Is the Consumer the New CMO?

SAN FRANCISCO--Companies need to stop looking at customer experience as only an application, but rather as a process enabling data fluidity across the enterprise.

Moreover, companies that fail to account for changing consumer buying habits will be at risk of losing out to businesses that incorporate analytics into their marketing strategies. "Today's consumer has unparalleled choice," said Lori Bieda, executive lead for Customer Intelligence for SAS during a keynote presentation here this morning at SAS Global Forum Executive Conference. In other words, the consumer now drives a company's marketing strategy.

With mobile devices forecasted to outnumber desktop computers by 2014, and with an estimated 46 percent of people globally using social media to make purchase decisions, marketers must be digitally minded, Bieda noted.

However, this is a key area where today's marketing organizations struggle, according to Jim Davis, chief marketing officer for SAS. "If you're going to innovate in this space, you have to have an appreciation for what's possible," he says. "It helps to have a [chief information officer] who has marketing experience [and vice versa.] If you can't surface data to the applications you use so that people know what's possible, you're missing out on opportunity."

Joining Bieda and Davis onstage was John Strain, chief information officer for retailer Williams-Sonoma, who noted that 40 percent of the company's business is direct-to-consumer mail-order, the company's origin since the 1980s. The brand then introduced "care centers" or retail stores and established an e-commerce presence over time.

According to Strain, companies like Amazon do a "phenomenal job" of managing product information and driving recommendations. However, he said his brand looks to succeed at integration across "multiple banners," from social media sites like Pinterest and YouTube to cross-promoting lifestyle merchandise in-catalog with its care centers.

Today, one of the retailer's great challenges is to connect customer life cycle behaviors across channels. "In order to make [run and analysis] go quickly, you have to get back to 'Who is the customer?" he said. "At some level, you have to know what the profile is and connect it on the back end to understand it in real time."

Big data governance will also be a challenge for companies because, as Strain pointed out, marketers need systems that scale but that don't detract from the customer experience. They can do this by tapping into appropriate metrics and by looking at all of the attributes of what contributed to a sale. In addition, a company can continue to accumulate and mine customer data , even if it's anonymous and even if the customer profile cannot be identified yet. There is still valuable and relevant information in, for instance, how a mobile user is accessing a brand's Web site, as compared with a desktop user.

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