Marketers play a vital role in re-establishing and fortifying connections across the stakeholder landscape – from customers to business partners and employees, according to Gartner.
“Now is the moment for marketing leaders to recognize and assert their role as the chief stewards of these vital stakeholder connections,” says Carlos Guerrero, senior director, advisory, in the Gartner Marketing practice. “Marketing leaders must explore new pathways to revitalize these stakeholder connections – for example, solidifying brand purpose by leveraging partners across and beyond the enterprise to create ties with like-minded external brands. Marketers must also find ways to engage with their customers beyond transactions.”
Strong Connections with Customers Drives 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 their customers,” said Guerrero. “’What we know’ gets to all the data and information marketers have been able to gather about their customers. But truly ‘knowing’ the customer requires a connection and establishing two-way channels through which valued information flows.”
Marketing leaders must reset expectations that data collection alone means they know the customer, and instead they should use that data to understand why customers make the choices they do and find meaningful motivators that build strong connections with those customers.
“Building connection means understanding what your customers care about, not just what they need to get done. This means understanding them as a whole person, not just as a consumer of your products and services,” added Guerrero.
Strong Connections with Business Partners Powers the Organization
“Marketers are the voice of the customer. They have the digital expertise, and they see how organizational workings contribute to the customer experience or detract from it,” says Mike McGuire, vice-president analyst in the Gartner Marketing practice. “Marketers are uniquely positioned to gather, interpret, analyze and act on customer insights. This is their superpower, and it needs to expand beyond serving marketing to empower those they 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, and incorporating their partners—both internal and external—into that success.
Strong Connections with Employees Leads to Advocacy
“The vitality of the marketing organization is grounded in their own people,” says Dorian Cundick, vice-president: advisory, in the Gartner Marketing practice. “The degree to which marketers cultivate those employee connections can determine whether they’re investing their limited energies and resources in nurturing a thriving brand, or staving off threats from within.”
Gartner’s Consumer Behaviors and Attitudes Survey of more than 750 consumers in September 2020 revealed that 36% of employees had spoken out against their own employer over the past year. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2022, 30% of crisis communications budgets will be used in response to employees speaking out against their organization. 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.
Marketing leaders should address change fatigue with their own teams by building the team’s confidence and capability. In addition, marketing leaders must steer employee activism towards advocacy by offering employees something valuable and empowering.
“To forge stronger connections, marketing leaders need to shift their emphasis from trumpeting authentic commitment—telling the world about all the good their organization is doing—to emphasizing personal fulfilment—enabling their audiences, including their own people, to be part of all the good they’re doing and to tell their own stories of making the world a little better,” added Cundick.