The Chief Digital Officer, first-party data and customer obsession: 3 keys to marketing success

May 5, 2022

“More” is the word CMOs and marketing leaders hear most today. The C-Suite is calling for more RoAS, more revenue, more growth — while customers are demanding more frictionless interactions, more personalization, and more value from brands. At the same time, the shift toward privacy threatens to create more complexity, more cost, and a much more difficult task of finding, targeting and nurturing audiences. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the variety and magnitude of these demands. But we believe there are three key things every marketing leader should be doing to answer the call for more:

1. Define what it means to be “customer obsessed” in the age of consumer privacy

The paradox of personalization vs. privacy

We’ve all been completely spoiled. We’ve been Amazon Prime-d to expect amazingly frictionless, intuitive and personalized experiences — the kind we get from Netflix, Uber, AirBnB, and yes, Amazon — from every brand. We expect seamless access from any device; hyper-relevant recommendations the anticipate our wants; and on-demand service that’s one step ahead of what we need. The best brands have set our high expectations by gobbling up all the data and information they can about consumers — by becoming “customer obsessed.”
The paradox is that consumers love these experiences, yet, they’re increasingly protective of their data. The landmark shift toward privacy — the disappearance of third-party data, deprecation of cookies, etc. — is completely disrupting marketing. Marketers can no longer rely on third-party data to find new customers and deepen relationships with their existing customer base.

So, what does it mean to be customer obsessed in the age of privacy?

Customer-centricity vs. customer obsession

To answer that question, let’s start with another one: Isn’t customer obsession just another way to say customer-centric? You can find a lot of definitions of the two buzzwords, but here’s how I like to think about it: Customer-centricity marked the shift from the traditional product-centric approach — selling your product to wider audiences on its own merits (“It slices, it dices, it even answers the phone!”) Customer-centricity focuses on aligning your product or service as the solution to the unique characteristics and needs of targeted audiences (“This minivan has easy-access third-row seating for your family of six!”). But in practice, customer-centricity is as much about prospect-centricity. That is, you’re using customer (and broader third-party consumer) insights to figure out how to communicate your USP in the language of new audiences — their needs, concerns, goals, pain points, etc. 

Customer obsession truly shifts the focus to your core customer base. Your top goal is not pitching your solution to new targets. It’s enhancing the experience for your existing customers. You’re gathering all the information you can about your customers and using that info to make the end-to-end journey — from shopping and buying, to using and getting support — more personalized and predictive, more frictionless and assistive, more relevant and valuable. The brands that do this right drive revenue by drastically reducing customer churn. They also don’t have to worry about targeting new audiences — customer obsessed brands develop fervently loyal customer bases that become passionate, vocal brand advocates. In other words, customer obsession is about building the stand-out CX that will sell itself.

“Customer obsessed brands develop fervently loyal customer bases – that become passionate, vocal brand advocates.”

First-party data is the fuel of the customer-obsessed marketing engine

Here’s where the move toward customer obsession comes together with the global shift toward consumer privacy. You don’t have need to go out searching for the answers to what your customers want and how you can enhance their end-to-end journey — you don’t need to pay for third-party data. You have all the information they need right in-house. Your customers generate an incredible volume of data every single day — on your website, mobile app or platform, in your contact center, etc. 

This is the first-party data that every MarTech article is shouting about. And it’s why I’ve continually said that the need to capture and activate first-party data isn’t about reacting to privacy. Cookies or no cookies, companies need to activate first-party data because it’s the only way forward if you want to be a customer obsessed brand.

2. Re-define your role as Chief Digital Officer — and own the entire CX

First-party data enables many of the most “delightful” experiences we have today as consumers:

Who owns these experiences?

These are just a few examples of personalized, predictive, frictionless and value-added experiences that still stand out in the marketplace — but that are increasingly becoming baseline expectations. But here’s my question: Who owns each of these experiences? In most organizations, some of these examples would fall under marketing, while others would be owned by IT, technology, operations or service teams.

The real answer is that the customer doesn’t care who owns these experiences. Customers expect seamless, frictionless and assistive experiences — regardless of the internal department that “manages” those experiences, or the data, technology or activation systems that “deliver” or serve those experiences to them.

So, here’s the problem I see many brands making: They’re starting to deliver elements of delightful experiences. But they’re not seamless — they’re random peaks of delight from the customer’s perspective — because they’re being driven by siloed teams, siloed technologies and siloed strategies.

Re-defining the CMO as the CDO

Marketing leaders are increasingly accountable for driving revenue and growth. And savvy CMOs know that experience is what makes or breaks revenue and growth today. Marketing leaders need to recognize that their purview extends well beyond sending emails with promotional offers or managing the front-end look and feel of a website; increasingly, CMOs are responsible for every single digital interaction.

To answer the call for more, we believe marketing leaders and CMOs need to re-define themselves as “chief digital officers” or CDOs — and take charge of the entire customer journey. 

