Get a better view on the shoulders of giants

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I recently had the pleasure to attend the keynote panel for NCDM, which began with introductory statements by Larry Kimmel, CEO of the Direct Marketing Association. One of his statements really set the tone for the panel and actually for the rest of the show: “Data, customer centricity and accountability are the core to what’s relevant in marketing.” (Does that sound familiar? )

Dave Frankland, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, was moderator of the panel. He took that thought one step further for database marketers by saying that the role of the database marketer has changed and the opportunity has emerged for them to "become a giant in the organization.” The underlying premise, of course, is that the database marketer has the analytical skills to turn customer data into a strategic asset. And as always, he provided a vivid illustration to underscore the point by saying that on the shoulders of a giant, you can see much further than you could on your own - an interesting thought in the grand scheme of marketing today.

Dave was joined on the panel by Charlie White, VP of CRM for Chico’s FAS, Jason Madrak, Head of Direct to Consumer Marketing at Aetna, and Tony Branda, Principal at Blackbelt Direct Consulting. Together they explored the evolution of database marketing to customer intelligence and touched on topics such as intra-organizational dynamics, skills sets and the role of management in establishing customer centricity.

On the topic of how their organizations gain insights from the data, Jason offered that it’s important to keep the analytic team focused, while allowing them to do some degree of exploration. At Chicos, Charlie explained, they had no preconceived notions about approach, so they find about 75% of their time is dedicated to specific projects and 25% goes to exploration and gaining insights. Tony said that committing to a test and learn agenda is key, as is getting the buy-in to include test results with financials.

In terms of how to build organizational receptivity to these approaches, nothing helps your case better than to show success applied to a high-profile initiative, per Charlie. He added that if there are skeptics, it’s worth trying to win them over because there is no better advocate than a converted skeptic. Jason advocated dashboarding because it conveys efficiency and gets you out of the habit of customized reports, plus it’s a way for marketers to talk dollars and sense (the language of business).

The panel explored the skills sets needed for today’s direct marketers and found that curiosity is a key quality – more important than any specific educational specialty. Plus, quantitative skills are important because there’s now a closer connection between marketing and finance, statistics and other quantitative subjects, making it clear how much data there is marketing.

Finally, all three panelists reported that customer centricity has to be driven from the top, and that organizational alignment in the C-suite around customer centricity is key. Charlie added that one of his best friends in any organization is the CFO, partly because they can draw the connections most quickly back to their purview. All agreed that the view of marketers simply as the “brochure people” or the “events people” is clearly outdated, considering changes driven by technology that enable decisions based on factual data and how customers interact with the organization and even among themselves on social media.

What has happened within your company - how has the role of marketing changed in our new digital world? Have you seen the view from atop the shoulders of your marketing giants? It's breathtaking...

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About Author

John Balla

Principal Marketing Strategist

Hi, I'm John Balla - a Digital Marketing Principal here at SAS focused on Content Strategy. I co-founded the SAS Customer Intelligence blog and served as Editor for five years. I like to find and share content and experiences that open doors, answer questions and maybe even challenge assumptions so better questions can be asked. Outside of work I stay busy with my wife and I keeping up with my 2 awesome college-age kids (Go Quakers! Go Tarheels!), volunteering for the Boy Scouts, keeping my garden green, striving for green living, expressing myself with puns, and making my own café con leche every morning. I’ve lived and worked on 3 contents and can communicate fluently in Spanish, Portuguese, Hungarian and passable English. Prior to SAS, my experience in marketing ranges from Fortune 100 companies to co-founding two start ups. I studied economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and got an MBA from Georgetown. Follow me on Twitter. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

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