Senior marketing executives, emerging from a prolonged downturn that forced them to do more with less, are now focused on growth, according to a recent global survey conducted by Accenture. Most respondents said their companies experienced flat or negative growth in the past year, and that cost remains a concern—yet cautious planning for growth has begun. The question is whether growth initiatives will match customers’ changed purchase behavior—and, at a more basic level, what these customers now want from providers of their goods and services.
To maximize results with still-limited budgets, marketing executives must invest in truly key areas—the growth engines. They must develop innovative offerings, enter new markets or segments, build brand image, improve pricing, and enhance systems for customer data management. But customers’ purchasing behavior has significantly changed. The areas of heightened customer expectations most often cited by survey respondents suggest that customers now expect: more value for their money (cited by 72 percent of respondents); higher product quality (71 percent); better pricing (69 percent); better customer service (68 percent); and that marketers show more respect for their time (66 percent). What’s more, marketing executives see these as lasting changes. Consumers may become less price sensitive, but expectations for value and quality seem to be here to stay.
Once investment areas are identified, their ongoing management can be more dynamic than before, thanks to a new competitive discipline, predictive analytics. Marketers can use quantitative methods to derive actionable insights from the wealth of data now available. These insights can be acted upon instantly, allowing a fluid approach to match today’s unprecedented volatility.
Clearly, marketing executives face a difficult challenge. They must adapt—quickly—to major changes in customer behavior; they must find ways to resume profitable growth; and they must do so within tightly constrained budgets. Accomplishing all this will require major transformations in the structure, methods, and strategies of corporate marketing functions.
If experience is any lesson, the survey provided some indications of what companies must do to grow amid today’s market realities. Companies that grew revenue in the past year described themselves as having stronger abilities than their peers in four key areas. [See box.] Strength in all of these areas is essential to consistently deliver highly relevant customer experiences across multiple channels. That is the very definition of customer centricity, and another characteristic of companies that grew revenue in the past year. Growth companies worried less about declining customer loyalty, and reported greater success than their counterparts in creating customer advocates.
These growth companies were also less likely to reduce their investment in the customer experience in order to offer more competitive pricing, and they reported a higher degree of satisfaction in their use of marketing channels, including digital marketing and online communities. Although only 41 percent of growth companies reported effective use of digital channels, this was substantially more than the 25 percent reported by companies that experienced lower revenues.
While the transition to the post-recession economy may deliver stronger sales and reduced pressure on margins, the new environment demands different skills, resources, and strategies. Marketers must reinvent operations, adopt robust customer analytics capabilities, and translate those insights into compelling offerings and customer experiences. They also must use those insights to make better use of communication, sales, and service channels to improve customer engagement and foster sales in pursuit of growth.
David Rich (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the managing director of Accenture CRM and Accenture Analytics. With more than 190,000 people serving clients in more than 120 countries, Accenture specializes in management consulting, outsourcing, and technology services.