MarTech Interview with Suzanne Kounkel, CMO at Deloitte

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“Consumer needs can change quickly, something we
experienced tenfold during the pandemic, and it’s important for brands to listen and react to these evolving needs in real time.”

About Me

Hi Suzanne. Welcome to MarTech Series. Please tell us about your journey in Marketing and how you arrived at Deloitte.

Thanks for having me. My journey in Marketing and Sales—and my journey with Deloitte—are very much one and the same as I’ve spent most of my career here focused on these areas. As Chief Marketing Officer for the Deloitte US firm, I work to drive customer-centric business plans and creative collaborations across our teams. Earlier in my career, I led Deloitte’s US Customer market offering, which involves CMO services, and established Deloitte’s Next Gen CMO Academy. Recently, I served in a dual role of CMO of Deloitte Consulting and CMO of Deloitte US. I’ve been fortunate to work with many smart, innovative marketers and sales professionals over the years.

As a woman marketer in tech business, what message do you have for young female colleagues in the industry who are struggling through the pandemic and global slowdown?

This has been a difficult time for professionals in many different industries, and there’s value to acknowledging that it’s a very uncertain and unsettling time, both personally and professionally. It’s also no secret that women still disproportionately bear the burden of juggling things at home, which is even more apparent now as many of us try to be parents, teachers, short-order cooks, DIY crafters, family therapists, pet walkers, zoom stylists…the list goes on and on! and is in addition to running our operations and managing our careers.   The playbook got thrown out at the beginning of the pandemic and we’re all doing our best to continue to adapt solutions and respond in real-time.

I had a wonderful opportunity years ago to lead our Women’s Initiative in Consulting and even when I ran one of our industry sector verticals, I frequently encouraged people (and I include myself in that category) to:

Be Proud. We are often too hard on ourselves.  Take pride in what you have done to be where you are today.

Be Bold.  One of my favorite quotes is from Coco Chanel, “The most courageous act is still to act for yourself.  Aloud.”  Don’t ever clip your own wings.  The world needs our voices, please use them.

Be Better.  Push forward, learn more, listen more, build stronger networks, make friends who inspire you.

– And always laugh… I know it ruins the alliteration but laughter is therapeutic, freeing and infectious – all critical especially in today’s times

Lastly, I would say… Be Kind.  Be kind to yourselves and be kind to each other.

What are your marketing predictions for 2021? How will technology platforms (AI, automation, data science) play a big role in your industry?

There are a few things I see happening in Marketing that will impact our work moving forward. One is a focus on maintaining the connection to the customer. With so many of our interactions being virtual, the human experience is a key element of Marketing, especially considering our proximity to the customer and really owning that relationship. We can take full advantage of data and analytics to understand the whole customer journey through analytical tools. Marketing can track interactions and determine how to make every customer experience a positive one. In a recent study, the CMO Council and Deloitte found that only one-third of CMOs are applying their new tools in this way, so there is definitely room for opportunity here.

Global Marketing Trends in COVID-19

Deloitte’s latest Global Marketing Trends report puts the onus on C-suite leaders to rebuild the business in 2021. What are the sentiments of middle management and bottom line in such a scenario?

The report is designed to offer tools and resources for C-Suite leaders, but the sentiments absolutely apply to all levels of an organization. Our findings touch on high-level decisions such as the adoption of new technologies or sizeable pivots in strategy, but the core of what we recommend is a human-centered, empathetic approach that can, and should, be adopted for interactions at every level – both inside and outside of the organization.

Coming back to the C-Suite leaders for a moment, I did also want to mention that when we polled executives for our global study, the two leaders expected to play the biggest roles in returning to growth were the Chief Digital Officer and CMO, pointing to the importance marketing strategy will have as we rebuild in 2021.

Marketing teams had to take a massive back-step(s) to meet global pandemic norms. How did your experience with global brands and customers enable you to tackle pandemic challenges?

This is an excellent question and actually speaks to one of the key themes in our report – agility. While the challenges we faced this year were unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before, when it came time to make a shift, it was the brands who were built to embrace change that were able to pivot most easily and avoid irrevocable back-steps. Over the years, I’ve worked with brands as we tackled seemingly unsurmountable roadblocks, but with perseverance and a willingness to adapt we were always able to come out on the other side stronger and more prepared than before.

How easy or hard is it today to understand how human behaviors alter, and how these affect consumer’s ability to choose brands for their needs? 

Understanding human behavior will, by nature, never be an exact science but it is something our team at Deloitte has been able to help illuminate through reports like our Global Marketing Trends. Consumer needs can change quickly, something we experienced tenfold during the pandemic, and it’s important for brands to listen and react to these evolving needs in real-time. As part of our research, we found that over half of our respondents could recall a brand that specifically pivoted to better respond to their needs and 82% of those said it led to doing more business with the brand, so there is a clear connection between company response and customer behavior.

Please tell us how brands can restore faith in customers. What common mistakes should business leaders avoid to ensure brand value returns to normalcy?

Transparency is imperative when it comes to instilling faith in a brand for consumers.  As part of our Global Marketing Trends study, we spoke to customers about their response to brands after something like a data breach and we found they were 2.8 times more likely to continue buying from that brand if the company was open and honest about the situation and their intentions moving forward. It’s also important that brands are speaking to the value-based needs of their customers – illustrating that they are trustworthy when it comes to aligning their intentions with their actions and weaving those principles into all aspects of the organization.

