Think everyone cares about the customer experience (CX)? Think again.

When it comes to technology investments, more marketers rank social marketing, digital commerce and marketing analytics ahead of CX.

That's one of the findings in Gartner’s 2015-2016 Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Spend Survey, which included responses from marketing business leaders in 339 companies in North America and the UK. 

But not everyone agrees.

“Customer experience should really trump all,” said Atri Chatterjee, chief marketing officer of Beaverton, Ore.-based Act-On Software, a marketing automation provider. 

“If the experience does not meet the needs of the buyer, you will never convert them to a customer or, if you do, it will be difficult to retain them. Any company offering either products or services should be constantly thinking about how to measure and improve customer experience.”

act-on software chief marketing officer atri chatterjee

Experience Matters

Gartner certainly did not contend in the report that customer experience is less important than social media, analytics and commerce. (Nor did Gartner respond to CMSWire's request for comment).  

But when Gartner asked marketing leaders their top areas of technological investment, here are the percentage of marketers who ranked the following items in their top five:

  • Social marketing: 65 percent
  • Digital commerce: 64 percent
  • Marketing analytics: 61 percent
  • Customer experience: 56 percent
  • Advertising operations: 54 percent

The fact that CX ranked fourth is surprising to a lot of people, including Gartner competitor Forrester, which calls this era the age of the customer.

“2016 marks the year that the CMO will take control of the customer experience — or risk facing significant coordination challenges (and potential headaches) with some other fledgling executive who sees the opportunity to own it,” blogged Forrester analyst Michelle Moorehead.

infographic from gartner digital marketing survey

Tjeerd Brenninkmeijer, CMO for open source web content management provider Hippo, based in Amsterdam, took part in the Gartner survey. He said as CMO he’s focusing on customer experience.

Tjeerd Brenninkmeijer

“And in 2016,” he added, “I will focus especially on the customer journey of existing customers, which we neglected over the years, I must admit.”

The Role of CX

Perhaps best said, customer experience really doesn’t compete with social marketing, analytics or commerce. Rather, it's the byproduct of doing well in the other three areas.

demandbase chief marketing officer Peter Isaacson

Peter Isaacson, CMO at San Francisco-based account-based marketing provider Demandbase, sees it this way.

“I don’t think customer experience is decreasing as a priority but rather this is a reflection of how marketers are budgeting their program dollars,” Isaacson told CMSWire. “There isn’t a bucket for customer experience because it cuts across all programs, including analytics, commerce and social marketing, and validates that a personalized and robust customer experience needs to occur at every touch point throughout the buying cycle.”

Customer experience versus other investments in digital marketing is not an “either-or” game, said Katy Keim, CMO at San Francisco-based social software provider Lithium. 

“Creating the best possible customer experience should remain the top priority for brands, and this can be achieved by — among other things — smart investments in analytics, commerce and social marketing,” Keim said. 

“We just happen to believe that the digital customer experience is the one that is critical to get right and increasing dramatically in terms of priority.”

Budgeting Innovation

Gartner also found in its report that 71 percent of marketers have an innovation budget. It averages about 10 percent of marketing spend. A third of those marketers with an innovation budget say they’re implementing virtual assistants, augmented reality, microsensors, digital marketing hubs and a real-time social listening center.

Act-On’s Chatterjee said innovation isn't its own defined budget line item in his organization, but he does allocate budget to technology initiatives.

“Today marketing technologies are being adopted and implemented by the line of business and not IT,” he added, “which explains the rise in CMO innovation budgets.”

Hippo’s Brenninkmeijer does have an innovation budget and uses it to test out new initiatives which also “influence our own product roadmap.”

“I'm spending a lot of resources,” he said, “on using our trends functionality to allocate budget toward content marketing.”

Can innovation really be a legitimate budget line item?

“Let me answer this a different way,” Keim told us. “Right now digital is the innovation budget. I philosophically believe that the use of data will give marketers an edge. So each digital campaign or initiative offers us a new set of data. They don’t all pay off, but collectively, this innovation is leading us to better decisions.”