NEWS10 March 2020

Why neither the CMO nor the CDO should seek to own the customer

Behavioural science Data analytics Impact 2020 News UK

UK – It is arrogant and dangerous of marketers, researchers or anyone else in the C-suite to believe they “own” the customer, according to panellists at Impact 2020.

CMO panel Impact 2020_crop

Unilever insight chief Alex Owens, VCCP Media’s Marie Oldham and O2 marketer Jessica Salmon were debating which function in a business would own the future customer in a panel chaired by Tim Phillips. 

Yet Salmon, O2’s head of customer retention and value marketing, said: “This idea of customer ownership can feel arrogant. We’re there for commercial reasons but have to serve our customers in a way that is authentic for the brand. You have to be passionate about championing the customer and understand them but being a customer ‘owner’ puts you in a very different place.”

Instead, marketers and researchers should think about championing the customer or being a consumer advocate. 

Owens, CMI vice president, global head of People Data Centres and consumer data governance, concurred, arguing that companies even as progressive and diverse as Unilever could never be representative enough. 

“To stay close to the consumer, you have to be the consumer, which is why diversity is so important” he said. “You can never unlock insight without watching people.”

The panel also talked about moving from opinion-based decision-making to evidence-based decision-making – but remembering the importance of “humanising” data and the value of gut instinct and creativity.

Oldham, VCCP Media chief strategy officer, warned that if evidence-based insight became too detached from the consumer briefs would skew too far towards efficiency. “Organisational structure can get dangerous if you are not aware of single-minded silos,” she said.

“For me, if you have lost the connection with the consumer then you have lost your organisational culture. You can’t have one without the other.”

In the push to conversion and efficiency brands also risked losing creative spirit: “Creativity comes from gut instinct. It is looking to the data but then making really brave decisions. The [Compare the Market] meerkat never came from asking a focus group.” 

Asked their one piece of advice for the attendees, Owens urged them to be more hypothesis than objective-led. “An insight is only an insight if it drives value to a business and has an operational function. How many of us truly understand the P&L lines of the business?” 

Salmon said having commercial acumen as well as being able to bring the customer to life was critical as a researcher.  

For Oldham, “humanity is the big thing”. She concluded: “The danger is when you allow data to be percentages and numbers. The challenge is let’s bring that data back to humanity and our customers to life as human beings.”