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The road to digital agility: a Q&A with Scentre Group’s John Batistich

The road to digital agility: a Q&A with Scentre Group’s John Batistich

At the upcoming Vision Critical Asia Pacific Summit in Sydney, John Batistich, director of marketing for property development and shopping centre management company Scentre Group, will deliver a keynote on the future of customer intelligence. Drawing from his 22-year experience in marketing, Batistich will explore the trends transforming today’s business landscape and share his insight on what this new reality means for marketers.

In our Q&A below, Batistich gave us a preview of his talk and shared his thoughts on how companies can step up their digital game.

VC: What do you see as the most pressing challenges facing the marketing practice today, and why?

JB: The two biggest challenges facing marketers today are about data and people.

Customer behavior has profoundly changed in the last decade or so. Driven by technology-enabled connectivity, the customer journey has become more complicated. There are more channels available to customers today. At the same time, we’ve seen an explosion of data available—data that could potentially help companies better understand evolving customer behavior.

We are living in a data-rich universe. Connecting all the data available is a big marketing challenge. Companies need to make sense of all the data available, including transactional and location data, to create personalized, relevant and contextual customer experiences.

To adjust to these shifts, companies need to create marketing teams that are willing to embrace curiosity, agility, experience design and data analytics—skills that are critical in the marketing practice now. Having the right team in place will enable companies to have relevant and timely knowledge about our customers.


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VC: In an Executive Connections event earlier this year, you mentioned the importance of creating a “cultural shift” in order to achieve digital agility. What steps do marketing leaders need to take to create a culture that enables agility?

JB: In the first couple of decades of my career, the customer was relegated outside the business. Listening to customers wasn’t a priority. One of the primary shifts companies need to make to change that: to learn how to bring the customer voice inside the business. Thankfully, bringing the customer voice in the business is easier to do today due to the rise of social business and customer intelligence.

The second piece involves moving from a traditional “waterfall” process to one that involves agile thinking. This borrows from an agile software development process of constantly testing, learning and iterating. You’re forever in beta testing. You just never “launch” anything anymore; you just “release” it and you keep “releasing” and “learning.” This is very different from the waterfall environment, something that most companies are used to, where you scope your requirements, design and implement and launch. Unfortunately, the waterfall model is not fast enough and requires very little customer validation. It’s not a good approach for today’s business world.

Companies need to consider tools that allow them to be agile, to iterate almost in real time and to frequently validate functionality and features with customers. The challenge for companies like Scentre Group, a company with a 55-year history, is to learn how to embrace this new way of doing things. What we’ve learned is that the key to digital agility is validating with customers frequently and throughout the development process, and having the flexibility to iterate when needed.

VC: It’s interesting that Scentre Group is a digital leader, given the industry that you’re in. How does your company get ahead of the digital trends in the industry?

JB: I speak with many marketers in our industry, and many of them lament that their senior executive team and their board don’t get digital. In the journey towards becoming a digital leader, lack of executive buy-in is a serious challenge for many marketers.

At Scentre Group, we made the commitment to becoming a digital leader about six years ago, after a forum with our most senior leaders. The forum enabled us to align our senior leaders around a significant problem facing the company at that time: the evolving customer and the need for us to become more relevant. We needed to connect shoppers with our retailers—and we identified digital connectivity as the solution. It was useful that our forum involved speakers from prominent tech brands sharing their stories.

As a result of that forum, we built our digital capability within the marketing team. We created a lab in San Francisco with 70 people whose mandate is to reimagine retail. That lab also allows us to connect with startups and work within the Silicon Valley ecosystem. It enables us to be more connected to what is changing and what is shifting. The end result is that we’re better able to anticipate changes in the business landscape and to learn from high-performing companies.

VC: Your keynote at the Vision Critical Summit will touch on social media analytics and big data. From your perspective, what are the pros and cons of these tools?

JB: Social media analytics can help your business listen to conversations happening in the marketplace about your products, your services and your execution. It’s a good starting point to learn about people’s sentiments about your brand and the intensity of those sentiments.

But social media is changing, particularly in its use as a marketing channel. In the last five to seven years, companies used significant resources to build social communities that they considered earned or owned media. Today, those communities are increasingly becoming paid channels. A typical Facebook post from a company page reaches only 6 percent of its audience. At Scentre Group, when we first built our social communities, we were measuring the number of likes. Over time, we’ve switched over to measuring engagement metrics like comments and shares. But as social becomes more a paid play, those metrics are becoming less meaningful.

What companies need to know is that social media analytics is often not enough. The best social analytics platforms today are more than just listening tools. They use APIs to integrate other sources of data. Companies need other sources of customer intelligence to understand their customers.

As for big data, the business world has now moved beyond the hype and we now have the tools and the technology to create more a contextual, personalized experience for our customers. That said, I think we need to talk more about personalization not just in the digital world but also in the physical environment. Google’s Larry Page recently said that the web is still juvenile, that it doesn’t know much about people’s context in terms of what they’re thinking and what they’re feeling. Getting that context—by using location data and by engaging with customers—is crucial for companies.

VC: Which companies today embody what it means to be truly customer-centric?

JB: In retail, Nordstrom is doing well. It has a long history of providing great customer service, and it’s becoming a digitally advanced company. In fact, in its Digital IQ Index report, business intelligence firm L2 named Nordstrom as the top department store in the U.S. Nordstrom even has an innovation lab, which helps the company launch exciting pilots and reimagine the retail space.

More importantly, Nordstrom focuses on customers. It brings the customer voice in the organization to test new stores and new offerings. The company’s number one priority is to improve the customer experience and CEO Blake W. Nordstrom believes in empowering the company’s staff to make sure customers get the best service possible.

In the banking sector, two world-renowned Australian companies come to mind: the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac. CBA is considered by analysts as one of the most technologically advanced banks in the planet. Not to be left behind, Westpac has made investment in their venture fund called Reinventure, a lab called “the hive” and a skunkworks, innovation research project called the Garage. All of these projects help the company reimagine financial services, and while it’s too early to judge their success, these banks are pouring resources and time to leverage technology to become more customer-centric.

Interested in hearing more from Batistich? Register for the Vision Critical Asia Pacific Summit livestream to listen to his speech on Thursday, July 23.



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