How Marketing Leaders Can Lead With Strategic Customer Narratives

customer picMarketing leaders are in continual pursuit to understand customers and buyers. At the same time, they are now being looked at to bring understanding of customers to bear on almost all facets of business operations.  According to a recent IBM CEO Study, CMO’s are increasingly gaining the attention of CEO’s. Whereby marketing is seen as a major driver towards creating a customer-centric organization.

Because the forces of change have been so rapid, marketing leaders are put in a position of being a juggler of new types of approaches, services, and technology. Whether they are creating new online capabilities, developing content marketing plans, implementing marketing automation, or reinventing brands, marketing leaders are dealing with seemingly disconnected endeavors. Worse yet, is each of these types of approaches comes with their own data and analytics.

Such disparity presents a major problem for CMOs and marketing leaders who are going to be looked at by CEOs to drive customer-centricity. Which is, how to provide a coherent and cogent customer strategy the organization can absorb as well as act upon.

To kludge together different reports, analytics, and views of customers will no longer cut it.

Putting Customers At The Center Of Strategy

Where marketing leaders can get sidetracked today is by basing customer-centric strategy solely on data and analytics. Whereby tactical performance indicators become the center of discussions in meetings. Hashing over lead scores, content marketing metrics, channel distribution numbers, and user field data from marketing automation can be met with much frustration. Without the glue of cogent customer understanding and strategy, these can all be exercises in futility.

How CMO’s and marketing leaders can lead today is by putting the customer at the center of strategy. The focal point becomes in weaving together a strategic narrative, which helps an organization to do three important things:

  1. Understand its’ customers and buyers
  2. Tell the story of customers to employees and operations
  3. Know how to align and serve its customers and buyers

While CEO’s of high performance companies will look to the CFO for the financial health of the organization, they will look increasingly to the CMO for the customer health of the organization.

Curators Of Customer Health

Marketing leaders can hold the mantle of customer understanding by viewing themselves as the curators of the larger and bigger story of customers. Curating such a story provides an open and transparent look at the customer health of the organization. Sometimes, we can learn and draw inspiration from other fields. Here is an interesting TED video featuring Thomas Campbell, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. He has the arduous job of pulling together many objects and artifacts into settings, which weave together stories and narratives. A good listen:

In many ways, marketing leaders are faced with the same arduous tasks of pulling together customer insights and intelligence into a setting, which provides a coherent narrative about customers. The benefit here is such an approach gives employees a humanized understanding of customers. And, it gives the organization a pathway to get on the same journey customers and buyers are taking towards reaching goals or solving problems.

The Aim Of Strategic Customer Narratives

Strategic customer narratives are designed to provide a shared common view and understanding of customers and buyers. At the same time, they become living documents laying out a shared view of how the organization intends to serve customers. Such documented understanding gives marketing leaders the wherewithal and the influence to shape future direction when it comes to customer strategy.

What makes good strategic customer narratives then? What should they consist of? Several key elements are:

  • They are driven by qualitative research directly with customers and buyers
  • The narratives lose the “business talk” and clearly articulate
  • Personas, be they buyer personas and user personas, are used to provide a real-world representation of customers, buyers, and users
  • Customer journeys and buyer journeys help map out how decisions are arrived at and the experience of customers
  • Consist of end-to-end stories, scenarios, and storyboards of how customers and buyers face challenges and situations
  • Offers compelling narratives weaving the past, present, and future together
  • Humanizes customers and buyers in the eyes of employees and executive leaders
  • Guides the shaping of the brand story to articulate to customers and buyers
  • Convey needed context to help shape customer strategy
  • Provides insights into the experiences customers want and desire
  • Helps in developing a picture of motives and thinking, which influence and drive customers
  • Offer clear guidance on how to serve customers and buyers
  • Reshapes data and analytics into customer intelligence supporting needed context
  • Help to provide a roadmap on delivering content and messaging mapped back to customer understanding

Just as the museum curator must do, marketing leaders must gather and curate the above to create a customer narrative for his or her organization. It is an endeavor well worth taking.

One organization I have been privileged to work with and taking such an endeavor is Thomson and Reuters. Marketing leaders in primarily Tax and Accounting have been weaving strategic customer narratives together to truly understand the story behind their customers’ daily challenges and goal aspirations. The results have been shared customer understanding between marketing, sales, professional services, and support. And, the launching of a very successful content marketing plan embraced by customers because it speaks in their language.

A Clear Voice

Strategic customer narratives give marketing leaders a clear voice in telling the story of customers and buyers. The clear voice needed to articulate not only the past and present, but to also help guide the future direction of the organization when it comes to customer strategy. The exact clear voice many organizations are seeking right now. With CEO’s listening, it is time to speak – clearly.

Tony
Article by Tony Zambito
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