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Kids sometimes have trouble differentiating what they want from what they need. A child may fuss and cry during playtime, but will forcefully say "no" if you ask if she needs a nap. 

It’s a case where the observable data tells one story, but when you ask, you get a completely different story.

Today’s digital content marketers often face the same dilemma with their own customers. They know to gather data from customers through endless measurement of analytics, surveys and assessments. In a sea of data, it can be nevertheless be difficult to figure out why your customers are squirming.

What They Say, What They Do

The challenge is to find out why customers behave they way they do, even when they articulate something to the contrary. If marketers fail, then designing a meaningful, personalized customer experience is impossible.

“People always say one thing and do another. They’re like kids,” said Marc Fleishhacker, head of products for eBay Enterprise.

Fleishhacker was a featured speaker at Gartner's Digital Marketing Conference 2015 in San Diego this week. It's Gartner’s first ever conference focusing directly on the challenges faced by digital marketing professionals.

The conference is organized around three defined tracks: data and how it is used as part of a marketing strategy; organizing data including budgeting, planning and sourcing; and the customer experience itself, consisting of the product, the people and the processes. Fleishhacker’s presentation fell into the customer experience track.

CMOs On the CX Hot Seat

Gartner’s 2015 Chief Marketing Officer Spending Survey found:

  • The CEO’s number one increased expectation of CMOs: customer experience
  • Growth, competition and customer experience are the three priorities
  • Customer experience, marketing operations and analytics are the top three technology investments
  • Customer experience is the top focus for innovation projects

Nevertheless, less than half of CMOs rate their customer experience as exceptional, but two-thirds expect it to get there by 2016. There is no doubt the marketing focus on customer experience is on the rise, and it’s the CMOs who are on the hook to make it happen.

More Data Than Insight


Fleishhacker said marketers once clamored for data. No longer. There is plenty of data. But it is likely your competitors can get the same data. Companies must differentiate themselves by going beyond the surface description of customer behavior, determining the ‘why’ behind their actions.

Gathering details is only the beginning. “Start with the details, then distill. Great marketing needs distillation as much as whiskey,” said Fleishhacker.  It isn’t easy, and the biggest stumbling block is in the mirror: the human part of the equation.

“We tend to reflect off our own biases and experience,” said Fleishhacker. “You can get lost in the forest.”

Putting these biases front and center means your most valuable asset gets lost: the stakeholders themselves. “You have to have stakeholders at the table,” said Fleishhacker. “Everyone who owns the experience at any step has to be at the table.”

Nevertheless, there will be failures, because human judgment is involved. “You have to give people permission to experience the occasional setback; otherwise you implicitly restrict them,” he said.

Fleishhacker added that bringing in an outside perspective can make the difference, suggesting: "Use an agency to help map the customer journey as you can get lost in your own bias."

What’s the payoff? Gartner predicts that by 2018, organizations that have invested properly in personalizing the customer experience will outsell those that haven’t by 20 percent. This is a bit of data that cannot be ignored.

The Gartner Digital Marketing Conference continues through tomorrow.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License Title image by Belzie.