‘Marketers are leading the shift to the internet of customers’

Marketers, not CIOs, are leading the “third wave of computing”, a new world where everything from the toothbrush to the aircraft engine will soon be connected, a shift Salesforce coined at its annual Dreamforce conference in San Francisco this year as “the internet of customers”. 

Marc Benioff Meg Whitman

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff speaking with HP CEO Meg Whitman at Dreamforce 2013.

Aside from the incessant backslapping over the company’s philanthropic ventures and the ostentatious stageshow that forms the annual Dreamforce centrepiece - with Huey Lewis and the News, the Prime Minister of Haiti and actor-cum-activist Sean Penn nestled between the high-profile business executives joining Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff during the keynote - when the dialogue was not focused on the good deeds of Salesforce itself, the action was aimed squarely at the marketer.

Salesforce used a 2012 Gartner study, which predicted by 2017 the CMO will spend more on IT than the CIO, as evidence for the marketer’s role in the internet of customers.

HP chief executive Meg Whitman, who appeared at the conference to announce her company’s “super pod” data centre partnership with Salesforce, remarked on the change: “Who thought 20 years ago marketing would be a technology business? Now every business is a technology business.”

Marketers should prepare themselves to embrace the “internet of customers” by becoming far more involved with the product development team, suggested Scott Dorsey, CEO of the Salesforce ExactTarget Marketing Cloud. This could mean integrating a support button into their products as Philips demonstrated with one of its medical scanners or developing features such as Amazon Kindle’s Mayday Button, which the ecommerce company is currently advertising on UK TV.

Despite marketers readying themselves to enter this new era, most brands lack an indepth understanding of their customers, with CMOs listing being closer to their audience as their top strategic priority over the next five years. IBM’s 2012 global CMO study released earlier this year - and highlighted at Dreamforce - found eight out of 10 (81 per cent) marketers plan to increase their use of customer analytics and CRM in the next three to five years. However, 71 per cent of marketers feel underprepared to manage the impact of big data, with almost three quarters (72 per cent) saying cost is the biggest barrier to adopting new technology and tools.

While it could be argued that brands have always wanted to know their customers better, marketers from brands such as UK luxury car dealer HR Owen and US exhibition basketball team Harlem Globetrotters spoke about how there are more tools available to create a single customer view now than before, which is proving a winning formula with consumers and underlines an actual trend - not just a catchy strapline for conference bumf.

In a video during the main keynote, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe’s vice president of relationship marketing Darren Carter said: “[Customers] like to see the big brand campaigns but they become much more active when we send targeted messages. When a company takes notice in a way that’s correct as opposed to pretending to take notice, the customer will think you’ve passed the test today, but you’ve got to keep coming back and passing the test every day.”

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