3. Understand (and execute) the crawl-walk-run approach to marketing transformation

Plenty of marketing leaders already recognize what they need to do. They know they need to take charge of the full customer experience — and they know they need to convert their marketing engines to run on first-party data. The problem is most are either paralyzed by the size of the task (and unsure where to start) — or bogged down in the technical details of big goals like implementing a data lake.

Define your goals from the customer perspective: What should your customer journey look like?

We see lots of CMOs looking for silver bullets — rushing to find tech-driven solutions to the first-party data challenge. Tech is critical to marketing transformation. But the tech isn’t the starting point, nor is it the end goal. First-party data is all about the customer journey — and the customer journey is a deeply human thing. You need to start by thinking empathetically: 

My advice is always to look to the best brands — both in industry and across segments — for inspiration. Then, make it your own. The more granular you can get, the better: Hotels can focus on the check-in experience; retailers can focus on the experience of a package arriving; insurance companies can focus on the policy renewal experience; etc. Cutting the complex journey into smaller steps will make it much simpler to identify your opportunities for action.

Work from the top down

Once you’ve centered your marketing transformation roadmap on the customer experience and customer journey, then you start working your way down, asking questions around how you enable that:

It’s helpful to think in terms of “swim lanes” in the customer journey. In one lane is the user experience — what the customer is doing from their perspective (e.g., visiting your website, completing a form to get more information, placing an order, etc.). In another lane is your messaging — what you’re communicating to the customer at each step. The third lane is customer data — what the customer is telling you at each step in the journey. This is your first-party data, and it likely includes insights to their unique challenges, goals or preferences, as well as details around demographics and lifestyle (Single or married? Kids? Homeowner?). The last lane is technology — the tools enabling the UX, delivering the messaging and capturing the customer data. Marketing leaders don’t have to get into the technical weeds here, but they should be asking the right questions (Do these tools talk to each other?) and the answers they get should make sense.

Ultimately, the goal is to have all these lanes working together in one powerful current — capturing data from one part of the journey and using it to drive hyper-relevant, hyper-personalized experiences in the future steps. But you need to start with the high-level, empathetic vision of what the customer journey should look like — and where it needs to get better today. Then you work your down to the tactical, tech-driven solutions. 

The low-hanging fruit is often the sweetest for customers

Here again, we see marketing leaders get stuck in one of two ways: They’re paralyzed by the enormity of “delivering a transformative experience” — or they’re thinking too big, trying to enable ambitious experiences or jump right into a huge project like building a customer data platform. But at DELVE, when we start helping companies that want to make a marketing transformation, we almost always find they’re missing very simple opportunities to level up their CX in big ways. The challenge is that it’s much easier to talk about the big, sexy customer data platform than to acknowledge the simpler things you’re not doing well today. It takes courage and vulnerability to make an honest assessment.

But this is why it’s worth it: Starting from that customer perspective — really thinking empathetically — will naturally point you to the low-hanging fruit. The things that stand out first will be the ones that make you think, “That seems easy — why aren’t we doing that?” Starting with these simple, cost-effective changes give you traction to build buy-in. But it’s not just about building momentum. The low-hanging fruit looms big in your customers’ eyes. The things that stand out as simple and easy to do — those are the things that are most frustrating when brands get them wrong, and the most simply delightful when brands get them right. Instead of searching for a silver bullet, I tell marketing leaders to look for the easy-to-find pile of bronze bullets: these big-impact, quick-win improvements that aren’t super expensive, super complex or super time-consuming.

Turning challenge into opportunity

I’ve been working with marketing organizations for three decades, and there’s no doubt marketing leaders are feeling more pressure than ever before. On the one hand you’ve got converging market forces — rising consumer expectations, old notions of loyalty going out the window, intensifying competition putting pressure on CMOs to find new customers, keep existing customers, and do it all cost-effectively. On the other, you’ve got the landmark shift to privacy that’s completely upending how most marketing organizations operate.

A reactive approach just won’t cut it. The change is coming too fast. At best, you’ll be left playing the me-too game — if you’re not left behind altogether.

Marketing leaders need to manifest their own success. They need to re-imagine their role as owning the entire customer journey — every touchpoint and every interaction — and drive tech integration, strategy alignment and seamless, cooperative execution as Chief Digital Officers. They need to accelerate the move to become a first-party data-driven marketing organization. Not because the privacy shift leaves them no choice, but because becoming customer obsessed demands it. And finally, even the most successful and ambitious CMOs can’t let their big thinking distract them from the value of the simple things. They need to start with an honest, vulnerable assessment of your customer journey — from the customer’s perspective. They need to recognize that small, quick-win improvements that may be some of the most impactful — and that by getting fundamentals right and doing the little things, they’re building the foundation, buy-in and momentum needed to drive true marketing transformation. 

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Greg Sobiech

CEO & Founder