As the year comes to a close, reflections on how far along an organisation is in its digital transformation journey are plenty, with many marketers looking toward providing better customer journies.

This year, KPMG conducted a study which found that new or disruptor brands entering a market (e.g. Amazon) were often perceived by customers to offer better service. This was also true of traditional businesses which had reinvented themselves with a greater focus on customer experience.

For the case of Singapore and the region however, more traditional brands may be under threat. This is not just because they weren’t going digital fast enough, but rather it was because they were not even being perceived by consumers to be present in the digital age – therefore not offering the best customer experience. As such, this is the space that start-ups are leading in as opposed to traditional brands.

Speaking to Marketing about the issue was Julio Hernandez, KPMG global customer center of excellence lead at KPMG International. He said that while there is no doubt that digital technology can transform business and economic models across industries, that doesn’t mean everything needs to be digital. Digital is simply an enabler to engage and service customers.

“Employing digital and technology solutions power new ways to engage customers, help optimise operations and transform products. This can help organisations better understand their customers as they scale their businesses and predict how they may behave or anticipate what they may want in the future,” Hernandez said.

As such, digital tools can also allow companies to break down the front, middle and back office barriers that often exist so they can execute their customer strategy more effectively and empower employees who are customer facing. But applying digital tools should not eliminate the human touch.

“Human interaction is what drives emotionally meaningful customer experiences. The relationship between people and technology must be symbiotic and should not be a replacement of one for the other as they are most beneficial when working together,” Hernandez said.

“Organisations that are developing digital to solve real life problems are the ones resonating most with customers.”

As such, traditional brands need to understand what their brand represents and what they want their brand to represent along with what their customers value and need. According to Hernandez, once brands do that, they can determine the right techniques to engage customers. This will be through their marketing sales and service functions, harnessing digital technologies as appropriate and bringing their teams along with them in their customer-first vision.

Due to the rise in “business rigour” in today’s marketing function, marketing has also become more strategic to driving growth. For Hernandez, marketers have “risen in stature” and the ones seeing success are increasingly and more operationally focused. These marketers are also aligned with customers’ agendas and firmly take advantage of appropriate technologies.

“By blending their creativity with data management and financial management skills, marketers can integrate and interpret this data to enable more prescriptive and predictive marketing tactics. This provides the agility required to meet customers’ changing needs and ultimately translates into a return on investment,” Hernandez added.

With the evolution of the CMO role, agencies are also being held to the same standards as in-house marketers. This extends to measuring results, effectiveness of recommendations and withstanding the scrutiny of measurement and transparency.

Agencies are also judged on whether they are able to execute through all the necessary channels and how well they bring the right creative acumen, to name a few, Hernandez explained. He added that more and more, marketers need their agencies to work alongside all parts of their organisation.

“They [agencies] must serve as the mirror image of the organisation and align themselves with the customer agenda.”

But finding the right talent also comes with its challenges given how much marketing talent has evolved over the past two decades. According to Hernandez, what was required then is not what is needed to be a successful marketer today. Back then, it was the power of the creative and positioning.

However, two forces are reshaping today’s marketing landscape – namely customer expectations and the availability of customer and market data.

This means the role of today’s CMO – and their teams – is an increasingly complex and powerful one. This is with significant involvement in everything from lead generation to customer service, and an increasing reliance on technology. As such, marketers need to work across functions and disciplines and master new technologies to track a complex web of customer interactions.

“The challenge today is not only to identify your customers’ agendas and align your strategy to their needs but also deliver ROI and higher standards of measurement that supports delivery of topline growth,” Hernandez said.

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