Is marketing being reborn as CX?

A decade or more ago, digital marketing was more of a blunt instrument. It was like the first stone axe - crude, but it got the job done.

Stone axe

I started my career in digital marketing. I’ve witnessed its growth both first-hand and now from afar, and as some aspects of marketing grow and evolve, the vast majority seems to be stuck on a rinse and repeat cycle of applying new names to old things.

On that note, I’ve noticed a lot of marketing folk have hopped on board the ‘CX’ bandwagon. CX standing for customer experience. All aboard!

Where it was

In 2006, email marketing was in its (relative) infancy. High-yield, big money strategies like PPC and SEO were rife. The former was the start of Google’s world domination, the latter was like the wild west - and arguably still is, if not a little more civilised.

Customers back then were treated like cohorts, not individuals, and the focus was predominantly on acquisition strategies, not retention. It was all about conversion over conversation, and brands were simply not equipped for the digital boom.

When I was operating as a marketing exec and then manager, the digital aspect of digital marketing was still seen as an add-on; a line item on a budget allocation spreadsheet. The concept of desktop versus mobile was only just beginning, and crucially ‘user experience’ as we know it was still very much a niche concept, emanating from a few loud voices to a small but passionate audience of advocates and budding practitioners.

Fast-forward to today

Comparing 10 years ago to today is like comparing that stone axe to a surgeon’s scalpel. So much has changed across the entire digital landscape that it’s impossible to overlook customers as individuals, and brands are finally starting to catch up by designing themselves digitally first.

The rise of ‘CX’

UX is becoming a ubiquitous term. 10 years ago it was a new movement, whereas nowadays most clients expect it (and often add it to that aforementioned spreadsheet as its own line item… but that’s for another article).

The upshot of UX’s popularity is that businesses - and by association their marketing departments - are finally realising that to operate successfully, they need to put the needs of their customers first. User Experience is steeped in a concept called ‘UCD’ or user-centered design, which puts a user (singular) at the core of all messaging, design, product and - ideally - marketing activities. Replacing the ‘user’ term with ‘customer’ is a shift I’m seeing more of, evidenced for example by its popularity in eConsultancy’s 2016 Digital Trends report. The term ‘customer experience’ is used 39 times in the 40-page report, with CX used 20 times. This can only be a good thing, but it does rankle me that this is happening only now.

CX as common sense

Am I taking crazy pills here? Isn’t this concept of marketing putting the customer first just common sense? Shouldn’t this be the rule, not the exception? Putting UCD at the core of a company’s requirements and its marketing can only be beneficial to both parties, but it’s a shame it’s taken this long. It’s a shame marketing feels the need to coin or adopt a new jargon-y term that should have been its core tenet all along. Businesses regularly looking at and addressing the needs of their customers as individuals will - in today’s digital landscape - outlive those who continue to see customers as cohort-based cash cows.

Make things people want

Digital marketing departments should - to cite an oft-quoted phrase by John Wilshere - help make things people want, not make people want things. It’s about people, it’s about their experience with a company’s product and brand. Marketing should be about providing an experience that means something, and showing the customer that the organisation they’re interacting with actually gives a shit about them and their needs. Once that relationship is struck and nurtured, only then can the reciprocal cycle of money <-> services rendered can begin.

I’ve unfortunately become quite cynical about marketing over the years, but hopefully this new focus will help better-align it with the needs of the very customers it’s trying to acquire.