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Rethink marketing: Responsible growth through genuine customer connections

Organisations have never been closer to the people that matter to them. Digital channels, omnichannel journeys, marketing technologies powered by data, and increasingly rich and compelling customer insight have created opportunities to connect with consumers, clients, patients, citizens or students. The ease with which organisations can reach new individuals and personalise experiences offers a strong platform to serve customers better and respond to changing behaviours.

But in terms of reaching new customers at least, that could all change as we see the continued demise of third-party cookies this year. This will disrupt some conventional methods used by marketers to target, retarget, personalise and understand a consumer’s end-to-end journey.

For forward-thinking organisations, this offers a unique opportunity to reinvent digital marketing at a time when marketing is transforming as a capability. It’s a chance to make better use of the data they already own to understand, attract and retain customers, and create better, more relevant and differentiated products, services, experiences and communications. 

Most importantly, it gives marketing the chance to rethink the value exchange with customers and position itself beyond communications and brand management to be a responsible growth function for the 21st century.

Senior female friends catching up over coffee in a seaside cafe. They are chatting to one another and sharing photos on a smartphone.

Marketing as a growth function

Though it has always had a critical role in attracting and retaining customers - be it consumers, clients, patients, citizens or students - building brand and shaping product and service propositions, new customer expectations and behaviours mean marketing not only needs to grow your business but grow it responsibly. 

Broadly, there are six levers that organisations can use to realise responsible growth: experience, marketing, sales, service, pricing and innovation. Marketing is a common starting point for businesses, as they look to reach new customers and retain existing ones. While each lever is equally important, they are all interdependent, and it’s the combination in which they’re used that brings powerful change to an organisation. Dialling up marketing might be crucial for a retailer but it may be less important in the education or healthcare sectors, where experience may be the focus. 

At the heart of any customer-led transformation idea is creating a better connection with customers:

“Responsible growth begins with creating deeper, richer and more intimate connections with customers. That means understanding, anticipating and adapting to customer needs. And there’s a blurring of marketing into other functions, such as experience and loyalty, which should be seen as an opportunity for any ambitious marketing function to truly drive sustainable growth.”

Tom Adams Experience Consulting and Marketing Transformation Leader, PwC United Kingdom

Responsible marketing for responsible growth

Digital marketing has liberalised access to customers, helping organisations of all shapes and sizes to understand and target individuals, and reach them with relevant products, offers and services. Coupled with automation, it’s possible to create hyper-targeted communications and journeys. 

But just because you can, does it mean you should? 

Marketing for responsible growth is about turning traditions on their head and using data to help the customer. Adams says: “Where once, an organisation learned about their customer for the benefit of the organisation, it now needs to learn about that customer to create an offering that improves their experience.” 

For organisations, that means looking to differentiate themselves and drive loyalty by involving the customer in how they are targeted and engaged: helping them understand behaviour and buying patterns, steering them towards products, services and solutions that work for them, and away from those that don’t. 

Doing this responsibly also means putting data privacy and ethics at the heart of the marketing agenda, going beyond legal obligations to strategically put the customer first. Taking a values-driven approach to everything from data monetisation to data sharing and AI simultaneously builds brand trust, loyalty and insight:

“Responsibility is increasingly central to the value exchange between brand and consumer, particularly when it comes to the use of data and personalisation.”

Tom Adams Experience Consulting and Marketing Transformation Leader, PwC United Kingdom

The changing role of marketing

The journey from attraction to conversion and creating a relationship now happens so quickly and seamlessly across channels and platforms that marketing, experience and loyalty have merged. With a journey that can all happen in the space of 30 minutes, there has been a rapid change in the direct relationship between organisation and customer.

Progressive marketing can no longer be showing the products you think a customer wants, based on their previous purchases, searches or content preferences. Organisations need to use the insight they have and the data they are given to proactively improve experiences and choices. They must deliver something that will increase engagement and build stronger relationships. 

It’s an approach we’ve seen some telecommunications companies successfully employ for many years, recommending customers change tariffs if they are paying for more than they need. Elsewhere, universities and colleges are increasingly iterating online offerings based on student feedback and data. Contrasting these approaches against surge-pricing models for private transport hire, for example, shows how individuals expect to benefit from the insight their data provides:

“For some organisations, it’s a delicate balancing act between short-term performance marketing and long-term investment in your brand. The equivalent is thinking about your long-term customer relationship and trust as a driver of value rather than selling volume in the short-term.”

