The time for marketing is now (again)

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For marketers, a massive window for change has just opened—and the prize is big.

Let’s face it, marketing missed its last slot. Digital technology should have given marketers unprecedented powers—the power to understand customers; the power to increase returns; the power to shape the C-suite agenda. Naturally, the CMO stature should have risen. Marketing should have finally become the central function. It didn’t come that way. Too many top CMOs still haven’t found their power formula. Too many marketers got lost in digital tactics. And too many CEOs still don’t get why customer focus matters. Slot missed.

Then came COVID-19. Overnight, firms cut budgets, ended campaigns, furloughed marketers. Sometimes for good reasons—finding cash to survive. Mostly for bad—CEOs didn’t see why marketing investments matter for future revenues. The pandemic was a shock, and marketers felt it in spades.

For many firms, the COVID-19 was also their digital hour of proof. This proof that has suddenly pushed open a massive window for marketing change.

Just think about it: in spring 2020, webcams sold out. Millions of customers were suddenly interacting with brands in a very new way. The digital landslide is real. Overnight, people discovered how good the (much talked about) customer experience really is; how well the website works, how smooth the processes are. Take airlines, for example. Both Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa struggled. Both got a government bailout. Singapore Airlines swiftly refunded customers. Lufthansa didn’t. Not only have they (shamelessly) delayed refunds, it also appears the airline hadn’t fully automated this simple process, leaving millions of guests frustrated.

Customers may have a short memories, but frustration points add up. During the 2007–2009 crisis, returns of firms with poor customer experience ratings trailed their best peers by a factor of three. History may repeat itself. Many businesses suddenly realized: we can’t continue like this. Big changes are needed in how we go to market.

At the same time, the pandemic has achieved what CMOs have tried to push for years—proving the case for data-driven marketing. All over the world, marketing and sales teams have suddenly pulled together to make ends meet, pooling data sources, diving deep into insights. Data is (finally) king. One car rental firm, for example, after their business collapsed, piloted a microlevel customer segmentation, sent personalized campaigns, tested new pricing models, and—within only seven weeks—recovered much of their lost sales. Suddenly, the evidence is clear. If we are mining data, if we are working together in new ways, we can thrive.

Armed with proof, brave marketers are now taking charge and proposing bold changes to how companies operate. It’s not about tools. It’s about radical customer focus.

Try This >> Leading marketing isn’t the same as doing marketing. Our time asks for marketers bold enough to step up and take charge. The window for change is open, but it won’t be for long. The moment is now!