Marketers need to put customer-centricity back on top
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The following is a write-up of a webinar that Tom hosted and that you can watch here

In recent years, customer experience has been deprioritised in favour of the bottom line. But it’s time for businesses to sit up and take notice of the value of putting your customers front and centre.

In any downturn or economic crises, productivity and profitability inevitably rise to the top of the C-suite agenda – often at the expense of the marketing department. This results in things like customer experience getting kicked down the road to be reviewed when macro conditions get back on track.

An IBM and Oxford Economics survey of 3,000 CEOs last summer showed that customer experience had fallen to third in the list of priorities for business leaders, despite having taken the top spot the year before. It was replaced by productivity and profitability, and tech modernisation. Customer relationships, which were ranked as the fourth highest priority in 2022, didn’t even make the top list in the latest survey.

The result? Customers feel less valued, as departments are pressured to hit numbers, save costs, and improve efficiency – all at the expense of the customer experience.

CX has “definitely taken a hit over the past few years”, according to Benedict Buckland, managing director and chief strategy officer at alan. agency, the full-service B2B marketing agency. “I think there is always that pressure to just invest in activation, where you’ve got to try and get results in the short term,” he says.

One theory behind this recent shift is that CX, rather than being ignored altogether, has instead become a “team sport”. With multiple departments or initiatives all contributing to CX in some way, it’s no longer a standalone strategic objective for business leaders, but a holistic approach that the whole organisation should be driving.

“Rather than previously being quite siloed, [CX] is now something that marketing really gets involved in, and that sales get involved in as well,” says Anna Tankel, freelance growth expert and former senior growth manager at Onsi, the employee benefits platform. “For us, events were things we only used to do for prospects, but they’re now something that it’s quite easy to invite customers to as well.”

Marketing’s evolving role

From an agency perspective, Buckland identifies a recent “correction” in how companies are now viewing the importance of CX. “Over the past six months, there’s been a big increase in clients wanting to evaluate how they are doing things and realising that there’s actually more of a fundamental problem because they don’t have the necessary market orientation. They don’t understand the customer.”

These days, Buckland says that his agency is now doing more work than ever to help brands better understand or re-learn “who their clients and customers are, what their particular drivers are, and using that to actually reshape the proposition”.

But marketing isn’t just responsible for onboarding new customers or building brand awareness. It plays a crucial role at every stage of the customer journey, from initial calls to upsells, aftersales and improving loyalty.

According to Maisie Richardson, UK marketing director at spend management software provider Payhawk, customer obsession is all about mapping out all your customer touchpoints from start to finish, “and then allowing the business as a whole to identify areas for improvement and ensuring we’re all focusing on the same thing across all those different business areas”.

Reframing marketing’s role can be helpful for companies to realise how vital CX is, says Buckland, who calls for marketing to be reconceptualised as “the voice of the customer”. He says: “Brand is every touchpoint, every point of interaction with your customer, your prospect, your client. Whether that’s pre-sale, during the sales process, post-sale or as part of just service more generally. I think marketing does need to have a much wider jurisdiction to cover all of that CX dimension.”

In a similar vein, Richardson makes it her mission to listen to every point of contact with customers – everything from the first call with a business development representative to final closing calls. “The reason we listened to those types of recordings is purely to hear from the customer directly what they want from us. […] It’s our job as marketers to translate that to the rest of the organisation. And if we don’t do a good enough job of that, we’re going to fail as a business.”

Knowing your customers better

At the end of the day, don’t take your customers for granted, says Tankel. “Budgets are being cut left, right and centre. And the ROI of rolling out the red carpet for customers is always going to be stronger than for prospects. So don’t forget to invest in them,” she says.

For companies out there with a disconnect between how they’re selling and what their audience really wants, Buckland recommends thinking beyond simply what customers’ “rational needs” are.

“If you go beyond the rational, you understand the emotional drivers. But don’t just stop there […] Something that we’ve explored is this extra dimension of understanding on a philosophical level – what motivates and drives our customers and clients and how they see the world.”

He explains: “There’s an additional layer to understand what they see on a philosophical level, their role within an organisation and how they see their organisation’s role in a wider market. If you can start to tap into that, it’s really insightful for developing a brand proposition and wider storytelling.”

Creativity in the AI age

When it comes to speaking to your audience and making yourself heard, the rise of AI and machine-learning tools has helped companies create more content than ever before. But with so much noise in the marketplace, being heard is getting harder than ever.

