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SAN FRANCISCO -- Marketing and technology professionals joined forces this week at the MarTech Conference to reimagine what’s possible in the customer experience (CX) world and to share tips on how to win hearts, minds and sustainable transactions. More than 1,100 people attended, which was double the number at the inaugural event held in Boston six months ago.

The two day event included an impressive variety of participants, a balance between marketing and technology topics and a touch of March Madness and April Fools' themes. The single-track format was ideal to take in the breadth of the program.

Basketball coach John Wooden's quote, featured in one of the presentations, provided the best context for the event: 

Never mistake activity for achievement." 

Customer Experience: Not a Collection of Silo Activities

As marketers and technologists, we focus too much on our respective activities and not enough on the transformative, customer experience strategies that are unique to our brand and business goals. We need to reach across the aisle to ask one another, “what is customer experience achievement that truly matters?”

According to the conference speakers, which included analysts, brands, vendors and venture capitalists, customer experience execution is in urgent need of a fix. Businesses can achieve CX results in a number of ways -- through culture, strategy, talent, process, technology and ongoing creativity -- but what’s the right strategy and prioritization? It depends on each organization’s unique constraints, goals and experience delivery maturity. 

MarTech Conference Ideas to Consider

A common theme that ran throughout the conference was that technologies don't lead the customer experience, it's about the human element. Start with a clear understanding of what's important to customers, then organize internal and external talent to create and execute strategies that serve customer segments.

One point came across loud and clear -- silo thinking is out and accountability across customer experience processes is in. 

The single-track format allowed attendees to hear and see various points of views from industry experts. Here are some highlights:

Conference Chair Scott Brinker, described how marketing technology comes down to architecture and strategy -- the difference between a marketing stack and a marketing pile.

Senior Director for Enterprise Marketing at Aetna, Joseph Kurian, said “fear motivates like no other.” He believes a MarTech team needs to control the project and budget. Many companies are silos whereas Aetna MarTech does not operate as a siloed organization.

Saad Hameed, head of marketing technology at LinkedIn, said “everything revolves around the buyer/member.” He suggested to step back and ask often, “how do I optimize the customer experience?"

Cynthia Gumbert, vice president of digital and new accounts at CA Technologies, described how “Marketing and IT got together and they’re becoming one and the same.” 

Forrester Research Vice President and Principal Analyst, Laura Ramos, recommended our basic priorities should be internal organization including agility and how we work together, and external experiences for customers.

Jeff Gothelf, a UX design author and strategist reminded us to, “learn what is valuable to your audience."

Pat Spenner, managing director at CEB, cited some brand case studies with one slide that was all net (to use a basketball reference), “Break down the 'me' and build up the 'we.'" 

Tony Ralph, director of ad technology at Netflix, recommended the best use of resources is to make fundamental investments and build on top with innovative technology and methods; supported by a nimble leadership style.

IDC Marketing Operations Research Manager, Gerry Murray said “technology and data provide the palette for you to create new forms of storytelling – invest in creativity.”

Jill Rowley, a #socialselling evangelist, said “customers are people, not targets.” 

Mayur Gupta, global head of marketing technology and innovation at Kimberly-Clark, made a compelling presentation. His onstage passion was infectious. His presentation can be summed up in three simple messages, “What problem are you trying to solve? Be customer obsessed. Let’s not make it about the technology.”

Thomas Stubbs, senior director of global IT at Coca Cola, shared that “conflict is often required in this unicorn space of marketing and technology.”

Dell Customer Experience Designer Corey Craig said to “visualize complex ideas, and we all need to be great explainers.” 

John Maeda, partner at Kleiner Perkins, provided a designer’s perspective. He said “in the startup space, there is no past or culture. In an established company, there is a past and culture. As a MarTech leader, you need to bring the past and future into the present.”

Fred Gerantabee, director of creative technology at Grey, believes marketers and technologists are creative people. He suggested we “define the narrative, translate into stories, and leverage MarTech.”

WiderFunnel Founder Chris Goward recommended we should “be skeptical of best practices and test assumptions more often.” 

John du Pre Gauntt, founder of Media-Dojo, demonstrated how we often promote technology and not human stories that resonate.

Jeff Cram, co-founder of ISITE, described service design as an activity of planning and organizing people, infrastructure, communications and material components of a service in order to improve its quality and interaction between service provider and customers.

Last but not least, Jonathan Martin, CMO of EMC, encouraged us to create a culture that innovates and allows people to fail. He said, “the role of marketing is: to be the growth engine for the organization; build a magnetic brand; help drive category leadership.”

Let’s Make Real CX Happen

Customer experience achievement requires a team approach including interdisciplinary skills and perspectives. Game-changing collaboration and innovation will help us win and keep winning in the fast moving, martech environment.