Tom Adams Experience Consulting and Marketing Transformation Leader, PwC United Kingdom

Personalise, personalise, personalise

Growth comes from attracting, converting and retaining the customer. Increasingly, the satisfaction, delight and loyalty that a customer feels determine the level of advocacy for a brand or service. 

While broad-based brand marketing remains important, organisations equally need to reach the right customer through the right touchpoints and give them the experience they expect in a way that understands, respects and prioritises their needs.

“Marketing should no longer be about getting as many customers as possible and selling them the most things, it’s about getting and understanding the right customer for you, treating them - and their information - courteously with respect and using it to both meet and anticipate their needs transparently. This is a critical tenet of marketing for responsible growth,” Adams says. 

“It’s also important to use the data to demonstrate that understanding through how you communicate, what you offer and what the experience is like. Only then are you adapting to what a customer wants based on what they’ve done and what they need.”

Retail and consumer businesses, for example, could convert shopping insight into genuine personalisation and differentiated service. The convenience of repeatable baskets, favourites and offers based on previous transaction data should be used to capture deeper insights on wants and needs to support, and then recommend relevant choices: healthier, cheaper, more sustainable or lower-calorie.

The customer conductor

To be recognised as a growth function, marketing must use the right cross-functional technology to highlight activity that builds, retains and engages across the whole customer journey. It can do this by expanding its role, integrating the right technologies and underpinning the entire process through the right use of data and analytics. 

One organisation to benefit from this approach was professional services firm Capita. Its new leadership team knew that the future lay in forging stronger customer relationships and better cross-selling opportunities, built on data. But the past had left Capita with a complex, federated organisation and disparate systems that made it difficult to build a clear picture of their customers and maintain a consistent brand identity.

Working with PwC, Capita created a new marketing structure and approach and moved from multiple, disparate systems, to a single CRM, a real-time, business-wide view of sales and a marketing automation system. Marketing now works better with other teams, has access to rich data, improved customer insights, and greater cross-selling opportunities:

Any expanding role or responsibility must be supported by technologies that connect the end-to-end journey. That could be using marketing automation or CRM systems that tailor data and more accurately target customers and build loyalty. It could be technologies that help to understand and measure performance across all platforms. Or it could be building integrated end-to-end marketing and advertising technology architecture. 

For Shell Energy Retail, that meant using Marketing Cloud integration to create tailored, personalised and automated customer communications. It can now nurture its existing customer base with renewal offers, upsell additional products, and identify and acquire new customers with appropriate, timely messages:

“Our customer expectations are continually changing. To meet these ever-rising expectations, omni-channel behaviours and hyper-connectivity, we needed to become a truly customer-centric, data-led and digitally enabled organisation.”

Ed Kamm Chief Commercial Officer, Shell Energy Retail

Any marketing transformation should also leverage data analytics and insight to understand how marketing influences prospective and current customers, based on value, pricing, and service delivery.

Marketing can be much more successful as a growth function where it demonstrates return on investment end-to-end. Being able to demonstrate its growth against spend, deliver real customer insight and influence product choices will become increasingly important. 

Demonstrating the link between marketing activities and outcomes in campaign performance naturally extends into broader outcomes like sales, brand strength and customer satisfaction. Understanding and using other kinds of first-party data - such as spend information - will give rich behavioural insight that can inform strategies to improve the experience for greater loyalty, rather than just more effective targeting. 

Ultimately, this creates a virtuous circle of understanding the customer now, communicating and engaging with them in the right way, and anticipating what they might need, to evolve products and services that meet changing needs or attract new customers.

A generator of responsible growth

The blurring of marketing, experience, loyalty, retention and beyond is an opportunity for marketing teams to lead sustainable growth. With a data-driven view across user behaviours, wants and needs, marketing must become the organisation’s ‘customer conductor’. By orchestrating the right journey at the right time, with the right technology, an organisation can understand, respect and put customer needs first. 

By recalibrating the marketing team and dialling up other levers to support as needed, organisations can meet customer needs, while nudging them towards making better decisions and being part of the process. But in doing this, they must ensure they still meet responsible brand commitments and responsible marketing processes.


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Tom Adams

Tom Adams

Partner, Experience Consulting Leader UK, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7889 654659

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