What Are The Two Most Critical Challenges Facing Marketers?

For those of you who view me as a customer service expert, you might be surprised to know that I have an avid interest in marketing and most of my work over the last 10 years has been with, and continues to be with, marketers and the Marketing function. So in this post, I am going to address what I see as two most important challenges facing marketers and the Marketing function.

Is technology the answer to the challenges facing marketers?

I recently attended and spoke at the Technology for Marketing & Advertising conference/exhibition in London. What I found fascinating is the love of new technology.  I was reminded of the heady days of CRM.  Do you remember those days?  The days when Siebel sales folks would open up every sales presentation with “Siebel is the fastest growing software company ever.” And the point was that CRM technology was going to change the business world and put customers and their wallets at the feet of the organisation.

What is the biggest challenge facing marketing and advertising today?  Is it the lack of technology to gather up all the data on prospects and customers and use this data to fire out marketing propaganda and offers, across a variety of channels; to turn prospects into customers and customers into repeat buyers and loyal advocates?  If the folks in your marketing department believe this then your business is in deep trouble.

The first challenge is that of relevance

When it comes to effective marketing the first challenge is relevance.  From the customer perspective the question is “Why should I listen to you?  Why are you relevant to my life? What do you offer that simplifies/enriches my life?”  Please tell me how technology is going to address this crucial challenge for you.

Look, Sky keeping marketing to me through direct mail, through email, and by telephoning me regularly.  What does Sky want?  Sky wants me to sign up for Sky TV; I was once a customer.  I keep refusing. Why?  My viewing needs are adequately addressed through a combination of Netflix/Lovefilm and going to the cinema.  What Sky TV has to offer is no longer relevant even if it is being offered at half price.

The second challenge is that of the Customer Experience

Marketing is a profession that is tasked with manipulating impressions and emotions through the use of image, words, sounds and story. Put bluntly, marketing to date has been the discipline of propaganda.  The big problem is that this propaganda does not work. Why?  The most pithy answer I have ever come across is that put forth by Matt Watkinson:

No amount of marketing can compensate for an average one-star review on Amazon. You just couldn’t talk the talk anymore, you had to walk the walk. 

If you get this you get the enormity of the challenge.  What this means is the marketers and the Marketing function have to pretty much turn themselves inside out.  They have to transform themselves from image makers to reality makers. Their challenge is to ensure that all the organisational actors that impinge on the Customer Experience do that which is necessary to deliver a Customer Experience that matches the brand promise, the value proposition, and the customer expectations.

Please tell me who the fancy technology is going to help you, the marketers, to influence the minds and shape the actions of all the people in the organisation that directly or indirectly generate the Customer Experience?

My advice to marketers

Technology is a red herring.  Technology allows you to undertake marketing activities.  Technology impacts the operation/mechanics of doing marketing.  What technology does not do is address the strategic challenges. Worse still the pursuit of technology distracts you from the most important strategic challenges facing you, and your business.  What are those strategic challenges?  Brand relevance, and Customer Experience.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant. Passionate about enabling customer-centricity by calling forth the best from those that work in the organisation and the intelligent application of digital technologies. Subject matter expert with regards to customer strategy, customer insight, customer experience (CX), customer relationship management (CRM), and relationship marketing. Working at the intersection of the Customer, the Enterprise (marketing, sales, service), and Technology.

9 thoughts on “What Are The Two Most Critical Challenges Facing Marketers?”

  1. consumers today want every vendor to represent themselves as technically advanced and enhanced, somewhat you are right as well


  2. Maz, I started my career at Unilever the FMCG company.

    Marketing ruled the roost, it was (and probably still is) a marketing led company.

    Is that bad? I think it depends on what your view of Marketing is. The best Marketeers I worked with saw their job as finding new markets and ensuring that consumers were given what they wanted, they obsessed about product quality and availability, spent months in stores talking to customers, trying to work out what they wanted.

