An interview with Prof. Dr. Konrad Zerr, director of the Steinbeis Consulting Center Marketing – Intelligence – Consulting
In what ways does marketing intelligence add value? And how are digital solutions changing the way people work in marketing? These are the topics TRANSFER magazine discussed with Prof. Dr. Konrad Zerr, director of Marketing – Intelligence – Consulting, the Steinbeis Consulting Center. Zerr is a marketing expert and a specialist in the field of information and data security. In October 2019, his Steinbeis Enterprise was honored with the Outstanding Security Performance Award.
Hello Professor Zerr. You founded your Steinbeis Consulting Center in 2006. How have the services you provide changed since that time? And what technical, technological, but also social developments have had an impact on your work?
If I may start with a bit of irony: Naturally, we were already totally up to date with our offering in 2006. So there have been absolutely no fundamental changes since then. Okay, let me be honest. From the outset, our offering has focused strongly on the topics of information and data security, so we’ve had to “keep our finger on the button.” If anything, this topic has become even more important in recent years. This is because there have been sweeping changes on both a technological and societal level. Digital solutions, big data, Industry 4.0, artificial intelligence – none of these things would be conceivable without data security. But this isn’t just about technological solutions – security starts in people’s minds.
We offer solutions that allow you to understand whether people are aware of security issues – we capture “security awareness” – and based on this, we develop marketing and training measures to raise security awareness.
How important is marketing for the successful development of a business?
Digital solutions have fundamentally changed the role played by marketing in recent years, and it will have to continue to adapt. Some companies are witnessing a new sense of rivalry between the chief information (chief digital) officer and the chief marketing officer. Who’s actually “wearing the pants” in an era of digital transformation, especially when it comes to the customer-to-company interface? Marketing mustn’t allow itself to be pushed into the second row, especially given the interests of the company. Its ability to generate “customer empathy,” tune into the worlds people live in, understand their desires and needs, and make that knowledge part of the internal processes of the company will remain crucial in the future. Also, in a world shaped by insecurity, companies will only be able to develop properly going forward if they also instill confidence in the outside world, if they deliver on their promises, and if they deliver benefits for customers. That’s the responsibility of marketing! But to do what’s necessary in a world of digital technology, you need new skills and competences, new processes, tools, and methods. Just rethinking the 4Ps handed down from previous generations – product, price, place, promotion – won’t be enough anymore.
One of your specialties is marketing intelligence. What actually is that and how does it benefit companies?
In simple terms, marketing intelligence concentrates on establishing areas of expertise within companies and systems that make it easier to understand the processes of the market, and – based on this – make “smarter” marketing decisions. That includes issues relating to how the marketing department is organized, so it touches on topics like agility and enhancing the ability of marketing to learn. But it also involves issues relating to digital technology and the technological infrastructures used in marketing – for example, in what ways artificial intelligence or data science processes can help marketing to improve or even automate decision-making processes. And ultimately, marketing intelligence also deals with issues relating to the skills people require within the company. For marketing to succeed as a function, it needs a minimum level of technical and analytical skills.
To put it in a nutshell again, just expressed a different way: How we understand market processes depends on how we gather, evaluate, and interpret internal and external information. The specific role played here by marketing intelligence is that it helps companies put the large volumes of data – which have expanded astronomically in an era of digital transformation – to meaningful use in order to practice smarter marketing.
Digital solutions bring new challenges and change the way people work in marketing. What are the biggest challenges, but also what opportunities are there for companies?
I’ve already mentioned some of the challenges faced by marketing. The role played by marketing keeps changing, so it has to reinvent itself. The internal relationship with the chief information or digital officer has to be re-balanced. Interdisciplinary and agile thinking will be crucial. Companies will need to re-establish digital competences and suitable IT infrastructures. Also, thinking about how marketing actually sees itself, it needs to remember what the original idea was behind marketing – good marketing has always been about whether and how a company generates “value for the customer.” This is the only way to ensure a company actually does offer benefits. This concept of offering “value for the customer” is the core strength of marketing.
I personally see this as one of the central challenges of marketing, but at the same time one of the biggest opportunities is for marketing to offer context and place the value it offers to customers in the right context. Digital technology offers previously unimagined possibilities to use sensor technology, tracking methods, etc. to capture and understand the context of the situations within which customers use products and interact with the company. Products that deliver value can then be managed, specifically, according to a particular situation in real time. This trend is called “value in context.”
What this underscores is that the key opportunities offered by digital solutions are not (or not just) about raising efficiency at the company, but also about using digital technology properly and creating new offerings that revolve around the customer and add value for him or her.