The Consumer as CMO

Today’s Prospects Are Telling Us Exactly How to Reach Them.  Are You Listening?

Once upon a time, there was a world without Amazon or Instagram; a world where those in need of virtually anything had only one option for discovering, researching and purchasing new products.  Believe it or not, consumers in this world would leave their homes with almost no idea of what might be out there, venture to a store or shopping center, and then just walk around until they saw something of interest.  

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  The truly crazy thing is this ancient method of buying almost everything was still the norm about a dozen years ago.  You’ve done it.  Maybe your mom still does.  But now she’s more likely to see it as a form of entertainment than a means to an end (and use a mobile app to navigate the mall).

The 21st Century shopping journey has evolved immensely.  In addition to its migration online across a seemingly limitless number of stores, social media like Instagram are now serving as primary points of origin and product discovery for many brands.  The sheer volume of resources the average consumer has in the palm of their hand has expanded exponentially, and this exposure is creating both greater familiarity with and heightened sensitivity to our digital marketing tactics.


The result is a prospect who’s much more skeptical about the way they engage with brands online, and much more critical of those they don’t believe are doing it right. 

Advertisers have long held that if you listen to the market – by simply measuring what it buys or doesn’t buy – the consumer will tell you exactly what it wants. But digital technology now allows us to move the moment at which we can begin “listening” all the way up from the final point of purchase to the point of first impression.

Digital technology now allows us to move the moment at which we can begin 'listening' all the way up from the final point of purchase to the point of first impression.

As consumers of digital content ourselves, we’ve all had the feeling of being overserved in terms of ad frequency or underestimated in terms of ad messaging.  And there’s no excuse for it.  Leveraging cognitive algorithms and real-time analysis, today’s programmatic media platforms help us measure prospect engagement, interpret consumer behavior and build more relevant content to create real connections – from the first moment of contact.

More importantly, this same technology allows us to monitor and manage digital interactions with our most valuable marketing asset: Customers we’ve already earned.  Most of us are doing a pretty good job when it comes to market, consumer and audience segmentation for the purposes of new customer acquisition and product adoption. 

But if smart brands will start paying more attention to their first party data, pushing analysis further into the customer lifecycle (past the point of trial) and utilizing those insights to provide exceptional user experiences, I believe that’s where we could see some truly big wins.

As mentioned above, we’ve all been disappointed by poor marketing tactics from brands who don’t understand us.  Yet, we’ve also had experiences that were quite the opposite; when we’ve made a purchase and it’s clear – from the point of purchase through post-delivery follow-up – that this company is intent on earning our loyalty.  That’s the space where artificial intelligence and digitally intelligent consumers are pushing the boundaries of marketing communications and brand equity.

The driving initiative behind all our programmatic hyper-analysis ought to be a desire to create customer journeys and online experiences that are more interactive and less invasive.  Think about your own digital life and all the content you currently ignore.  If you’re like most of us, it’s not that you don’t want to engage with any forms of advertising at all; you just want that advertising to provide an experience that’s relevant, entertaining, informative and joyful, all at the same time. 

If smart brands will start paying more attention to their first party data, pushing analysis further into the customer lifecycle and utilizing those insights to provide exceptional user experiences,  that’s where we could see some truly big wins.

Which brings us back to the matter of marketing environment.  Understanding concepts like point of origin and place of discovery in this digital age forces us to recognize that the type of media employed, the format of advertising produced and the locations in which they’re served all influence consumer perception of a brand and what it represents.  

It’s no different than if we were launching a new brand with a physical product in the brick-and-mortar world.  We know finding a fashion brand in a luxury retailer creates a different sense of discovery and perception of value than finding the same brand in a discount store.  So, determining how and where digital shoppers might first experience our brands must become a more heavily weighted attribute in our media planning.  Environment influences the net value of each impression and certain audience segments in today’s “online shopping mall” consider place as much as the product, itself.

Again, we know all this because the consumer is telling us so.  Several years ago, we jumped into native formats because they feel more informational, appear less visually obstructive and consumers responded more actively.  Today, we’re starting to see the next phase of experiential ad units, including mobile interstitials and cinemagraphs that almost make you feel like you’re inside ad content.  All of which is being driven not by the consumer’s intention to eliminate any form of advertising altogether but, rather, by their curiosity and desire to actively participate in the process.

There are some limitations in terms of publisher inventory of these new ad formats, but integrating and sequencing complementary retargeting tactics based on performance or behavioral triggers can reinforce initial brand messaging via audio, video, native and other content.


And then there’s the introduction of 5G. With smartphones as powerful as handheld computers, pushing 5G into our mobile world is going to change it at least as much as the shift from analog to digital did. The options associated with 5G provide much higher production quality, much higher capacity for streaming or rich media, and many more options to create genuinely engaging content.  In other words, we’re not just talking about more bandwidth, but expanded “brandwidth.

Add the real-time analysis that smart technology provides in terms of ad sequencing and content personalization, and it’s clear the opportunity for smart brands to attract, recruit and retain their best customers has never been better.

But we’ll never be able to seize that opportunity if we won’t listen to our customers and then act on what we’ve learned without the prejudice of preconceived opinions.  The only reason these advancements in AdTech are occurring is because the market is inviting and accepting them in the form of online behavior. 

In that respect, the consumer is now making the most important decisions regarding our advertising programs – from placement and format to content and frequency.  The consumer is your new Chief Marketing Officer.  

If you’re ready to make room at the conference table for your new CMO, the first step may be building a protocol and best practices around harnessing your current customer data.  Building a detailed data strategy that allows you to extract meaningful insights from your ecommerce interface, order management system, loyalty database or CRM system also allows you to understand and interact with each of those customers in a new, dynamic, personalized way.

Granted, it won’t happen overnight. But changing the lens through which an organization views its entire business can deliver powerful, profound rewards – and your new CMO demands it.