In new Econsultancy research, conducted in partnership with Google, it’s clear that mindset is a key difference for leading marketers. They not only recognize the shift in power from brand to individual, their values are evolving in response.

This is the third of four articles (find parts onetwo and four) that present the top findings from The Driving Business Growth Series, based on a recent survey of 514 executives at companies averaging more than $1 billion in 2016 revenues.

Respondents have been divided into two groups based on performance. Leaders significantly exceeded their top 2016 business goal and comprise roughly one-fourth of the sample. The remaining 75% are designated the mainstream for comparison.

Throughout the research, the differences between these groups are significant and educational; leaders are consistently further along in building organizations that are data-driven, focused on larger business goals and committed to customer experience as a path to growth.

When the customer is in control…

Massive changes in customer behavior require an equal response from brands.

In most sectors, consumers now enjoy a superabundance of choices, low switching costs and commoditization supported by an efficient global supply chain. The internet and connected devices have literally put control in the hands of the individual.

The process by which we discover, research and purchase products has been completely made over, and continues to evolve quickly. It’s happened fast. In 2012, the “customer journey” didn’t even appear among marketers’ top priorities.

Today, 89% of leading marketers say that it is critical to their growth that they anticipate customer needs and provide assistive experiences along the consumer journey.

While the most successful marketing organizations are 39% more likely to strongly believe this, mainstream respondents are generally in agreement. The important differences are in the actions the two groups are taking or failing to take.

The first step is to dissect the implications of this priority. What does it take to understand the customer journey well enough to provide useful assistance along the way? What does it take to be able to provide that assistance in real time and at scale?

All marketing organizations have to confront these essential questions, but their unique answers will dictate success or failure.

Their master’s’ voice – understanding the needs of the customer

Understanding the customer means using data of all kinds. The variety of signals available to marketers is exploding. It includes an enormous range of explicit and implicit signals from a growing number of sources.

Of the customer information collected by brands themselves, first party data is the most important category; 92% of leading marketers believe that it’s critical to their growth to continuously build an understanding of what people want using first party data.

In other words, companies have the ongoing job of building their knowledge of every customer and prospect, updating it with every interaction.

chart first party data

Leading companies are putting resources into developing the asset – they are 72% more likely than the mainstream to strongly agree that they are investing in improving the quality and/or volume of the first-party data they capture.

Service at scale – the technology for delivering unique experiences

Technology is the only route to individual service at scale. More sophisticated companies have also expanded into site customizations and personalization within apps, but most marketers feel that they are only scratching the surface.

Due to the number of variables involved, it has taken the industry longer than anticipated to connect automation to positive financial outcomes. Even among leading marketers, the scale has only just tipped; 51% say that their organization is confident in its ability to use automation to drive revenue.

Soon, however, the growing capability of technology will open the door to reaching customers with relevant messages in real-time.

Leaders recognize the coming role of smart technologies; over 80% agree that a capability in machine learning will be critical to provide personalized experiences along the consumer journey.

The core capability of machine learning, and other technologies that enable personalization, is prediction. We often think of predictive analytics in the context of pipeline and inventory activities that can take days, weeks, or even months to show impact, but there is also value in more immediate timescales.

As consumers, our expectations for digital service are exacting; we want the right thing instantly. The ability to stay ahead of a user, even by fractions of a second, is critical to delivering the right content within the constraints of time and space presented by a mobile world.

The full research reports in The Driving Business Growth Series are available via Econsultancy subscription.