2008: The Year Of The Customer (I’m Not Kidding This Time)

NYSE magazine released its third annual CEO Report. The survey of 240 of the world’s top business leaders focuses on the opportunities and challenges they face in 2008 and beyond. According to the report:

CEOs say they are focusing on customers, resulting in this year’s theme: 2008: The Year of the Customer.”

My take: My first thought, upon reading this, was the scene from the movie Animal House where John Belushi and his frat brothers are in a disciplinary hearing, and Belushi starts coughing and muttering “bullshit” under his breath.

To refresh your memory….

Last year, e-consultancy heralded 2007 as the “year of the customer”. In 2006, SearchCRM suggested that that year could be the “year of the customer.” Which wasn’t even the first time it made that call — they asked if 2004 would be the “real” year of the customer. Information Week said that business can’t survive without loyal customers and proclaimed 1999 the Year Of The Customer.

Financial service execs are paying close attention, I’m sure. Surely they haven’t forgotten that BAI said in January 2006 that “2006 may turn out to be the year of the retail customer.” Or that Australian Banking & Finance said in at the beginning of 2002, “IT leaders and executives at the BAI’s 2001 Retail Delivery Conference vowed that 2002 will be the year of the customer.”

Mortgage Finance got on the bandwagon, saying in September 2006 that “2006 is being hailed as the year of the customer.” (Correct me if I’m wrong, but weren’t there a lot of subprime loans issued that year that are contributing to the current crisis?)

I’m sure that no one is laughing as today’s CEOs proclaim 2008 to be the year of the customer. Not like some did 20 years ago, that is, when, according to Fortune magazine, “competitors snickered when they heard the name that IBM Chairman John Akers gave to 1987: Year of the Customer.”

Proclaiming a renewed focus on customers is business’ form of new year’s resolution, similar to the promises we make as individuals to lose weight, stop smoking, etc. In some ways, I feel sorry for the CEOs: What else are they going to say? “2008 will be the year of the CEO — we’re going to sell our companies out to private equity firms, pocket millions of dollars, and deceive ourselves into thinking we’re free from having to deliver on quarterly earning growth.” Uh, I don’t think so.

But the report does have something interesting for marketers.

CEOs were asked “which internal factors will have more impact on sales growth through 2008? Among a list of 11 prompted responses, “management team” was the most frequently mentioned factor followed by “new technology.”

Which factor was at the bottom of the list? Advertising/marketing initiatives.

This is a huge vote of no confidence in marketing from CEOs. Marketing’s got a lot of work to do if this is truly going to be the Year of the Customer.

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