Modern marketing is the ability to engage with the right message, on the right platform, at the right time. It is not just about generating demand and customer service – says Quinton Pienaar, EMEA Customer Transformation & Salesforce Leader, Partner PwC UK

How can technology be used to build customer loyalty during an economic crisis?
Technology is always supportive of business strategy. When we spoke to business leaders across Europe we found they’re using technology to develop more robust, agile and resilient business capabilities. For example, during the pandemic we saw a sharp increase in the workload going to digital, and strong development of e-commerce in both B2B and B2C markets. Technology plays an important role in connecting customers and organisations from various locations and helps clients navigate this volatile environment.
Is modern marketing just the realm of technocrats?
In the area of customer experience, there are three key pillars: personalisation, empathy and engagement at scale. Technology allows us to expand the range of marketing. So if you think of marketing as the start of sales or creating demand, you should remember that it plays a vital role in customer engagement across the customer journey. It is the ability to engage with the right message, on the right platform, at the right time. It is not just about generating demand and customer service. It remains a capability focused on the emotional side and empathy. Technology enables us to communicate at scale, but it doesn’t remove the need to stay very human and focus on what is important to people. So no, it is not the realm of technocrats alone.
Can algorithms or machine learning create empathy for robots and AI?
Machine learning will probably let us execute at scale more easily. We still should think about what we want algorithms and outputs to be, and how ML will learn. So being an optimist, I would say that if we do this ethically with the right outcomes in mind, AI and machine learning is additive to organisation capabilities today, and it is not going to replace human perspectives. When getting recommendations, people want to be surprised. We like to be on an adventure, not always getting recommendations of things we already like. Sometimes we like to go: "Oh, I haven’t thought of that. That is something new.” I think it will remain very human, no matter how much technology supports the journeys.
Is the ethical use of consumer data possible?
I do think it is possible, and here I mean all areas connected with how organizations collect and use data, why they use data and how they dispose of data. We give customers a choice. It’s an exchange. If you give us your data, we can make some of your interaction with our organisation a little bit easier because we know you and we know what you like and dislike. So we can put you on this journey that are suited to you. Ethical organisations will continue to be transparent about the reasons why they collect data, how they are going to use their data and what value there will be for their customers.
How do leading firms use data in practice?
One basic use of data is to prepopulate some of your information, so if you’re a known customer, you don’t have to start at ground zero and say: "Here, this is my name and address.” So that’s a very simple case of how to use data well to make customer experience easier. It’s ethical, as it is to the customer’s benefit and the organisation’s comfort. Then we have this more advanced use called customer data platforms. This is the ability to absorb real-time data at scale, be it operational data or experience data, and assess and even change our interaction with the customer. We are in the world of what we call Customer 360, a full view of the customer, the ability to offer true omnichannel experiences. There are many customer journeys that use this type of data, for example loyalty programs or personalized customer engagement projects.
What are other tools for creating a diverse customer experience?
You need good data capabilities to design experiences that customers want. Journey and adventure management is the ability to make the customer journey not only functional, but also fun. As we look at marketing technology, ad technology, interactive customer journey management, personalisation, or next-best experience, it is very much all filled by the data we spoke of earlier.
You have this circle being created of data coming in, informing us about the customer, the customer profile, likes and dislikes, and enabling us to engage across marketing, sales or post-sales service journeys, or the loyalty journey. And we can continue to engage in a way that suits customers and is valuable to them.
How can we build relationships with brands in the modern world of technology?
It’s all about objectives and purpose. Customers feel affinity and want to have relationships with brands that have a similar purpose to them. Technology can help build relationships. Let’s say you go to a clothing store. They know your last purchases and technology lets them greet you with “Hi, nice to see you. Glad you’re back in our store. Last time you purchased this and that. We have a new version in our store, do you want to have a look?” In B2B environments you see similar things. Technology helps us view the state of accounts, past purchases, any service issues. We can have a very valuable and meaningful conversation, rather than: “Oh, what is the problem with these?” or “Where is my order?” Strong relationships are built on trust and shared purpose, and technology really helps us establish that. Technology doesn’t replace the human element, technology supports it.
With the widespread use of technology is it now harder to manage crises within a company?
As I’ve said, trust is of the utmost importance. There is a trust deficit in the world today; citizens distrust organisations and governments, and consumers often have trust questions about brands they buy from. Recommendations and personalisation, if used the wrong way, can quite quickly spread the wrong message and erode trust. It all comes back to the purpose, ethical use of the technology, and how an organisation uses values to engage the market. I don’t see technology as a reason for spreading distrust, but used in the wrong way it can send the wrong message to the wrong people very quickly.
Where is innovation right now and how can big companies stand out?
Innovation is all around us. If you think about things like climate-tech or biotech, it’s just phenomenal. How can a company stand out? It has to be very clear about its purpose and the problems it wants to solve for stakeholders, not just customers. You have to identify what the market needs, apply a good organisational culture and get the capability to listen, interpret and respond, and in doing so produce new, innovative products and services. Those who innovate are closely connected to their customers and are continuously trying to find new ways to work with them and solve new problems.
Which industry is the leader of innovation today?
In every industry you can find both innovating leaders, continuing to push boundaries, and companies that just follow trends. You can see a significant difference between companies investing, solving customers' problems by being close to them, and continuously improving products, and those that are not. In the retail sector for example, there are so many exciting things happening around new channels, including the metaverse and the reinvention of stores. All the new technology coming to online and physical stores is critical. There are also many things happening in manufacturing. The automotive industry is also going through a wonderful transformation, changing the meaning of mobility.
What is the future of customer centricity?
When I look at capabilities and the new investments organisations are making, it is very much in the data space. They are asking themselves: how can we be more data-driven? They want to know more about their customers, and they try to find better solutions and outcomes for them. Data will continue to be a big part of this, helping map customer experience. This is the ability to tell compelling stories that really take your customers on a fun journey, and make them feel it’s tailor-made for them. The organisation should be emphatic and touch both the hearts and the minds of customers. Technology helps us to find new ways of interacting, and to share ideas.
What are the biggest challenges that companies are facing now?
One challenge is to understand how consumer behaviour will continue to change in this current environment. There is always this issue of what the market wants from us as an organisation and what we produce. We live in volatile times, and so just staying in touch remains a challenge.
Another big challenge is finding the right skills and the right people, when the organisation wants to undertake significant transformation so as to become more customer-centric and be an ecosystem player. From a technology perspective, integration of multiple systems will always be challenging.
What about sustainability and ESG issues? How can leading companies embrace ESG?
More and more organisations are taking ESG issues seriously. That includes innovation, how to change products and services to have a more sustainable perspective. They are also thinking about the way they engage other organisations, engage with customers and wider stakeholder groups. That is what citizens and customers are demanding from them. They want organisations to have a longer-term, sustainable view, not just a short-term profit view. People are highlighting to organisations that this is important.
What are short-term benefits from investing in ESG?

It all comes down to customer loyalty and brand loyalty. This shared purpose and joint values give you significant brand loyalty. ESG is good for organisations even just for that. In the case of the clothing industry for example, people buy things because of their views of what a sustainable world looks like. They go and buy a given brand because they feel it resonates with the right values. Organisations are already seeing benefits from their ESG initiatives. I think many more will come.