Purpose is also a key factor, there’s a lot of research that shows purpose-driven organizations tend to thrive during challenging environments. Customers are savvy—they know whether a company’s response is genuine or not: experiences they’ve had with that brand in the past; how they’ve seen the brand react in other times of crisis; how they’re known to treat their employees. In our current environment, companies needed to decide what their role should be, in both how they help and how they position themselves in brand/advertising. I think the companies that did it right—really stood out—were the ones who stayed true to their purpose.

What is so special about marketing with a human-centered approach? 

What I love about a human-centered approach to marketing is that it is truly the only way to ensure an honest, lasting relationship between a brand and a consumer. Efficiency will always be a priority for organizations, but when that is balanced with prioritizing human connection, meeting the consumer where they want to engage,  companies are able to connect with their customers and bring down their “experience debt,” with measurable benefits both internally and externally.

Could you advise or recommend 3 ways marketers can transform their current abilities within digital space?

Some of my favorite advice in our Global Marketing Trends report is to “be the signal not the noise.” The digital space is so crowded and it’s easy to be drowned out by the constant flow of content, but when brands focus on delivering messages that are specifically relevant to their client base, they are able to break through and speak to customers about what is top of mind for them.  Easy to say, harder to do.  Way number one is to make sure you know what your customers need to hear, not simply what you want to say.  Once you know both sides, then you can fuse the two in a helpful and authentic way.  And given the rapidly changing environment, number two would be to recognize that what works today will likely change tomorrow.  At the beginning, we needed to radically simplify and help people simply respond to the environment.  Now we are able to help with recovery on a path to thrive. Outside of that, I think marketers should be nimble and open to change – there are always new technologies to learn and utilize and marketers who embrace that will be better served in the long run. Lastly, the third way is to look at the digital space as a way to forge deeper connections with customers rather than seeing it as a barrier to human interaction. Over half of people we surveyed noted that they’d participated in at least one digital activity with a brand last year, illustrating the opportunity to make the online space a two-way street for brand communication.

Hear it from the Pro

Please tell us about the top podcasts / webinar series you would recommend to every marketing and sales professional.

I think to be a successful marketer you have to have a solid awareness of what’s happening in the world around you. I love podcasts like The Daily from the New York Times or WSJ’s The Journal that highlight the biggest stories happening right now in brief, easy to digest episodes that can be built into your morning routine. I’d also recommend Knotch’s Pros & Content podcast along with Jim Stengel’s CMO Podcast and CMO Moves with Nadine Dietz. No matter which podcast you choose, though, my best advice is to listen while taking a walk or hiking – a little extra oxygen to reflect and imagine can go a long way!

What is one CX trend you couldn’t miss noticing in 2020? 

So we have been talking about the human experience as an evolution of CX—and 2020 brought that more to the forefront than ever before.  The pandemic, racial inequality, the weather-driven tragedies (just to name several) all meant that it was simply impossible to compartmentalize the roles we used to consider separately. The humanity of the times was something I hope is permanently infused in our way forward.

I think one of the key trends of the past year has been an emphasis on Purpose, and although that’s not a new thing, this year really saw that come to the fore for so many reasons. At the core, a company’s purpose should answer the all-important question of “why do we exist?” It should drive everything you do and the decisions you make. It’s also what makes your people want to get out of bed and come to work – and do good work.

In our GMT report we talk about two domains of trust that marketers often interact with most: customer data and artificial intelligence (AI). As customer experience champions, marketers are expected to act as trusted stewards of customer information and I think 2020 was a year in which we continued to see this grow in importance. And here we’re referring to accessing and using customer data in a manner that maintains—and builds—trust with the customer. As the marketing function continues to leverage AI to enhance customer experiences, marketers need to ensure they are executing this in a manner that doesn’t threaten the trust of the entire organization.

Was there a digital marketing campaign that left a positive impression on your outlook toward a human-centered approach to marketing and business in general? 

Internally, I was really impressed by the recent work Deloitte Digital’s Heat studio just put out for CSAA Insurance Group. Insurance can feel at once highly personal and hard to relate to, and the team did an excellent job of finding a way to illicit a true connection between consumers and the provider by listening and responding with a really personality-filled campaign.

Tag a person from the industry whose answers you would like to read here:

Dara Treseder and Carla Hassan

Thank you, Suzanne! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Suzanne is a principal in Deloitte Consulting LLP and the chief marketing officer (CMO) of Deloitte. As the leader of Deloitte’s integrated marketing and sales organization, Suzanne challenges her team to push the bounds of creativity and collaboration in pursuit of two intertwined goals: happy clients and healthy business growth.

Suzanne’s trifecta of business, technology, and marketing experience provides the essential foundation for spearheading marketing and sales in an era of rapid change and ground-breaking innovation. She recently served as the CMO for Deloitte Consulting LLP, a role that further grounded her marketing and sales leadership in business-specific insights. Additionally, she ran Deloitte’s US Consulting Tech sector industry practice, one of Deloitte’s largest and fastest growing businesses.

A driver of transformational change throughout her Deloitte career, Suzanne’s track record also includes leading Deloitte’s US Customer market offering (which involves CMO services), creating Deloitte’s Next Gen CMO Academy, and developing Deloitte’s customer, market, product, and M&A integration methodology.

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