Brand X: Why customer experience is a cloud marketing must-have

Marketers of today’s services and apps need to put their customers’ experience at the center of their strategy. Contributor Brent Sleeper explains why.


It’s self-evident that designing and delivering a product or service that your customers want to use is the best route to business success. But the way marketers help companies get there has changed dramatically in recent years, as products and services increasingly live in the cloud of web and mobile apps.

There was a time — not so long ago, really — when marketers and product managers operated in very different spheres. Product managers built stuff. Marketers sold it.

Of course, that’s a simplification of an interrelated relationship between marketers and product managers. Even if we had clear boundaries, to be effective, we’d work together to understand market needs, and we’d periodically touch base to get aligned with product road maps and strategic priorities. But we each lived our own side of the house, and our responsibilities were pretty well separated. Almost sounds quaint, doesn’t it?

If you’re a marketer or product manager, think about where you are today. I bet a lot of us find the boundaries between these job responsibilities to have grown quite a bit more ambiguous.

Depending on our organizations, we might not even have roles or titles that fit that classic paradigm. Perhaps we’re growth hackers. Or maybe we’re customer champions. And I’m sure there are other novel roles I’m omitting. But even those of us with tried-and-true labels like “product manager” and “product marketer” recognize that our goals, day-to-day work and teams have evolved in some dramatic ways.

Things change. Like most social constructs, businesses and management theory are susceptible to fashion and novelty.

But I’m not here to mock business school jargon or the eccentricities of a tech bubble. In fact, far from it. Something fundamental is going on with this shift in how marketers and product professionals work to create value for our customers.

X marks the spot

If you’ve marketed software or web apps over the past decade, you’ve likely encountered (and incorporated) a steady progression of conceptual approaches to understanding and shaping how customers interact with your product. User experience. Customer experience. Digital experience.

So ingrained are these terms that the catchy initialisms used to name them — UX, CX, DX — have become shorthand for an entire style of product strategy and design thinking. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m soon reading about the discipline of “XX” on thought-leader blogs.

The similarity in these terms makes clear that the underlying ideas are interconnected. But their euphony also makes it easy to conflate the concepts. Don’t make that mistake — they’re not the same thing! Here’s one way to think about these interrelated concepts:

  • The discipline of user experience (UX) design in software is focused on usability, affective and emotional aspects of a product, making certain desired user activities intuitive and so on. It’s about designing for how a software product is used.

  • Customer experience (CX) is concerned with the overall interaction between a business and a customer over the span of their relationship. It is a high-level, strategic view of the quality of a customer’s encounters with all touch points: products, services and brand.

  • Finally, digital experience (DX) could be said to represent the intersection of UX and CX. Its focus is understanding, measuring and optimizing how customers interact with a company on the web, in apps and in communications channels like email and text messaging.

A quick search on Google for any of these terms will show a booming cottage industry of articles, conferences and experts all dedicated to helping marketers put the X in their go-to-market strategies and marketing programs — not to mention martech platforms that enable CX execution.

In the cloud, we’re selling the experience of being a customer

It’s easy to see how the customer experience at a retailer like Target or a coffee shop like Starbucks is shaped by very tangible factors in their store environment, merchandising, ubiquitous branding and so on.

These particular companies also have deservedly good reputations for bridging their online and offline experiences with strong mobile app offerings and cross-channel integration. You can be sure these companies consider CX to be a core aspect of their mission.

But what about businesses that exist entirely online? How does CX play out when there’s no real-world analogue to carry into the digital realm?

For users of a cloud service, the digital experience is the customer experience. That’s why marketers at cloud service providers need to remember our businesses are not just delivering a functional value — whether it’s music streaming, CRM, or in the case of my company, email delivery.

What service providers are in fact selling is the experience of being a customer. That understanding, as much as any technical or functional advantage, is what differentiates cloud leaders from also-rans.

Good marketing is part of a great customer experience

Because the online experience is so malleable, digital marketers can have an outsized impact on our customers’ experience.

Think of your own interactions with web apps and cloud services. While I hope the majority are delightful, I’m sure you also can recall too many that are marred by intrusive ad technology or other poorly conceived marketing efforts that compromise your experience as a customer for the sake of the marketers’ convenience or short-term needs.

So, what should we do as marketers to help our companies deliver a great customer experience? I’d like to leave you with three ideas to consider.

First, because customers don’t draw a bright line between their pre- and post-signup experiences, neither should we. In other words, marketing itself is part of the customer experience we sell. In fact, when done right, marketing is the epitome of making the customer journey feel effortless — an experience so good the customer wants to invest time and money.

Second, marketing can’t stop at the sign-up form. Dumping a customer off at the front door leaves a jarring disconnect between the promise and the fulfillment. Truthfully, that doesn’t work for any business, but it’s especially problematic for one that’s selling an experience.

Marketing must cross the marketing/product divide attitudinally and functionally to support and optimize things like onboarding and customer engagement that used to be considered “a product problem.”

Finally, generating leads “at any cost” hurts the customer experience. Sometimes, we’ll have to give more and get less — to get more in the long run. We have more ways of targeting customers and measuring the impact of our efforts than ever before.

That insight and accountability is a good thing. But don’t be fooled that martech by itself will drive results; exclusively focusing on the technology and data can make it easy to chase the needle and to privilege short-term gains over long-term value.

Martech tools and the data they generate are fundamental to today’s digital world. Like any tool, martech is only as good as the way it’s applied. It’s key to making a great customer experience a reality — as long as we don’t lose sight of what the “X” in CX signifies. With a nod and an apology to James Carville’s ebullient misanthropy, “it’s the experience, stupid.”

As digital marketers, let’s make sure our true north is our customer experience.


[Article on MarTech Today.]

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


Marketing Land – Internet Marketing News, Strategies & Tips