Alison Orsi, IBM: The next evolution of B2B marketing is combining data and emotion

Chief marketing officers are at a turning point. Our profession is changing – the pace of technological change is accelerating and the competitive landscape is exploding in its wake.

Some even argue that converging markets and new technologies are making traditional B2B marketing obsolete. Personally, I believe that although how we market must change, what we do stays the same. Good marketing requires insight, creativity and engagement to trigger an action based on belief.

Being able to influence action in this way requires the ability to have credible empathy. Our clients expect us to engage with them with knowledge that is personalised, relevant and increasingly anticipatory.

Digitally enabled interactions, and the data they generate, are allowing us to shift from knowing segments to knowing individuals – people are implicitly and explicitly declaring their segmentation to us. Based on individual customer insights, we can design the full customer journey, with the right offers, the right content and carefully tailored experiences.

In fact, I would argue that marketing today can no longer be defined as business-to-business (B2B), business-to-consumer (B2C) or even business-to-person (B2P), and that all organisations are necessarily becoming customer-to-business (C2B). As CMOs, we must be able to change our game at the speed of expectation.

All this means that new skills are required. As we try to apply data as a game changer, we are collectively placing new requirements on our professionals: critical thinking, collaboration, empathy, intellectual curiosity and adaptability. We need teams with a strong core marketing skills base – updated with a dash of data analytics, digital literacy, some behavioural economics and a sprinkling of art and design. In fact, a healthy mix of both art and science.

I have had discussions recently about the importance of emotion in marketing. At IBM, we recognise that in this world awash with data and being rewritten in code, we need systems that can understand data in all its forms, reason through it and learn. It is our view that digital is not the destination but the foundation for a new era – a ‘cognitive era’, a ‘thinking era’.

Some of my peers identify more with a new ‘emotional era’. Behavioural science tells us that we make most decisions using instinct. Therefore, how brands make us feel is important and as CMOs we must understand the unique emotional triggers needed to motivate our clients.

So which is better, data or emotion? In my view, it’s a combination of both. Cognitive technologies do not replace human intelligence, they augment it. Each brings distinct capabilities: human intelligence brings compassion, intuition, value judgements and common sense; while technology adds deep learning, discovery, facts and, importantly, scale. Together they will always be more effective than either acting alone.

It will not be long before it will be unacceptable for something (an app, a car, a product) not to truly recognise and know you, to know what is happening that is relevant to that moment, to personalise its actions and recommendations based on what it understands, and improve itself over time. It is inevitable. The technology is already here and will only get better.

As the emphasis on the total, integrated customer relationship continues to intensify, CMOs are responding accordingly. Two-thirds of respondents to IBM’s recent CMO Study regard developing deeper, richer customer experiences as their top marketing priority. Presenting a consistent, authentic face to customers, while creating novel and differentiating opportunities for engagement, is also important. Leading CMOs are using predictive and prescriptive analytics and cognitive computing to create richer customer experiences.

It is the combination of data and behaviour that offers the best outcomes for data-driven marketing and B2B marketers’ ability to be effective in this C2B world.

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