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Sitecore Experience 2019 began with CMO Paige O’Neill's keynote: ‘The 5 Hard Truths for Marketers Driving Digital Experience.’ For all CMOs tasked with delivering cutting-edge customer experiences, we share those hard truths, as well as the actions CMOs can take after accepting them.

The Demand for Great Customer Experiences Is Real — But So Is the Struggle for Marketers

The importance of customer experience has become a stark reality rather than a well-kept secret. As Gerry McGovern writes, “get the customer experience right and profit will follow.”

In the opening stages of her keynote, O'Neill referred to research conducted by Sitecore and its partners which highlighted 90% of brands believe customer experience is a competitive differentiator. However, the same research indicated that 95% of companies said their customer experiences are in “critical” need of improvement — and just 11% of businesses have managed to achieve an NPS score of “Promoter.”

To put this into a context, a low NPS score directly impacts revenue, with 61% of businesses reporting a loss in revenue as a result of poor customer experience. In fact, Sitecore’s research indicates that revenue loss as a result of poor customer experience stacks up to around $131 billion a year.

Here are the bitter pills O'Neill said CMOs need to swallow in order to move their customer experience needle in the right direction.

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1. 'The C-Suite Is Just Not That Into You'

The first of the hard truths was driven home by an eye-opening statistic: “80% of CEOs either don't trust or are unimpressed with their CMO.”

O’Neill also mentioned the historic gap between marketing and IT teams, 71% of marketers said IT don’t have a good understanding of the digital marketing tools they need. Meanwhile, 68% of IT professionals say they would rather focus on other commitments than worry about the marketing technology (martech) stack.

“The C-Suite is just not that into you,” reiterated O’Neil, and obviously, those ties need to be mended if marketers are to secure the funding and backing they need to deliver great customer experiences. She advised CMOs and marketers to nurture an “honest” and “realistic” relationship with CEOs and IT. They need to set out clear expectations about what investments are required and outline a clear strategic goal backed up by metrics that tie into the company’s overarching goals.

2. 'Personalization Is Not One-Size-Fits-All'

According to O’Neill, only a small portion of marketers know how to deliver an advanced personalization strategy — the type of strategy that consumers demand today. Only 23% of marketers are delivering personalization campaigns that go beyond basic personalization, which is simply based on the end-users geographic location and device.

O’Neill said Sitecore splits personalization into four levels:

  • Level 1: Personalization is based on location, device or high-level audience segmentation.
  • Level 2: The personalization strategy can deliver relevant information to influence the customer at the right moment.
  • Level 3: Journey maps are developed and laid out, along with a set of personas. The relevant data is also in place to deliver content to the appropriate persona at the right time.
  • Level 4: Utilize artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to automate personalization at scale. The AI technologies take into account the customer’s location, behavior and current context.

O’Neill stressed that the step from level 1 to 2 is critical, and to do so brands need to “start small” by targeting specific goals like decreasing abandoned shopping carts with personalized content. Once these smaller projects begin to work, marketers can take the lessons they learned and scale.

3. 'AI Alone Won’t Save You'

The emergence of AI technologies is definitely generating a buzz with marketers, but in an “unhealthy” way. O’Neill said many marketers are assuming AI will make their lives easier — but that’s not necessarily the case.

For AI to succeed in the marketing sphere, brands need to prepare properly and lay the fundamental groundwork. O’Neill said brands need to have the right structure and data in place for AI technologies to flourish. But with 40% of brands not trusting their data, along with 67% of brands saying they don’t have the necessary data capturing tools to collect data with in the first place, AI adoption seems more like a headache than a saving grace for most CMOs.

Similar to personalization, brands must start small and test out different projects where AI can provide the most positive impact, instead of going gung-ho on AI across the board. Brands should invest time into cleaning up their data to help fuel any future AI initiatives.

4. 'Your Content Crisis Won’t Solve Itself'

“Companies who have spent time developing a content strategy see 8X more unique website visitors than companies who have not,” according to O’Neill. She pointed out the pivotal role content — and more specifically, content marketing — plays in contemporary marketing.   

But there’s a content crisis brewing inside many marketing departments. Brands are struggling to create content at scale, and they’re struggling to create content quickly. The result? A lagging personalization strategy and weakened omnichannel customer experience.

Sitecore’s research revealed that 65% of marketers spend more time creating content than they do with any other activity, but a staggering 97% of marketers say they are struggling to produce enough content and are actively hunting for solutions.

To address this crisis, O’Neill advised to first understand what your customers want, which should help brands to map out a documented content strategy. Measuring the impact of published content is also vital, as brands can identify content types that help conversions. O’Neill also suggested investing in tools to automate parts of the content creation process, such as tagging.

5. 'Customer Data Is Your Kryptonite'

Half of the marketers surveyed said data gaps, data fragmentation or getting access to customer data is a significant problem for them — and any CMO will tell you that the knockoff effects are palpable.  

O’Neill laid out a three-point plan to tackle this issue:

  1. Marketers must eliminate “dirty data,” which includes ensuring data collection and organization processes and “holding those who don’t follow them accountable.”
  2. CMOs should “pick a customer segment or persona that's a critical priority for their organization and augment the data around them.” From there, marketers can carry out small-scale experiments, and then scale their learnings to other segments.
  3. CMOs to “make data a team sport.”

“Data is not a marketing problem. It's not a sales problem. It's not a customer success problem. It's a company problem,” O’Neill told the crowded auditorium. To fix the issues around data collection, organization and accessibility, O’Neill is of the opinion that interdepartmental collaboration is key.  

“We must get the right collaboration going across all divisions of the company,” she said.