Tankel highlights the risk of getting a “middle-of-the-road, boring, templated response” if you’re not using the tools in an innovative way. “You can challenge many of the tools you’re using to spin up something a bit more contrarian. […] But they’re never going to give you enough to cut through unless you really push them and add in your own spin,” she says.

Buckland calls these tools both an “inhibitor and enabler, simultaneously”, but a reality that the marketing world must lean into. “For us, it’s a real accelerator of initial ideas,” he says. “In terms of how we use [AI] within the creative process, it’s to accelerate that research and discovery phase. And it’s quite useful just being able to uncover a couple of blind spots that you have as a human being […] But certainly once you have those baseline ideas, it’s the requirement of a human being to synthesise that out.”

Within thought leadership, for example, generative AI tools are already being used to write Linkedin posts, tweets and even speeches. But we risk homogenising written content through the over-use of these tools, says Buckland.

“It is incumbent on marketers to think, ‘Okay, what are the other formats that I can use? What are the other ways in which I can communicate this idea or lead a conversation within my industry?’,” he says. “Yes, [AI] is going to be super disruptive for copywriters. But does it sort of sound the death knell for marketers? Absolutely not. I think that it will create that necessity, which causes innovation in different formats, different ways.”

However, being creative requires fostering a culture of creativity within marketing teams, according to Richardson. That comes, she says, by allowing time for free thinking “without that immediate pressure to ship campaigns as quickly as possible”.

She continues: “One of the things about being creative is actually taking risks that sometimes don’t always pay off. That’s one of the key areas where I think we’ll always need that sort of freedom of thought.

“We try very, very hard to not be the type of marketing team that is focused on bottom-line results in every campaign. We focus on creativity. We might not get it right 100% of the time, but actually that’s what’s important to us.”

Watch the full webinar here, check out how we helped Klear boost their brand, or reach out to discuss how Raconteur can support your brand building efforts here.

Why brand-building is non-negotiable
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The following is a write-up of a webinar that Tom hosted and that you can watch here

Standing out in your marketplace has never been harder, and getting your name to stick in your customers’ minds requires long-term investments in building your brand.

Brand-building has taken a back seat in the B2B space over the past couple of years, as boards were forced to tighten purse strings and pile the pressure on marketers to deliver more tangible and immediate ROI.

But as economic headwinds begin to recede and businesses start to enjoy some sense of stability, the importance of brand is now being recognised once again, with companies looking to make more investments into longer-term market positioning and brand awareness.

For smaller, newer brands in particular, awareness is essential if you have any chance of standing out in a crowded marketplace – it’s the thing that will push you “across the line”, according to David Keene, the chief marketing officer for Europe at IT services group Wipro.

“Brand-building moves you from awareness, or even just casually coming across a company, into consideration. And the better your brand-building is, the stronger that conversion […] to consideration will be – whether you’re Google, Wipro, or some tiny, small SaaS startup,” Keene says.

According to Sophie Wooller, UK chief operating officer at digital agency Croud, brand-building should be a “non-negotiable” for all companies. “When we think about B2B, we think about facts. But you’re still selling to people who have opinions. And even to get on the shortlist […] there needs to be a level of brand awareness. That might be through word of mouth or through much broader, bigger media campaigns. But you have to start somewhere.”

She continues: “As depressing as it is, it’s not just the product – there has to be some brand awareness as well.”

It’s easier said than done, of course. Building your brand in your customers’ minds needs to encapsulate a number of different approaches and methods. That’s according to Nick Whitfield, communications manager at Future Biogas, a UK-based provider of clean and renewable energy. B2B marketing is all about “giving your customers the tools and information they need, in a format that feels familiar to them, in a language and vocabulary they understand and also use”, Whitfield says.

But building that up takes time. And oftentimes marketing isn’t given the adequate time required to deliver results. Things, however, might be starting to change.

According to a recent joint study by the ​​Institute of Practitioners in Advertising and Brand Finance, the strength of a brand and its marketing were named as the most important things that investment analysts look for when appraising companies – more so than leadership, technological innovation or even profits. What’s more, 37% of analysts said they regarded advertising as an investment compared with just 24% who viewed it as a cost, showing that even the investment community is valuing a longer-term mentality when it comes to marketing.

What makes a good brand-building campaign?

