Marketing + Insight = a sufficient customer-centric partnership?

Knowing your customers is the best starting point for a business looking to grow. This is sound if not new advice. So why does this recent article in Marketing Week concern us at Outwith?

It asks to what extent should Marketing and Customer Insight functions partner to reveal and capitalise on customer knowledge.

The fact that this question is even being asked is alarming enough, and it won’t surprise you to hear that the answer is ‘more partnership required’. Encouraging progress is cited at online retailer Shop Direct, US publisher Forbes and the BBC.

But it’s the 4 commonly-held assumptions that underpin this answer that concern us most:

1.    First, the assumption that Marketing should partner with Insight primarily to design more effective media campaigns. This is of course a worthy tactical collaboration. But from our experience, it massively underplays what’s at stake here. Without customer insight, a business is going to market blind. Insight opens doors for marketers, and be it through definition of customer personas, running in-home consumer ethnography or undertaking conjoint analysis on different product features – there is virtually nothing Marketing needs to know about customers that an experienced researcher doesn’t have a proven methodology for finding out.

2.    So insight matters – ‘of course’ I hear you all cry! But the article’s second assumption puts that at risk: the implicit view that Insight = Customer = Marketing. I work in Finance, I don’t need to worry about customer insight then. I work in Product Development, not me either. I’m a third-party partner, definitely not me. The more that Insights teams limit their channel-to-influence to Marketing, the more they reproduce the growth-limiting silos that halt businesess’s progress towards true customer-centricity. We don’t know of any Insights team that wouldn’t rather be talking more about customers (outside-in) and less about function accountabilities and who they report to (inside-out).

3.    This leads me onto another major concern. It is proposed that the Insight function must partner better by either sitting within Marketing or at the CEO’s desk. We think that’s a binary way of approaching what is a more subtle change that Outwith witnesses (and promotes) in customer-centric businesses today. Customer knowledge must be hard-wired into every business function. That’s no small feat, not least when Insight functions have historically struggled to get a seat at the senior table. Yes, Marketing gives them that seat indirectly. But we know that customer-centricity is often the cultural outcome of a dialogue (we call it a ‘healthy tension’) between traditional business functions (let’s call them BAU) and change initiatives (let’s call them the future). One business we’re helping currently has brought their Insights team out from under the Marketing ‘bushel’ to such an extent that they’re now driving the entire Customer First strategy across central functions and 48 countries on a day-to-day basis. They’re up-skilling and recruiting new talent such that they’re now known less as the ‘insights’ team and more as the ‘customer strategy’ team. Now that’s influence.

4.    But this is not to absolve Marketing of greater responsibility here. In its BAU role, more often than not Marketing rightly remains a ‘first among equals’ (compared to its peer functions) when it comes to owning customer insight. As the default, we believe Marketing and Insight should not be split at all – marketing is not a process that excludes insight, instead ‘insight + action = marketing’. Never has it been more important for companies to heed the words of Peter Drucker: “the purpose of business is to create and keep a customer”. To this end, some people are there to provide insight/ diagnosis, and others to implement. Taken together, this is ‘marketing’. The challenge facing so many Marketing teams today is that they’re really ‘sales’ teams – short-termist and myopic about the ‘here and now’ of existing customers, products/ categories and KPIs. Marketing’s straightjacket is another reason why so many businesses are failing to become customer-centric and struggling to create strong growth.

So this is a double-edged sword – Insight needs Marketing and vice-versa. But that should now be a given. The bigger question is: how to partner more across the entire business? After all, customers assume we do the hard work behind the scenes, join the dots, iron out the wrinkles – so that they don’t have to, and just experience a seamless and consistent journey. At Outwith, we believe that experience can only be built off a singular focus on the ‘customer’, and a common ‘customer plan’ that cuts across the business’s entire ecosystem. It’s that complicated and that simple.

At Outwith, we understand the essentials for success and have refined a proven system for creating the strategy, plan and engagement that will spark customer-centric growth. Get in touch if you want to build the bigger partnerships that will really matter to your customers.