It's time for CMOs to hit the laboratory

It's time for CMOs to hit the laboratory
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The chief marketing officer is increasingly evolving into a 'data centric' scientist, using analytics to draw intelligence about the most pressing trends in consumer behaviour, like customers' booming mobile habits, writes IBM's Matt Cammack.

Chief marketing officers (CMO) are under the gun.

Exhibit A: Customers are more empowered and fuelling an era where smartphones and tablets have replaced PCs. Exhibit B: The use of social networks continues to grow as the go-to resource for brand information.

Exhibit C: Brands can no longer live behind a curtain. In fact there is no curtain, which allows consumers to learn about brands quickly, form opinions even faster and react before you’ve even finished your morning coffee. For CMOs, even the smallest blind spot or misstep could spark a behavioural change capable of fracturing the customer relationship.

This is why I’m calling for CMOs to take off their suit coats in favour of lab coats and trade their iPads for microscopes. Take the popular show CSI as an example. To solve even the most basic of mysteries, the crime lab examines every piece of evidence under the microscope.

The why is simple — the microscope takes things that normally are invisible to the human eye and puts them into focus, providing answers, which help the team anticipate their suspect’s next move.

In the world of brand marketing the situation isn’t that different. Marketers today are charged with investigating small objects – the minute to minute actions of their customers which are generating 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day.

This can include how they’re shopping or not shopping via their mobile device or tablet, or what they’re saying about their brand on Facebook and Twitter. But like in the lab, these insights can’t be gleaned without the right technology. In fact they require the microscope of analytics.

Analytics give marketers a chance to watch how consumers interact with one another and react with brands, products and campaigns. An example of an analytic tool in action is IBM’s US economic indicator. The indicator provides a snap shot of online retail sales and shopping trends as well as consumer sentiment towards the online and offline shopping experience. This project is exactly the type of effort brands should be conducting every day, just on a much broader scale.

From this study and over the course of 2012, we discovered that mobile commerce in the US passed the point of no return with sales over mobile devices reaching 13%, nearly double what we witnessed in the first quarter of 2011.

By comparison, a similar benchmark study by IBM Australia revealed retail sales via mobile devices in Australia saw a significant growth, reaching 26%  in March 2012. This take-up rate in Australia is impressively high and illustrates that consumers are using iPhones, iPads, Android and other tablet devices for more than just finding directions to a store.

The Australian data also indicates that mobile surfers are less engaged than the overall population, with fewer page views, less time on site, lower conversion and higher bounce rates. Though this is not surprising, it does underscore the need for marketers to monitor and optimise the mobile user experience.

Now imagine you are the CMO. By observing these customer protons and neutrons in real-time, they can secure an unfiltered assessment of how their brand is being viewed. Are consumers satisfied with the shopping experience your brand is delivering? Perhaps issues exist around product availability.

When marketing campaigns are delivered, buyers who find out that those products are not available or out of stock turn their focus elsewhere. With this insight the issue can be fixed through intelligent automation around product cataloguing. 

Next, you can observe their actions. For example, if sales for the past week have dropped off, what was the cause? Perhaps your latest campaign didn’t deliver a compelling mobile commerce element that your audience craves. 

Maybe your customers have started to shop through their tablets but your site isn’t configured to handle the iPad and therefore you’re siphoning off dollars to the competition. Identifying the root cause and quickly quantifying its impact helps focus attention in demanding and ever-changing environments.

Looking closer at the Australian retail data, we find an interesting trend: Shoppers using small screen devices (iPhones, etc.) tend to convert to sales at around half the rate of PC/desktop users. On the other hand, users of larger screen mobile devices (e.g., iPad) tend to convert at nearly double the rate of PC/desktop users. Regardless of the reason, there is a clear preference among Australian shoppers to ultimately make a purchase via a mobile device.

Understanding which devices mobile customers use can give CMOs a decisive edge around how mobile shoppers use their devices. While mobile shopping is a growing area, technological innovations are fast emerging that will help marketers to meet customer expectations for a rewarding mobile experience while driving engagement and sales.

For example, advances in technology can enable a marketer to understand ‘device pathing’- how consumers are using smartphones, tablets and PCs to interact with a brand’s online presence. These data discoveries will be key for CMOs as they begin to take a more scientific approach to integrated campaigns and better align emerging areas such as mobile marketing into the overall strategy. 

The fact remains that companies today have the opportunity to execute a microscopic analysis of their own business. This willingness to embrace new technology may put them in a position to regain control at a time when it seems like the consumer is calling all the shots.  

Matt Cammack is enterprise marketing management group leader at IBM

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