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Customer Affinity Is in the Hands of the Marketer
Marketers can help change the way products are developed, designed, distributed, and -- on a grander level -- ensure that a given company is customer-centric.
Posted Dec 17, 2007
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The Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council announced today that it is advocating a new measure for marketing -- the Customer Affinity Index (CAI). Brand awareness and brand value are no longer adequate measures of customer satisfaction and brand loyalty, according to the CMO Council, a California-based nonprofit organization of senior marketing and brand decision-makers. Customers are concerned with more than just what's heavily advertised or well-known; as a result, the number of campaigns is immaterial, and marketers should focus instead on producing campaigns that actually engage the consumer and incorporate consumer ideas. The study included what the CMO Council and New York-based technology media and marketing solutions company CMP Media considered to be the top 75 global technology brands. More than 1,500 key major-industry stakeholders, who spend an average of $334 million annually on their technology infrastructures, were surveyed. The stakeholders comprised:
  • senior-level/chief information offer technology buyer-specifiers;
  • channel solution providers;
  • marketers with technology manufacturer and vendors; and
  • customer relationship, service, and contact center executives.
While the CAI applies to all industries, according to Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the CMO Council, the technology industry "is the most challenging marketplace because there are so many variables and so many levels of customer engagement." It's a matter of perspective, Neale-May says. "Marketers have got to be measuring their marketing -- not their promotional -- effectiveness," he adds, noting that marketers need to commit themselves to understanding every aspect of the customer's needs and requirements, as well as the customer's perceptions of the company. The focus, then, becomes centered around doing the analytics and measuring performance in a whole new way. Top brands in terms of brand awareness and recognition include:
  • Hewlett-Packard,
  • Dell,
  • Microsoft,
  • Google, and
  • IBM.
As Neale-May describes, these companies are highly promoted, highly recognized, and hold large market shares. However, top brands in terms of the CAI are:
  • Network Appliance,
  • Juniper Networks,
  • Intersystems,
  • Polycom, and
  • Synnex.
Hardly the same big-name cachet. So what's going to motivate the big companies to change if they seem to be leading the industry?
"They've got to learn that small companies are gaining market share because they're treating their customer[s] in a more intimate and effective way," Neale-May says. "You can keep throwing a lot of money -- billions for some companies -- against the wall, but there are fundamental issues that customers feel are critical, that make them want to continue to do business." Neale-May says that what he found most surprising about this survey was the disconnect between how marketers perceived themselves and how customers perceived them: Fifty-six percent of marketers believed they were extremely customer-centric while only 12 percent of customers believed this was true. In fact, 52 percent of customers surveyed said that their vendor relationship is "dependent and captive," "struggling for common ground," or "combative and adversarial." "Our feeling is that marketers are out there spending a lot of money but aren't really having the impact they should have," Neale-May laments. He adds that marketers "haven't dealt with all the issues that resonate with the customer." In fact, 30 percent of marketers admitted to not having any regular interaction with their customers, which suggests that they are unlikely to be knowledgeable about what those customers want. For instance, the report emphasizes the importance of "coinnovation," which the CMO Council describes as "customers want[ing] their fingerprint on the products that are being built." Likewise, customers want vendors that understand how to resolve issues and address consumer needs. More than half of consumer respondents (51 percent) ranked peer professionals as one of their three "most-trusted" sources. Vendors, however, revealed that their top three sources were technology consultants, analysts, and research firms, which shows one aspect of how they're investing their dollars the wrong way. The role of the marketer is changing -- or already has. Before, especially in the technology industry, a product was developed and the marketing team was sent to develop a campaign. The CMO Council hopes to promote itself as a liaison between, as Neale-May puts it, a company and what's going on inside the customer's head. By doing so, marketers can help change the way products are developed, designed, distributed, and -- on a grander level -- ensure that the company itself is customer-centric. Customers share the top five ways vendors can gain their trust:
  • Be flexible and responsive in meeting my needs and addressing my problems.
  • Consistently deliver on promises, claims, and deadlines.
  • Provide value-added thinking and nonbiased recommendations.
  • Maintain quality contact, communication, and personal interaction.
  • Offer customer-friendly business practices, policies, and terms.
"What we're looking at is all the things that shape, influence, and modify customer attachment and customer duration. It's more than just Net Promoter Scores, more than just satisfaction levels or loyalty. Affinity is a tangible measure of how much that customer is willing to do business with you," Neale-May says.

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