Could you share some insights into your professional background and journey that led you to the role of Chief Marketing Officer at Acxiom, as well as your experiences and expertise in the field of customer intelligence?
I joined Acxiom, now part of IPG, as a marketer 26 years ago. Before that, I started my career as a Royal Navy officer, before my eyesight failed to meet requirements. So, I changed to business, working for Ernst & Young, followed by Mercury Communications, a major telecom, before moving to Acxiom.
At Acxiom, I worked in our EMEA region, moving between marketing and account management leadership positions. Doing everything from managing key CPG, telecom, technology, and media clients to leading the rebranding of major Acxiom acquisitions, Claritas and Consodata. In 2018, when Acxiom became part of IPG I joined the global marketing team, and in 2019 had the exciting opportunity to take on the CMO role.
In my experience, consumers remain in control of marketing – as it should be. Ultimately, consumers either respond to marketing or not, leading marketers to invest more or less in certain strategies and channels. However, marketers who are data-driven in their approach can create and leverage customer intelligence (CI), delivering better experiences for people, which ultimately leads to better engagement, less marketing waste, and growth for brands.
How would you define “customer intelligence” and its significance in today’s rapidly evolving marketing landscape?
At the highest level, we believe customer intelligence is using marketing technology and data to genuinely understand people, creating better customer experiences. The brands that grow the most are almost always the ones that understand their customers the best. When you break it down, we see four main pillars required to create and use CI:
- Strategy and Mindset
- Data Health
- Analytics and Enablement
- Operations and Support.
The bottom line, CI is a holistic endeavour. It’s about technology and data, but it’s also about your people, skills, and culture, ensuring customer intelligence is part of your overall strategic thinking and plans.
In a holistic media strategy, how does customer intelligence play a pivotal role in shaping creative agency efforts? What are some examples of how it transforms the creative process?
Customer intelligence should deepen, enhance, and accelerate great creative. This is part of mindset, we should not be thinking creative inspiration vs customer intelligence, rather it should be inspired creativity based on a genuine understanding of the customer. The human brain works best with its left and right sided natures working as one; as a business, we need to ensure we operate in a similar way.
When it comes to the understandable hype around AI and creative, it remains true the best brands are those that understand people. We must embrace and harness AI in the right ways; a business not taking this seriously now risks being left behind. However, most brands also have the potential to immediately leverage data to better understand and create engaging experiences for the customers they love and those they’d love to have.
Audience selection is crucial for targeted marketing. Could you elaborate on how customer intelligence enhances the precision and effectiveness of audience selection for various campaigns?
At Acxiom, we think of the term “targeting” as part of an older school of thinking. Rather, we believe we’re moving to a world where people expect marketing that’s on their terms – marketing that is with and for them, not at and to them. We recognize there are times when we need to work at the audience level vs. the individual level, and it’s about using data and technology to understand the customer well enough so you know the difference. For example, a brand selling gum is likely to have less customer intelligence about their audience than a banking brand. But our goal is to get to the right level of data-informed customer intelligence for the person and for the brand, the right level for advertising gum versus the right level required for a long-standing relationship with a bank.
Customer intelligence goes beyond raw data. Provide us with insights into Acxiom’s approach in utilizing customer intelligence to develop consumer-centric solutions that effectively connect with their intended target audience.
Absolutely, customer intelligence is more than simply raw data. Customer intelligence represents a data-driven approach that involves not only technology and data, but strategy, culture, processes, partners, and people. Acxiom’s proprietary CI research lays out our approach and uses real life industry insights to reveal the gaps between the importance people place on the elements of CI and their maturity. In general, brands know they need CI, but their ability to fully execute on it is lacking, which is what we call the customer intelligence gap. We found that some of the highest maturity scores for brands are in the areas of data health and operations, which suggests many companies know they need to collect data and are taking steps to do this. However, the lower maturity in the other pillars suggests businesses are less clear about what to do with data once they have it. Our job at Acxiom is to help brands bridge this gap.
Elaborate on the ways in which the integration of customer intelligence into a media strategy enables companies to maintain competitiveness and secure a greater share of the market.
As I mentioned, the CI pillar of Data Health is where we see brands having the most maturity, however there is still plenty of opportunity even within that pillar. Perhaps the biggest single factor for data health is identity – the ability to recognize what data needs to be connected to what other data – and the ability to assemble true customer understanding, which fundamentally shapes a media strategy. However, we found that only 9% of companies strongly agree they can differentiate through identity. The potential is there, the reality is lagging significantly.
The report emphasizes that businesses require deep customer intelligence to avoid falling behind competitors. Please share an overview of the key findings from the report on consumer intelligence released by Acxiom.
As I mentioned, at their core brands know customer intelligence is critical to their overall marketing strategy and growth. However, knowing and doing are two different things. It’s not for lack of interest or trying, we’re simply living in a time that is filled with disruption – new technologies, changing regulations, and increasing customer expectations. It’s a lot for any brand to navigate.
When it comes to the customer intelligence gap, we found that 56% of businesses agree that their customer insight function is mainly focused on delivering the company’s key objectives, but only 7% say that CI is being actively championed by the CEO or president. Another great example is 63% of businesses say they have CI centers of excellence to share best practices across the business, but only 22% have real-time collaborative data platforms that can be accessed by all teams.
The bottom line, only 4% of brands are using CI to its full potential as a major differentiator. Brands are doing so many things right, but in a world that is only going to get more data-driven CI has never been more important.
Could you provide your perspective on how integrating customer intelligence into a media strategy empowers small to medium businesses, based on your approach, to fortify their competitive stance and secure a larger market share?
Customer intelligence is a great equalizer. The principle remains fundamentally simple, understand your current and potential customers, leverage that intelligence to create experiences people love, which ultimately translates to sales and growth. However, while fundamentally simple, we know it’s not easy. There’s more technology and data than ever, so the question comes down to how well you can harness it. Though bigger companies may have more buying power and scale, smaller companies are likely to enjoy less complexity, fewer distractions, and a greater ability to create and deploy CI across the four pillars. Again, Customer Intelligence is about more than tech and data and I think most of use recognize and appreciate examples of smaller companies who do this well, for example a boutique hotel chain or regional stores.
As customer expectations continue to evolve, how can companies use customer intelligence to not only keep up but also lead in delivering personalized and relevant experiences?
Customer expectations will indeed continue to evolve. A brand that genuinely understands its customers, across the various segments they’ll inevitably have, will be a brand that can curate experiences people love This is what builds trust over time. This is what ensures a brand stays in touch with someone and is there when they are ready to buy. For example, the engagement frequency preference alone can differ greatly from audience to audience. I know of a record label whose artists have audiences at both extremes. One artist’s audience would find anything more than monthly updates excessive, while another artist’s fans require messages daily to feel the love. It’s about understanding what each audience wants and expects. There is no one size fits all, which is why actionable customer intelligence is fundamental to getting it right for individuals and for audiences.
To wrap up, what would be your advice to marketing professionals and business leaders looking to harness the power of customer intelligence to drive their media strategies and overall business growth?
Remember the fundamentals. It’s simply about creating a genuine understanding of people so you can deliver better experiences. Then consider the four pillars because it’s not about adding technology and data, it’s about an integrated approach that yields real results and growth for your brand. That said, don’t wait for perfect, get started because it’s a journey. It likely it won’t ever be perfect, but it will take you where you need to be. It will put you in the hearts of your customers and put you ahead of the competition.
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