Using data as an aide for tone deafness

A CMO Council survey reveals how marketers can use "dark" data to think about customers as humans, not targets.


It’s not just American Idol contestants who occasionally suffer from tone deafness so do brands, according to Bringing a Human Voice to Customer Choice, a recent survey by the CMO Council in partnership with global marketing firm Harte Hanks.

The U.S.-based CMO Council polled 152 senior marketing executives across a variety of industries and time zones, asking them to cite the biggest obstacle to customer relationship building. Leading the pack at 41%: “Remembering [that] we are building relationships, not just deploying campaigns” was the #1 challenge for marketers.

According to the study, 35% of respondents cite “Aggregating the right data” as their second biggest obstacle. “Identifying moments of opportunity” and “Listening for customer cues beyond responding and reacting” were cited by 32% and 30% of respondents. Rounding out the top five was “Thinking about our customers as humans… not just targets” at 29%.

The report also shows marketers are hesitant to explore omni-channel engagement technology (chatbots, for example) because of a lack of expertise. However, as technology advances, the following should give brands pause: not a single survey respondent felt their organization is well prepared to integrate or leverage intelligence from new listening posts.

Consumers want to be listened to and valued, and to have their needs tended to quickly, according to the report. And brands that are overly consumed by campaigns cater to the wrong customer relationship cues and, as a result, fail to address their concerns.

But imposing order on chaos is difficult, especially when it comes to digging deeper into big data, and realizing there’s much more to measurement of all stripes than a buzzword-du-jour. In fact, the biggest data challenge isn’t actually “big”– it’s small.

“Small data,” according to the report’s definition, are data sets that are smaller, more accessible and potentially more informative. That is to say, more causative than correlative. Small data is about finding the reason “why,” not just discovering broader patterns against a backdrop of noise. It’s about why the customer is here today, why they are searching and buying – and why they aren’t. Small data was cited by respondents as even more important than big data and more important than so-called “dark data” (which is unstructured and untagged).

For example, in both B2B and B2C, it’s rare that a site visitor accidentally lands on a product page, according to the study. When someone is researching a product, it’s a pretty good signal that there’s a level of interest in that product. It’s at this point, however, that marketers often make the mistake of automatically retargeting them with banner ads or email offers.

When brand marketers use this kind of data to identify who their customers are and what they’re looking for, and have used signals from social media and other real-time channels to determine what’s driving their purchase decisions and where they are on their journey – that’s when it’s time to start tailoring messaging to reflect those learnings.

When asked to identify brands across any industry that respondents admired for their ability to deliver real-time, personalized customer engagements, a handful of brands consistently emerged at the top of the heap: Amazon, Apple, Google, Starbucks and Nike. According to the report, what these brands do well is connect with people and engage with customers like individuals, rather than simply transact with campaigns. In fact, 30% of marketers say the biggest differentiator of these brands is their ability to treat every individual like a friend or confidante.

In striving to be like these brands, organizations must ditch their brand personas, commit to customer-centricity, listen to the “true” customer voice (not to broad correlations of data) and remember that behind every data point, there’s a real person. As the report suggests, now that the tools and technology are available, and the data abundant, brands should look to incorporate the piece that’s been missing: the voice of the customer.