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I went to a really interesting CIM workshop at the Confex show today. I was tweeting through the event and surprised that there wasn’t a better twitter presence for the event given the type of people that would be attending if I’m honest.

But…back to the session which as I say was excellent. Speaker for CIM was Thomas Brown who was a confident and fluent presenter. I was sat fairly far back and couldn’t really see him or gauge his body language but I felt very comfortable with his approach and understood all the points he was making, which isn’t always easy in a noisy show floor exhibition seminar like that.

He started by commenting that customers’ attitudes towards value have shifted, and that this will have a long term impact on our approaches to marketing. He didn’t spend time discussing the impacts of the recession as such, but did say that a recent CIM marketing trend survey shows that the majority of large companies surveyed are starting to increase marcomms spend in 2010, showing that there’s a shift from the doom of last year.

His aim was to share some ways that marketing should be shifting to respond to the new environment we are in.

The first was to integrate customer experience. In other words, to put customers at the centre of what we do, and ensure that their experience of a brand is comprehensive, so every contact point that a person has with a company is consistent with that company’s ethos/vision/strategy/whatever you want to call it.

For this to happen, the whole organization has to unite behind the strategy. He said – very rightly – that marketing is just one strand of this conversation, and they can facilitate but shouldn’t dominate. This has to be achieved in conversation with all parts of the business, to figure out how do you want to be perceived and how does that play out in these different areas (from finance to customer services to marketing). You need to think about your customer journeys, where are the touch points and – most importantly – what is their need?

The really strong take away here was that consistent integrated experiences create tangible value: think about starbucks for example where maintaining this consistent brand experience has been shown to have made a big difference to the bottom line.

His next theme was the need to revisit value propositions: businesses must articulate real understanding of customer needs. He suggested this doesn’t need to be achieved through expensive research, but rather by engaging with key customers, chatting informally about what their top needs/issues are, and then correlating that with internal knowledge across the business. Again this isn’t just a marketing function but across the whole organization.
Theme no. 3 was using alliances/partnerships: what opportunities are there in collaboration? For example what are others in your business chain doing to engage with customers? How could you benefit from working with them? How would customers feel (could they benefit too?). It is definitely worth considering whether your business could benefit from brand association with another organisation.

His final theme was on marketing capability: what should marketers be doing? In another CIM survey, marketers commented that skill-sets are becoming more cross-functional, e.g. engagement in business strategy and a better understanding of finance. This means it’s crucial to be savvy about how the business operates outside of marketing.

His points don’t just apply to marketing but PR and all comms professionals. We all have a role to play in business strategy and brand/customer experience. I’ll certainly be looking up the free reports he referred to on the CIM website.