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Creating a Cycle of Understanding, Engagement and Learning

by: Catrina Boisson (@catdrink)
16 June 2016

When management guru Clayton Christensen coined the term “disruptive innovation” in 1995, it was a relatively rare phenomenon. For executives today it has become a regular occurrence. Last year, IBM interviewed more than 700 CMOs globally to gather their perspectives on these turbulent times, and several major themes emerged:

  • New competition is often invisible until it’s too late. To survive, organizations must be willing to reinvent themselves or face obsolescence. Ask yourself: Are you poised to become a predator or will you be the prey?
  • The best CMOs will be CXOs. They’ll lead the charge for end-to-end customer experience, breaking down or bridging silos to ensure they differentiate at each touch point. Ask yourself: Do you have a channel strategy or a customer strategy?
  • CMOs can no longer “do it by themselves.” Collaboration with customers, partners and within the organization is key. Ask yourself: Are you willing to “let go” to grow?

What distinguishes the organizations that excel in this age of disruption? We find that it’s their ability to create a virtuous cycle of understanding, engagement and learning.


While data is at the core of understanding, it’s critical to remember that data is the means, not the end. Face it, data alone is just 0’s and 1’s. You have to be able to derive insight from the data AND make that insight actionable (in real time or near real time). Otherwise, you’re left with an academic exercise – a stack of maps, when what you really need is a GPS. As David McCandless said, “Data is the new soil, the place where your customer relationships can grow. Generating business value from data is about how you can use it to create a fantastic experience for your customers.” 

In fact, our research found that one of the major factors distinguishing leading “torchbearer” CMOs from market followers was their ability to harness the sheer volume of data available today. To excel, your notion of segmentation and customer understanding cannot be limited to traditional demographic and transactional data points. You need to be able to factor in implicit and explicit preferences, behavioral data, unstructured sentiment and attitudinal data as well as predictive. It’s not just about WHO I am and WHAT I’ve purchased, but also the WHY and HOW and what will I do NEXT!


Consider this: 56 percent of customer interactions happen during multichannel, multi-event journeys. Market leaders don’t have a Web strategy or a mobile strategy or a demand gen strategy. They have a customer strategy. To succeed, you need to stop thinking about discrete campaigns and begin to think about the journeys that your customers are taking – across channels and over time. Journeys focused not on what you're trying to sell, but on what customers are trying to accomplish.

Take banking for example. The truth is that no customer really WANTS to take out a loan, but they do care about having enough money for college or that new gourmet kitchen. Ask yourself how you can help, not sell, and be sensitive to context, which can change not just from day to day but from moment to moment.

Of course the challenge is that when you start to think about journeys rather than campaigns, you’ll find that many of the most critical touchpoints are outside of the traditional boundaries of marketing. They are happening in the call center or at the return desk or in the claims department. To deliver the optimal experience, you’ll need to be prepared to do some silo busting (or if you lean toward diplomacy, silo bridging).


As a marketer, I sometimes felt like I spent most of my day fighting fires. Looking in the rearview mirror to figure out what just happened – what worked and what didn’t, both by effort and by customer – often felt like a luxury and time I didn't have. But if you’re committed to continuous improvement, you have to not only encourage your team to experiment but also to carve out the time, and put the tools and processes in place to make sense of every interaction and reaction.

When clients complain that their personalization efforts have plateaued, a failure to capture, analyze and adjust is often at fault. But at the same time, beware of analysis paralysis. There is an old saying that the man with two watches never knows what time it is. Remember to focus on progress over perfection.

The Path Forward

Becoming a leader doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, for most clients, the kind of transformation that will truly differentiate you from the competition is a multi-year journey. To get started you’ll need an unvarnished assessment of where you are now, a shared vision of where you want to be and the C-Level commitment to get there.

People and process-based changes are inevitable, and ideally you’ll have a technology partner agile enough to meet the needs of today yet robust and scalable enough to enable your future state vision. When you succeed, you’ll find that your marketing begins to feel like a conversation rather than a sales pitch – responsive, real-time and continuous – and that both your customers’ experience and your bottom line will improve.


Get More Marketing Ideas:

1) White Paper: “15 Ideas for Anchoring Your Marketing Approach Around Customer Behaviors and Preferences

2) Blog: “Building a Core Competency in Customer Listening

3) Tip Sheet: “Listening, Segmentation, Automation: Building a Strong Foundation for a Digital Marketing Program


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