So how do you do it right? When it comes to successful brand-building, whitepapers alone won’t cut it – especially at a time when decision-makers are so time-poor. Instead, it’s all about empathy, storytelling and differentiating yourself from your competitors. But above all else, the key is consistency.

“I think consistency is really important in any sort of brand campaign you’re putting out there. Don’t claim to be something that you don’t actually practise in reality, or can’t be demonstrated in the experience a customer then goes on to have with your business,” Whitfield says.

To deliver a great B2B brand campaign, you need to be super clear on the objective, according to Wooller, since having multiple targets for a singular campaign can work against you.

“Are you trying to get your brand in front of as many eyeballs as possible? Are you trying to drive brand awareness? Are you trying to use it […] to drive consideration and start to drive outcomes? It’s really hard to do all of those really well, because they will have nuanced different audiences, and therefore slightly different ways, volumes and channels in which you want to get in front of people,” Wooller says.

“So if you can be super, super clear on the objective with your brand campaign that will then help guide planning around who, how often, which channels and where – and all the component parts that make up your marketing mix.”

How AI is changing the marketing industry

These days, when it comes to staying at the top of your game, marketing heads might be feeling the pressure from their boards to lean heavily on AI tools, and generate content at speed in a bid to stand out. But, as tools like ChatGPT rapidly reshape how people both interact with and create online content, can marketers still grab attention and deliver the unexpected?

The well-used metaphor that generative AI is akin to having ‘infinite interns’ is a useful thing to remember, says Wooller. “If you’re doing some research, or you want to have a load of ideas or a first pass of translation, you’ve now got infinite interns who you can ask the question of, and they will return some probably pretty good stuff. But you’re not going to send your most important clients what your interns return, hopefully,” Wooller explains.

“You still need a layer between what they’ve ideated, what they’ve come up with, and what you’re sending,” she says.

Of course, marketers should deploy AI where their main savings are going to be, Whitfield says, like automating repeatable processes that will reduce time and money. For example, companies who currently pay a fortune for stock photography will be able to save money by using generative AI for very similar end-results, he says.

“But in its current state, I’m much more convinced by using AI as a suggestive tool, rather than a full-blown content generator,” Whitfield says.

Standing out through storytelling

Ironically, with the relative ease of creating content and the ever-expanding avenues or channels to deliver it to audiences, it’s never been harder to convert prospects into actual leads. So great storytelling is what will set businesses apart in building long-term engagement and generating demand.

“Think carefully about who you want to talk to. Who’s your target customer? How does the customer feel? And how do you tell a story that allows them to feel?” Keene says.

“Don’t tell a story that your product team wants to hear […] Your product team is not buying your product, nor your CEO. You’ve got to understand your customer, and really put yourself in their shoes as a marketing person. That’s your role to understand and empathise with the customer, and to tell a story that they bought.”

And to do this well, your brand needs to own its own “story”, Keene adds. “At the heart of your brand, you need a brand book that everything is built on; it’s the foundations of your house. You need that fundamental, clear and compelling message that gets repeated across all of your channels and your campaigns.

“Sure, you can do different things and be creative in different ways. But if it’s too diverse, you’ll break the simplicity of that core message.”

Watch the full webinar here, check out how we helped Klear boost their brand, or reach out to discuss how Raconteur can support your brand building efforts here.

2024 marketing trends: consumers want ESG honesty and value for money

The best advertising is authentic and backed up by facts, while aimed at the right audience, in the right place, at the right time

Making a sale is getting harder. With consumers concerned about where and how they spend their money, it is important for companies to demonstrate their environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials.

And, in an era where the general tolerance for advertising is on the wane –⁠ many people are prepared to pay extra to be able to skip ads on streaming platforms, for example –⁠ marketers are also faced with a significant challenge of conveying a lot more information in far less time. 

In 2024, then, marketing campaigns and ads must serve the dual function of selling a product or service and the company behind it, all the while navigating some difficult wider contexts. 

Being sensitive to tighter budgets

According to Sophie Lewis, chief strategy officer at advertising agency M&C Saatchi, “the cost-of-living crisis will be the biggest challenge marketers face in 2024, by a mile, as they look to drive growth in the face of a rather bleak economic outlook.” 

Most consumers, however, are reasonable and realistic, she points out, and will accept the macroeconomic circumstances which have led to price rises. Nevertheless “they still need to understand why they should choose one company over its competitors.” Indeed, increasingly, Lewis suggests, consumers want to see tangible evidence alongside ads to back up brands’ claims about the superiority of its products. 

