Moving from Desire to Intimacy

(Disclosure: IBM is a client of my employer, Ketchum Public Relations Canada. The views expressed here are my own and may not reflect the views of either IBM or Ketchum.)

We are moving now through the pounding-heart space between desire and intimacy.

That is the core of the message that IBM got when it interviewed 1,734 chief marketing officers around the world. It’s no longer enough for the world’s brands to entice us into desiring their products. Now they have to make us want to go all the way. It’s called “customer intimacy.”

It is the idea that the better I know you, the better I can provide you with exactly what you need to make you happy. And oceans of data on every customer and every consumer interaction should make it possible for me to know you on the molecular level.

What IBM is too polite to say is that intimacy is harder than calculus and messier than red pistachios. Unless you’re very good at it, you get the numbers wrong and leave your fingerprints everywhere. In fact, 80% of the CMOs expect a high or very high level of complexity over the next five years, but only half feel ready to handle it.

As one CMO told IBM: “The perfect solution is to serve each consumer individually. The problem? There are seven billion of them.”
 
Placing “customer intimacy” on the marketing continuum, you can see where this is heading.

First there was awareness. The CMO – probably before that title existed – simply wanted us to know the product or service existed. If you build it, they will come.

Then came the creation of desire. Noses pressed up against steamy windows, we wanted to live the life we saw in those showrooms. We wanted to be driving that convertible around town; listening to that hi-fi with our friends; watching that color TV with our family.

The “creating desire” phase had a good long run. But in recent years, we’ve seen the next stage in the continuum: create engagement. We didn’t just want consumers to love us from afar. We wanted them to write, and phone. We want them to talk about their feelings with us. We are singing to them: “If you want it, then you better put a ring on it.”

And that brings us to “consumer intimacy.” Brands now want you to let them know you better than your own mother does. No secrets. Tell us everything. There can be a dark side to that. Perhaps we’ll snoop around in your phone and read your texts, the better to know your heart’s desire. How long before marketers are sharing that post-consumption cigarette with their consumers? In IBM’s last CEO survey, the CEOs reported that getting closer to customers is one of three prerequisites for success in the 21st century. The CEOs reported that, then they turned the job over to the CMOs.

Where does that leave the CMOs? On the sidelines, like so many high school boys watching cheerleader practice and trying to figure out how to transform desire into a date. They say they have to deliver clear value to the customer – find that something unique that will make them attractive to the cute cheerleader; parlay that into a lasting relationship, and then prove that marketing deserves the credit for the sale.
 
Why is IBM doing studies like this? Because the secret to success is in the data, and nobody does data analytics better than Big Blue.

Says another CMO:
Marketing people will need unique skills in the near future. They’ll need to be capable of integrating marketing and IT — like footballers who can kick with both feet.”

Now, that would be likely to get the cheerleaders’ attention.
 

Geoff Rowan is a recovering journalist, an occasional cigar smoker (outdoors in the summer), a current affairs junkie, wishes he was a stand-up comedian and shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals, and loves a well-told story. He is responsible for assembling the best team of communication professionals in Canada, and thinks there is a quote from “The Anchorman” that is appropriate for just about any situation. “They’ve done studies, you know. 60 per cent of the time it works, every time.”