    If Marketing is simply advertising, then I agree with you. But I think the best Marketeers have so much more to offer than that.



    1. Hello James

      I find myself in agreement with you.

      One reason that I enjoy working with marketers is when I am in the same room as the kind of marketers that you are talking about: the ones that make the effort to figure out how they can enrich lives, come with products and value propositions that speak to customers, and figure out how to make a market and own it. I call this strategic marketing. Which occurs for me as being distinct from operational marketing.

      My experience is that there is lots of operational marketing going on and little strategic marketing. And the companies that genuinely excel at strategic marketing are not abundant – at least they do not show up as being abundant for me.

      So you switched from FMCG to Insurance. You have led an interesting life.



      1. Via retail, banking and self employment. I can’t hold a job down. Interestingly I would hypothesize that the smaller the margin, the more you worry about your customers



  3. Hello Maz,

    Thanks for the posting – I agree with what you have written. One additional thought as to how technology might help in this area would be to identify a “timely” moment to make a relevant offer. Relevance is this case is not only brand/solution relevance – but relevant to the particular moment where the customer is – i.e. investigating products, trying to solve a problem, etc. Also, relevance is in relation to the existing footprint of products or services the customer might have with that company.

    Technology enables an experience or momentary transaction to be knowledgeable of where the customer is (product share, experiential phase and project an emotional state based on some business rules), then offer something that might be both timely and relevant whether through an agent, mobile, web, etc.


    1. Hello George

      I find myself to be in disagreement with you. The practice of making the right offer at the right time is direct outgrowth of the practice of direct marketing. Getting the timing of the offer right is of huge importance to driving up marketing ROI. I get that I ran a data mining and predictive analytics practice for two year. Who did we serve? The automotive industry. Here timing is everything: too early and the customer ignores you; one day late and the customer has bought his new car and will not be in the market for another 3-4 years.

      Yet, I find myself buying lots from Amazon without them doing any marketing to me. In fact they do occasionally send me email offers and for the most part I don’t take them up on these offers. Why? Because for all their sophistication they do not know me as well as I know myself.

      Look, I, the customer know my situation and my needs best. When I am in the market to buy stuff I go to Google and I search. Based on reviews I select the vendor and the product. Then I do a price comparison. And finally, I buy. In my world there really is little opening for the right offer made to me at the right time. Great in theory, almost never works in practice. I know there are exceptions; and interestingly the cases are related to life changing events. Even there I wonder about the effectiveness.

      All the best


      1. Maz, I’m in agreement with you on “push” marketing campaigns not being very effective.

        What I am advocating are once a customer is engaged (buying a first product, serving their account, using a service, etc.) there are opportunities to make an offer that is relevant to that moment and in that particular time. Amazon, as an example, puts up listing of books or other things that others have liked that are similar to what you might have searched on. These have a high degree of probability for being relevant to the customer. In the case of a high bill for an electric customer, offering them conservation ideas or programs at that emotional time when the bill is 15-25% higher than expected might be better received and actionable.

        These are the types of moments that technology can assist in quickly making an offer that meets a customer’s emotional and situational state.


      2. Hello George

        I find myself to be in total agreement with you. When you, the company, provides me with information that shows up as useful then I value you. What is great about the Amazon system is that Amazon does not show up in my world as selling to me. Amazon shows up as providing me with useful information. Information I can pursue, that has the potential to enrich me. ANd it may result in buying. The best kind of selling is not selling. And Amazon does this beautifully.

        I think of strategic marketing as tilting the table toward success. Which is what Amazon does through its vast store of products that are easy to find; through the customer reviews; through the ease of the shopping experience; and through its ability to get the product to me on time and keep me informed.

        Once the table it tilted towards success through relevance and the customer experience, operational marketing can kick in to contribute to the customer and thus drive sales. My point is not that it is pointless to focus on operation marketing. My point is that first you have to tilt the table via strategic marketing so that the seed of operational marketing via technology can take hold.

        I thank you for generating this conversation.

        With my love


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