeers who feel they’re missing out on a trend.
SVP global marketing excellence & international marketing, Beam Suntory
As much as Verheijen values data analysts, he respects
that traditional marketers are “masters in telling stories
and bringing to life the brand strategy in all contacts
with a customer.” The diverse skills required by the
whole of the marketing team, skills that at first glance
are at odds with each other, require “connecting and
collaborating, with the brand always coming first,” he
It is just as well that traditional marketing still plays an
important role, as some companies struggle to gain
enough information to fully utilise digital’s potential. It
is difficult for a company to accrue data on customers
they do not sell to directly. Unless the company forms
partnerships with retail chains and similar channels, the
data remains with the intermediary.
The two sides of marketing
While we know the brain is an integrated single system
that works cohesively, there is a popular notion that
divides people into “left- brain thinkers”, with a propensity
for analytics, logic and a rational view of the world,
and “right- brain thinkers”, predisposed towards vision,
creativity, intuition and relationship- building. Applied to
marketing, these terms are somewhat useful in describing
what feels like a division of intellect in the marketing
Left- brain thinkers are seen as fact- based, data- oriented,
rational, logical, workhorses. They gave CMOs what was
called “decision support” in the Seventies, “executive
support” in the Eighties, “business intelligence” in the
Nineties, and finally “analytics” and “big data” today.
Right- brain thinkers carry the creative drive: the ability to
connect with the consumer, to communicate the
essence of a brand through a great campaign, to “think
outside the box” and bring moments of inspiration that
lead to breakthroughs.
All marketers are trainable in the creative area, no matter how analytical their background.
CMO, Merck Consumer Health
The two different types of marketers — right- versus leftbrained
— don’t easily find common ground.
Right- brain creative marketers may find it daunting to
make use of the great proliferation of data, the disciplines
of zero- based budgeting, and the need to
demonstrate ROI. Equally, those who have never
attempted to reason without all information present,
those who have never engaged in storytelling or who
flinch at the word “innovation” unless it is preceded by
the word “technology”, may find such processes formidable.
Three- quarters of marketing leaders in our survey
felt that left- brain thinkers with their analytic, linear logic
could be trained “to some extent” to be fully functioning
“right- brain” creative thinkers. Atilla Cansun, chief
marketing officer of Merck Consumer Health, falls into
this camp: “Our experience shows that all marketers are
very much trainable in the creative and innovative area,
no matter how analytical their background.”
In a perfect world, marketers would possess all the
necessary qualities that today’s marketing demands.
They would offer the full armoury of creative and analytical
skills; be shrewd, agile and culturally sophisticated
commercial operators who are calculating and rational,
yet visionary and intuitive. Such people are rare and
extremely valuable. “The few marketers in my organisation
that outperform the rest combine both creative and
analytical,” says François Bazini at Beam Suntory. “They
are very interested in marketing science and are avid
readers of marketing books.”
Rarely do marketers possess all these qualities. A digital
native with extensive training in data analytics may not
yet have the experience to provide marketing wisdom
and depth of insight. Experienced traditional marketers
may feel displaced by the amount of value placed on
data analytics. Leaders must sensitively combine hiring
new talent with team development and offer “legacy
marketers” opportunities to increase their digital skills.
Employers should be reasonable in their expectations,
and remember that they, too, are being evaluated by the
next generation of marketers who look carefully at
“employer brands” when deciding where they want to
invest their talent.
To create an optimal mix of skills in the marketing function,
leaders need the self- knowledge to understand
where their own natural bias lies — towards logic or
magic, so to speak — and be willing to cultivate new
skills and understanding within the organisation, as well
as to look externally for talent.
Only six per cent of marketing leaders in our survey felt
equipped to develop from within their own organisation
a sufficient balance of digital acumen (or “logic”) and
creative marketing sense (“magic”). Nearly 80 per cent
of respondents said that they would need to combine
developing their existing team with hiring expertise from
outside sources. In the past 12 months, 51 per cent of
CMOs have set up digital marketing training for their
teams and 30 per cent have hired an internal data/
analytics expert to join the marketing function.
It is not always easy to hire and retain the talent
required. Peter Duffy, chief commercial officer of easyJet,
explains: “Our challenge is the talent pipeline, which is
tough and getting tougher. Our best people are aggressively
headhunted. We hire young Europeans with
strong academic credentials who understand brand
proposition. Increasingly, we are also looking for highly
specialised skills in the area of artificial intelligence (AI)
and advanced analytics.”
Our challenge is the talent pipeline. Our best people are aggressively headhunted.
