Lately I have been digging deep into what sets companies apart these days. In an age where you can launch any product or service you can dream up with surprisingly little cash, you can rule out historical concepts around "speed to market", "cost efficiency" and "uniqueness". When it comes right down to it, the only point of differentiation left today is the customer experience itself.

I recently had an incredible interview with Kevin Cochrane, who is the CMO of Jahia, a digital experience management provider. He is also a member of the board at Digital Clarity Group and, previously, he was CMO at OpenText and former VP of Enterprise Marketing at Adobe. I encourage you to watch the entire interview on YouTube.

In this interview, Mr. Cochrane discusses all three waves of digital marketing and, as someone who has been in the digital marketing industry since its inception, I can attest to his accuracy of how we got from 1994 to today. The focus of this article, however, is the current wave of digital marketing because we have reached the defining moment for companies and how they are leveraging all of their tools to deliver on an incredible customer experience (or not).

Your future depends on how you deliver on your customer experience. This is a deep dive as to why and what you must do in order to succeed the third wave of digital marketing. Here are the profound insights from Mr. Cochrane:

Delivering on the Next Generation of Customer Experience
To deliver on the next generation of customer experience, it's not about targeting, personalization and acquisition; it's about what happens when you already are a customer and login. I expect you to know me by name, my preferences and everything I want to buy from you or have bought from you. It's all 100% personally identifiable information. Every single employee needs to know exactly who I am. And this is scary for people because your digital life IS your life.

Brands need to protect this personally identifiable information and this is a shift. It's no longer just about your credit card information. It's about protecting all of your personally identifiable information and not selling it to 3rd parties.

Now layer in the data coming out of the Internet of Things and it's super scary as someone knows where you are at every second of the day.

With Deeply Personal Data Comes Great Responsibility
To win, you need to know the intimate details about your customers. From when they wake up to when they go to sleep and what dreams and aspirations they have. But, at the same time, that's the very same data that makes it so valuable to steal from you.

What do you do about that? You not only need the infrastructure to empower your employees to analyze customer data in real-time, but you also have to put the governance in place to empower the consumer to know what data you're collecting, why you're collecting it, how long you're keeping it and how they can delete it.

That's what we do here at Jahia. I thought it wouldn't happen until 2020, but we're here now because of targeted breaches that have sped up the rapid adoption.

Breaking the Customer Experience Bottleneck
How do you break the customer experience bottleneck? Specifically, the personalization and context bottleneck? Today, in order to deliver the right content in context, you typically have a small team of people who test and optimize using all the data analytics and insights. In order to deliver true 1:1 personalized customer experiences, you need to break this bottleneck. This is about empowering your team to connect (1:1) with their audiences.

Aggregate context across all the silos, then give it to subject matter experts so that they can make an informed decision about writing content. Who am I writing this content for? You have 10,000 people writing content, but they don't have access to the right data for personalization and context. Empower people to do their jobs well. All content must have the proper context.

This is the democratization of big data (vs. "power mongers").

Companies must be comfortable with losing control of their content marketing, empowering the entire organization with the data insights they need to create the content that your customers are hungry for.

Balance Access with Governance
Give responsibility and authority to subject matter experts. You also need a governance framework - the bumper rails - so that your team doesn't (unintentionally) do harm. So it's about locking down the data. Who gets access to what data? How long do they have access to it (making sure they don't have access to the data for a longer period of time than they should)? And we're going to need to be transparent to the consumer about the data we're collecting, why we're collecting it, how long we're holding it and we're going to allow the consumer to make the choice about what should be anonymized, what should be deleted and we will NEVER sell that data to a 3rd party.

Every marketer will have access to every customer they are touching and targeting and every consumer will have trust because they will be able to click a Jahia-powered website privacy link to see what everyone in the company knows about you, and you can say what data you want anonymized, deleted and even where the data should be stored. The consumer will have control of their own data.

What Drove the 3 Waves of Digital Marketing: A Historical Context
Of the three waves of digital marketing, the first wave was a CIO-led wave. The first part of that first wave was infrastructure to power a brand experience online; CIOs ran the implementation of websites for their CMOs. But then continuing beyond that initial phase was web infrastructure to power things like extranets, web server portals, as well as to empower the entire employee experience with the roll-out of various portals such as intranets.

The second wave was purely a CMO-led wave around demand generation online tied to customer acquisition experiences that were both mobile and social.

What started to change in the early 2013 timeframe was the role of the CIO. This is because the technology in the marketing tech stack had relevance beyond the marketing acquisition. Employee engagement, for example, is critically important to drive the customer experience. Additionally, all of the targeting and personalization that you do for acquiring customers has relevance for your business partners. The CIO's role, which before was much more focused on managing operational infrastructure, was now thinking much more strategically about leveraging the backbone of the digital business and taking the technologies that marketers were using to acquire customers and use them through the rest of the enterprise.

Beyond customer acquisition experiences, digital infrastructure was needed to empower the CIO to enable them to power the digital enterprise.

The third wave of digital marketing came faster than I ever expected. I thought it would be another 10 year cycle (like waves 1 & 2), but a couple of things accelerated it, like the union of CMOs and CIOs together to power next-generation business and customer analytics to drive targeted, personalized 1:1 experiences to build trusted, long-lasting brand relationships. The three things that occurred in rapid-fire succession were: (1) popularization of Apache Hadoop, (2) Big Data became a reality enabling the processing of real-time data sets and (3) in 2014 the Internet of Things took off. You suddenly had more sensors in more places in the home and work and that provided more data that you could process in real-time than you ever could before.

The Great Consumer (& CEO) Awakening of 2015
In 2015, consumers woke up and realized they were targets; that enterprises were collecting more data in more silos and yet they had no idea what data was being collected, why it was being collected, how long it was being maintained nor how it was being used for their benefit. The only people who really did know were the cyber criminals who were breaching enterprise security, primarily through smart phones, and causing catastrophic damage to people's lives.

This was the dawn of the third wave. CEO's woke up in 2016 and said to themselves that customer experiences are the only way we are going to be able to distinguish ourselves in the marketplace long-term. There is no other sustainable advantage. Product cycles are too short. Any person can start a company in a garage and have immediate access to global markets; switching costs are entirely low. There is no sustainable differentiation other than your customer experience. Your customer experience IS your brand.

But, there's a challenge there. You spend a lot of money acquiring those customers. You spend a lot of money making them loyal brand advocates. But in one second, you can lose trust from that consumer and they will never go back to your brand again.

So the CEOs have two major goals: (1) drive a differentiated customer experience and (2) mitigate risk and damage to the brand by making sure they establish trust in the online and offline experiences by protecting consumer data and privacy. And those that don't have this as a mission better wake up because it's the law in Europe and, if you're doing business in any European country, you do not want to get a fine as a percentage of your revenue. And you will because chances are you're getting breached every single day - you just don't know it.

Forrester says you will either be rewarded or you will be punished. You're not going to spend money with someone you don't trust or who is harming you.

Warren Buffett has said that "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently." This is just as true for the individual as the corporation these days. If you're not managing the customer experience and the associated data you're collecting properly, then you're essentially dead.

On the flip side, if you're giving the power back to your customers to control their own data (with respect to their engagements with you), then you are being given permission to provide incredible customer experiences for your best customers; this is the very thing that will allow you to not only survive but also thrive in this next wave of digital marketing. For more on this topic, I encourage you to watch the entire interview on YouTube.