Gartner Keynote: Why Marketers Are Vital for Connected, Successful Organizations

August 31, 2021
Contributor: Kelly Blum

Marketers must (re)commit to driving strong connections between their organization and customers, business partners and employees during challenging times.

In nature, plants transfer nutrients and information via a vast network of roots and a microscopic fungal superhighway called mycelium. These symbioses allow ecosystems to flourish in even the harshest conditions. Marketing plays a similarly vital role connecting stakeholders — customers, business partners and employees — to the brand. This is especially the case during times of heightened uncertainty and pressure, when the ability of marketing to form and nurture vital connections can make or break a brand’s success.

“Now is the moment for marketing leaders to recognize and assert their role as the chief stewards of these vital stakeholder connections.”

“Now is the moment for marketing leaders to recognize and assert their role as the chief stewards of vital stakeholder connections,” said Carlos Guerrero, Senior Director, Advisory, Gartner, during the opening keynote of the Gartner Marketing Symposium/Xpo™ 2021 conference. 

“Marketing leaders must explore new pathways to revitalize stakeholder connections — for example, solidifying brand purpose by leveraging partners across and beyond the enterprise to create ties with like-minded external brands,” Guerrero said. “Marketers must also find ways to engage with their customers beyond transactions.”

To drive long-term organizational goals and values, marketers should align day-to-day activities, decisions and connections with customers, business partners and employees. 

Strong customer connections drive loyalty

Marketing’s ability to gather significant amounts of customer data has helped build more sophisticated ways to develop products and services, build journey maps and experiences, and target timely, relevant messages to customers. However, data and insights alone don’t build strong, symbiotic connections with customers. 

“Lately, marketing leaders have been guilty of conflating ‘what we know about our customers’ with truly knowing our customers,” said Guerrero. “ ‘What we know’ gets to all the data and information we’ve been able to gather about our customers. But truly ‘knowing’ our customer requires a connection. That means establishing two-way channels through which valued information flows.” 

Marketing leaders must use data to understand why customers make the choices they do, and find meaningful motivators that build strong connections with those customers. “Building connections means understanding what your customers care about, not just what they need to get done,” said Guerrero. 

Collaborate with business partners to power the organization

Gartner research shows that 90% of boards of directors believe that the recent COVID-19 crisis increased the need for cross-functional collaboration. Marketing is well poised to be the orchestrator of that collaboration. 

“Marketers are the voice of the customer. We have the digital expertise and we see how organizational workings contribute to the customer experience or detract from it,” said Mike McGuire, VP Analyst, Gartner. “Marketers are uniquely positioned to gather, interpret, analyze and act on customer insights. This is our superpower, and we need to expand it beyond serving marketing to empower those we collaborate and work with.” 

However, more than a third of digital marketers say that cross-functional relationship building is the most difficult activity they face. Building and maintaining strong connections with business partners is a two-way street — one that focuses on sharing challenges, listening to the challenges of partners and applying collective strengths to solve problems.

To do this, marketers need to shift focus from solely demonstrating and showcasing the value and contributions the marketing organization makes to the bottom line. They should go a step further and incorporate their partners — both internal and external — into that success. 

Cultivating relationships with employees leads to advocacy

“The vitality of our organization is grounded in our own people,” said Dorian Cundick, VP, Advisory, Gartner. “And the degree to which we cultivate those employee connections can determine whether we’re investing our limited energies and resources in nurturing a thriving brand or staving off threats from within.”

Gartner research shows that 36% of employees have spoken out against their own employer over the past year. And business leaders have taken notice, with 30% of crisis communications’ budgets going to employee activism. Marketing leaders must play a role in helping employees feel more grounded, in control and part of something bigger in order to invigorate performance, loyalty and brand advocacy. 

To do this, marketing leaders should address change fatigue within their own teams by building the teams’ confidence and capabilities. In addition, marketing leaders must steer employee activism toward advocacy by offering employees something valuable and empowering. 

“To forge a stronger connection, we need to shift our emphasis from trumpeting authentic commitment — telling the world about all the good our organization is doing — to emphasizing personal fulfilment: enabling our audiences, including our own people, to be part of all the good we’re doing, and to tell their own stories of making the world a little better,” said Cundick.

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