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Are customer communities changing the marketing department

An interesting question that came up during our workshop (slides here) at the community 2.0 conference was whether CMO’s and their marketing departments are changing with the advent of successful customer communities.

The answer so far is unfortunately: no… While a majority of customer community initiatives seems to migrate towards marketing, they are doing so by accident – not by design. In fact we have seen cases where communities were transitioned under marketing, only to have marketing push back and have them end up with the CFO.

It makes sense for customer communities to end up under marketing – whether new product innovation communities, customer support communities or marketing communities. But they should come with a transformation of the CMO role and that of their marketing department – one in which they become the representative of the voice of the customer within the company instead of the brand builders or the sales support department.

Unfortunately, and in a majority of the cases that we surveyed as part of our study, that is not what is happening. In companies with large marketing budgets, community spending is too small to even make it on the radar screen of the CMO – who often manages the importance of programs and initiatives relative to marketing dollars spent on it. In many companies, the CMO does not have the mandate to represent the voice of the customer within the company – sometimes having no say on new product innovation and in most cases being completely detached from customer support. Yet when looking at companies like Zappos.com, you could argue that customer support is the new sales and marketing channel.

So where does that lead us? For those companies who are not transforming the role of the CMO and their marketing departments, many community activities will fail – as there is no connection between what customers do and expect in those communities and the internal business processes that can actually make things happen. In the long run, and because of the game-changing nature of successful communities, those marketing departments will become totally irrelevant to the company strategy.

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