A study by the CMO Council found that 80 per cent of
marketers and 88 per cent of IT professionals believe
that working together is critical to ensure customercentricity.
At easyJet, says Duffy, “the traditional silo
approach is untenable in the new world of big data. The
contact centre needs to understand CRM; CRM needs
to understand the brand; the brand needs to be informed by the data coming out of CRM. The boundaries
have broken down and the marketing director’s role
is to be the orchestrator.”
Micha Medendorp, chief marketing officer of Rituals,
concurs. “As business becomes more digital and therefore
marketing becomes more digital, organisations
become more connected. Silos won’t do anymore; they
hinder agility and holistic solutions.”
Some companies help to foster understanding within
their groups by as much cross- exposure as possible.
Speaking at the Spencer Stuart CMO Summit on
“Tomorrow’s CMO: Chief Magic or Logic Officer?”, Lisa
Bacus, EVP and global chief marketing officer of US
health services company Cigna, described how they use
rotational assignments to help mix talent among their
newer marketing team members, and develop training
programmes to develop additional skills. Cigna does a
lot of test- and- learn around ideas, big and small, as well
as sending out problem statements to the entire organisation
and inviting responses from their 35,000 people.
“It’s amazing where these ideas come from,” says Bacus,
who acknowledges that there are those who prefer one
habit of thought to another, but feels that by focusing
on overall strategy, “you can apply both the creative and
Focusing on overall strategy lets you apply both the creative and the analytical.
Global CMO, Cigna
This same flexibility is expressed by Massimiliano
Benedetti, chief marketing officer of online fashion retailer
Yoox. He too finds that internal job rotation fosters the
development of both analytic and creative approaches to
marketing decisions. Indeed, Benedetti has experienced
first- hand the benefits of learning to think in ways far
outside his initial training, as his own background was
as an engineer. His initiation into the fashion industry,
attending shows and getting to know designers and
entrepreneurs, required significant adjustment.
The persistent challenge for increasing the use of big
data tools and techniques is their complexity and “black
box” nature. This can make it difficult to trust and
understand the output of big data approaches and to
convince others of the value and accuracy of the insights
the tools produce. Marketers can reduce the mystery
around big data — and increase buy- in — in a number
of important ways. First, by building capabilities that are
intrinsically reinforcing and relatively easy to use.
Second, by providing a number of smaller applications
for using advanced analytics data that demonstrate its
value and invites buy- in across functions. Finally, by
collaborating with other functional leaders on which
questions the organisation should be trying to answer
with data, and creating transparency around the process.
A balanced approach
Because digital technology can expand radically the
scope and power of marketing, it is easy to imagine any
digital initiative as an improvement. However, data is
only as valuable as the intelligence applied to it. By
working together, people with a range of marketing skills
can take advantage of the opportunities that data can
provide, determine what is important, what requires
testing, and what actions can be taken upon analysis of
While personalised marketing gives the customer the
sense that there is something specific for them to buy
today, it requires companies to diversify their content
and offers, and to constantly update their approach
based on recent customer activity. Creative use of digital
marketing may require an equally creative use of traditional
marketing and product development in order to
deliver a diversity of offers, products, and services.
As artificial intelligence becomes a larger component of
digital, it is expected to deliver greater returns on investment
with much less effort. Among other things, AI can
analyse buying patterns, provide customer recommendations,
prevent fraud, create dynamic pricing
optimisation, track inventory and engage in social
media. Part of AI’s application in marketing is about
improving the consumer experience by creating what
feels to be a highly targeted, personalised interaction.
Algorithms produce everything at speed, creating
massive efficiency gains. However, if they go wrong, they
can amplify error and quickly erode brand reputation.
While it is true that marketing has been profoundly transformed by the escalating scope and power of
big data and analytics, its fundamentals remain the same. Digital innovation has expanded marketing
thinking, improving judgement with better facts and insights, but it hasn’t replaced any of its functions.
There is no technology as yet that can approximate the imagination of a human being. We can create
machines that can teach themselves, but it remains to be seen to what extent machines will acquire
the defining features of the human mind that allow us to think inventively, even ingeniously, and to take
control of the world around us.
For now, marketers need the power of the imagination, the magic of the magic, even as the range and
applications of the digital world grow. The marketing leaders we interviewed are seeking to expand their
digital capabilities while remaining grounded, fostering a positive environment that allows their teams
to cooperate. As Verheijen sums up, “The CMO’s role is to create an environment in which both
groups flourish and work together effectively.”