Alexis Oger (VP marketing EMEA, Dell Technologies) believes that marketing has an enduring mission to bring the customer inside the business – and that this mission is rapidly taking on new dimensions.
Who does a software engineer in their mid-20s look up to as a role model? Steve Jobs or Bill Gates perhaps? What about Steve Wozniak, Sergey Brin or Larry Page? Not if that engineer happens to be Alexis Oger. When starting out in his career at Microsoft, Oger glanced up the corporate ladder – and the figure that stood out for him wasn’t working in engineering or programming at all. It was the marketing director for France.
“I said to myself, ‘that’s the guy I want to be when I’m 40 years old’,” he recalls. “I want to be leading the marketing organization for a large company because it has everything I want in terms of the role, the values, and how you help customers and employees.”
Oger missed his target by a year (he was Dell’s marketing director for France at the age of 41). It only seems to have spurred him on. He now leads Dell Technologies’ marketing organization across EMEA – and he’s driven by the same vision that he had two decades ago about the role that marketing can play.
Marketing’s reason to exist
“Over the course of my career, marketing has always had one reason to exist – and that is to bring the customer inside the business,” he says. “None of that’s changed – but what has changed is the technology we have available to understand our customers and the acceleration in the pace of change. As marketing leaders, we have to understand that acceleration. It involves the way humans are, the way that society evolves and the way that technology is driving that evolution.”
Bringing an understanding of the customer inside the business involves many more dimensions today than it did when Oger took the first steps in his marketing career. “Between my father and myself there was only one generation, but between myself and my kids there are three or four,” he says. “Every one of those generations changes the way that people think and the way that they interact with brands.”
For Oger, the most significant of those changes stem from how individuals relate to society: their sense of identity and their sense of purpose. These were once outside the remit of brands that focused on their own products and their own messaging. Today, they’re crucial aspects of the customer that marketers seek to integrate within the business strategy.
How purpose and technology drive marketing forward
“People are more aware of what’s happening in the world,” he says. “There’s a lot of information that we all have to carry and that changes the answer you get when you ask people what they want from a brand. For years the number one attribute for a brand was loyalty. Now it’s equality. People want to interact with a brand that has a purpose, because people want to have a purpose in their lives as well. It’s a very great responsibility for marketers. We have to take it on with the right mix of optimism and the right end-game in mind.”
It’s no surprise that Oger’s sense of optimism is closely intertwined with his sense of the growing influence of technology. He points out that a typical smartphone owner carries more powerful technology in the palm of their hand than NASA used to put the first man on the moon. He can’t help but see such technology as having an intrinsically positive potential.
“I’m an optimist by nature – and so is my company,” he says. “We look at technology as a positive outcome that helps people to grow and thrive – something that brings solutions to the earth’s challenges, helps to create a more sustainable environment and helps people to achieve what they want in life.”
Technology doesn’t just reshape society and hold out the hope of a more sustainable future. It’s also rapidly changing the scope of marketing. “The role of marketing is broader than it used to be because the customer is more self-informed than they used to be,” says Oger. “As a marketing organization, we need to influence around 70% of the buyer journey now, making sure that we can reach out to people before their opinions are fully formed. Marketing is no longer just about brand engagement – it’s about brand science that makes an impact for the customer. Marketing is now the combination of art and science. I firmly believe that this is the key reason for talented young people to follow an exciting career in marketing”.
The chief identity officer
An expanding role across the customer journey is one factor growing the influence of senior marketing leaders like Oger. Just as important, he believes, is the need for businesses to have a sense of identity that goes beyond brand or advertising – and for a member of the C-suite to take ownership of that identity.
“The role of the CMO isn’t just about the brand or generating demand,” he says. “It’s about the broader identity behind them, an identity that needs to engage not just customers but the employees a business depends on. That CMO role is expanding, because your identity isn’t just a product story – it’s a company story.”
The accelerated pace of change is transforming audiences’ expectations of businesses – and in the process transforming the role of marketing leaders in meeting those expectations. That’s the kind of role that Alexis Oger planned for himself when working as a software engineer two and a half decades ago. He hasn’t been disappointed.