Annika Bizon, marketing and omnichannel director at Samsung UK and Ireland, says the companies which are most likely to succeed in their sales will be the ones which can demonstrate longevity in their products or services. In 2024, consumers want to think of their most expensive purchases as “investments”, she explains. If a company wants to convince someone to part with a significant amount of their income when times are tough, they need to be able to guarantee at least some degree of “future-proofing them to last.” 

Lewis warns firms against “jumping on the cost-of-living crisis as a marketing opportunity”, however. “If you’re not doing something tangible to help customers,” she says, “you probably shouldn’t be talking about it.” 

Noting the misstep of meal replacement company Huel earlier this year –⁠ where the firm claimed it could help people save money on food by using its products –⁠ Lewis says brands can be sensitive to tighter budgets “without being inappropriate.” 

Adapting to shorter attention spans

In general, people’s willingness to read, watch or listen to adverts is decreasing. A study by Microsoft suggested that the average attention span of a Gen Z adult is about eight seconds, meaning that marketers and advertisers in 2024 are under huge pressure to make sure their imagery and messaging is instantly effective.

For Bizon, shorter attention spans will force firms to target their advertising more intelligently. “Marketing can no longer fit in one box,” she says. “Our audience is too broad. People have different passions, interests and needs, and brands need to understand that to be successful.” 

Making advertising relevant, Bizon says, is what is more likely to achieve cut-through. Samsung, for example, recently partnered with world champion skateboarder Sky Brown. “We were able to harness the insight that skateboarders often use shoes to prop their phones up to capture their tricks and progress – meaning that we could authentically position Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip5 as the ideal solution for them,” she explains. 

Another way to adapt to shorter attention spans, according to Suresh Balaji, the chief marketing officer at Lloyds Banking Group, may be to develop passive coverage – that is to say, make sure that their “distinctive brand assets”, such as logos, are seen by the right people, in the right place, at the right time. 

Vicky Kerr, director of marketing EMEA & APAC at Uber for Business, goes further. While she agrees that “product and service education needs to remain at the core of any strategy”, she suggests that companies may want to explore the “power of product placement”. 

When used strategically and alongside other channels, Kerr notes, this method can significantly amplify brand presence or awareness. “The trend of brands leveraging product placements, as seen with McDonald’s and others in [Netflix series] Emily in Paris, reflects a growing interest in this advertising strategy,” she says. “It works subtly yet effectively, embedding the product within content that the target audience is already engaged with.”

Understanding the importance of ESG

As well as offering value for money, consumers want to feel comfortable with who they are giving their money to. As ESG credentials increasingly factor into people’s purchasing decisions, François Bazini, chief marketing officer at Suntory Beverage Group (SBG), believes companies which have strong ones should showcase them.

SBG, which owns Lucozade, Orangina and Ribena, among others, primarily uses “packaging to communicate our ESG product credentials with consumers, with examples including clear labeling around the use of recyclable PET [Polyethylene Terephthalate], reducing the size of plastic sleeves on our bottles, and the lower sugar content on many of our drinks.” 

Positive brand association with social justice causes can also be achieved, Bazini says, through targeted sponsorship. “We’ve also spent years developing programmes and campaigns with real social impact through Lucozade Sport,” he notes, “working with Apprentice Nation, among many others, to help engage and upskill young people.” 

Advertising should not be indulgent or exaggerated, warns Bizon, but rather rooted in “authenticity”. Consumers can see through greenwashing and social posturing, so it’s not enough for a company to simply say that it cares, it must back it up with action. 

To this end, Balaji suggests that people will respond positively to a brand putting its money where its mouth is. “What works best in this arena are genuine rather than performative acts,” he says, “that show a brand is sacrificing something or shouldering some sort of cost to deliver against an ESG commitment.”

The future of marketing and advertising

Ultimately, ethics, honesty and evidence should be guiding principles for marketers in the new year. According to Lewis, “the age of ostentation is over. People want meaning and connection. And the brands which understand this will thrive.” 

Whether an ad or campaign sinks or swims in 2024, then, will likely come down to whether it can positively answer three main questions. Does this product or service offer value for money? Is the information relevant to the consumer it is targeting? Does buying this product or using this service do more good than harm to the wider environment and society?