CMO Insights: Where Do Brands Go from Here with Paige O’Neill of Sitecore

by Jackie Davis

The current crisis is changing the way we live, work, and interact. Relying on digital tools to stay connected is now a necessity. Video calls, online grocery orders, and food delivery via app are all part of the new norm, and marketers are taking notice. The pandemic is not only changing daily life, but how we interact with brands. Brick-and-mortar stores have shuttered their doors and now must rely on a digital presence to engage with consumers. This shift in behavior is impacting the way brands deliver content – both now and in the future.

To dig deeper we spoke with Paige O’Neill, Chief Marketing Officer with Sitecore. O’Neill discussed the impact the pandemic is having on organizations, how brands must adapt, and how they can connect with customers in these uncertain times. Marketers can hear more from O’Neill and the experts at Sitecore during the upcoming Virtual Marketer Day that will explore the importance of human-centric customer experiences.

Read on to hear what O’Neill shared.

Modern Marketing Today (MMT): We’re in a time of global uncertainty. How do you see this current situation impacting not only the way organizations function but how they connect with customers? 

Paige O’Neill (PO): When it comes to customer engagement, one of the things we’ve been focused on for a while at Sitecore – even before the pandemic – is the need to create human connections as a key part of digital transformation journeys. At the end of the day, customers are all human beings, and the brands that understand this, and adapt customer communications appropriately, will make it through not just this current crisis with better customer relationships, but will establish lasting and long-term connections with those customers.

From a functional perspective, there’s no denying that the pandemic has increased the demand for greater digital and omnichannel capabilities regardless if you’re a brick-and-mortar or online retailer. Being able to meet consumers wherever they are physically and emotionally will be the driving force as the customer journey becomes more complex and focused on greater relevance, convenience, and enjoyment—all which create a more human connection that is hard to break.

In addition, we’re seeing many businesses pull back on ad spend to cut costs and avoid unnecessary and potentially tone-deaf messages while many people are sheltering in place. This is driving the immediate need to focus more on personalized content via websites, apps and direct marketing geared toward audiences who are already interested in an organization’s products and services. The ability to tap into what you know about a customer and empathize with current circumstances has perhaps never been as critical as it is right now.

MMT: How will these changes influence how marketing and content teams work? Especially with many brands relying on digital interactions?

PO: Marketing and content teams need to manage content with greater efficiencies in order to handle more of it as digital has moved from a secondary channel to a primary one for many businesses and companies look to start or expedite their digital transformation journeys.

Content is a joy and pain for marketers. Given the volume of content needed to drive personalized digital experiences, brands often struggle to meet the content demand – something we call – the content crunch. But what if we were able to create less content, but the content we do create resonates better with customers? By using technology and taking a storytelling approach, we’re seeing brands demonstrate empathy with customers. I see this as being something even more critical as brands look to have empathetic and human connections with customers during difficult times.

When we started our own digital transformation at Sitecore, we completed in-depth audience research, leading us to many interesting findings. One that stands out, was a desire by our marketing target audience members to receive more technical information from Sitecore so they could speak easier with their IT counterparts, and our IT targets wanted non-technical information to communicate better with their marketing teams. My hope is, our efforts are helping these teams now even more than we imagined, as many are communicating remotely with each other.

When it comes to content dissemination, headless CMS is making it much easier for organizations to reduce redundancies in work and materials while streamlining content that’s unique to each market, region, language and individual for better ROI. Use of AI for insights will help marketers by providing greater detail into what customers are looking for on their sites and apps, so they can provide more relevant content and do it faster. Digital is enhancing the marketer role with tools to understand and reach customers across their devices more dynamically and with greater granularity than ever before.

MMT: What changes do you see resulting from this crisis? Both for business and customer preferences? 

PO: We’ve never experienced anything like the current pandemic in the digital age—closing businesses around the world and keeping most people at home. I expect to see a lot more consumers who previously didn’t shop online adapting and, once they realize the convenience it adds, will continue to use sites and apps to augment or replace how they previously connected with brands and retailers. Because of this, I expect we’ll see more businesses investing in their digital transformation via DXPs to not only get ahead of future disruptions and meet consumer needs right now but also prepare to meet long-term expectations for digital experiences from consumers coming out of it.

I also think that for marketers, there’s a new realization in terms of how nimble and agile they can be.

Instead of investing hours and hours in a six-month marketing roadmap, marketers have learned by meaning of necessity to adjust strategy on the fly and adapt to immediate consumer needs in ways never before thought possible. A year from now we’ll be able to look back at this mass digitization experiment and apply these innovations to better understand what kind of digital experiences and technologies are most critical for customers. Hindsight will give us the gift of being able to build lessons from the hardships and come out stronger than ever from both a customer relationship and digital perspective.

MMT: What are some ways brands can engage customers with these things in mind?

PO: We already have the ability to do a lot by leveraging digital today. For example, retail brands are dipping their toes into direct-to-consumer with unique personalized experiences and custom product offerings built around digital, and grocers and restaurants are leveraging omnichannel with web/mobile and app ordering for delivery and pickup orders to support social distancing.

Whether delivering more relevant content to customers across your websites, apps and email or enhancing your services through digital, brands can engage more effectively with customers by making sure they are using customer insights to deliver content that is relevant to their current needs. For e-commerce companies that have to compete with the immediate gratification and convenience that brick-and-mortar shops offer, they should be promoting how they can support consumers during off hours and also illustrate the value, convenience and unique customer experience they can offer from the comfort of your own home. The goal here is to not only show your immediate value but build a relationship that will continue post crisis, and the current situation is giving brands ready for this challenge a chance to test the waters and show customers what they can offer.

MMT: Which companies have impressed you since the outbreak?

PO: I think businesses leveraging their omnichannel capabilities to better serve customers during the pandemic really stand out. Sitecore customer FoodStuffs, a New Zealand grocery chain, already had online and mobile ordering available for deliveries and pickups, but the capability has proven extremely useful right now. They’ve done a great job of promoting these services to support social distancing efforts and reduce heavy foot traffic at stores, as well as to support customers who’ve had to self-quarantine.

From a leadership perspective, Salesforce’s Marc Benioff has been a tremendous role model for other companies navigating the crisis. His commitment to pledging no layoffs for 90 days and encouraging other technology companies to also take the pledge has set a great example and is something we quickly adopted at Sitecore.

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