Beacons — and the Data They Provide — Help Merge the Digital and Physical Worlds

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all create marketing that is so fantastic, it becomes inextricable from the brand experience? What if those experiences were seamless between your audience’s blended physical and digital worlds? It’s what marketing coach Jay Baer calls “utility.”

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all create marketing that is so fantastic, it becomes inextricable from the brand experience? What if those experiences were seamless between your audience’s blended physical and digital worlds? It’s what marketing coach Jay Baer calls “utility.” When marketing is helpful and has relevant utility for the recipient, then it does achieve status as a “service.” We know it as marketing, but the recipient finds such value in it that it is viewed as service.

Similarly, because mobile is such a powerful part of the way people experience brands today, marketers are looking for ways to understand what people need “in the moment,” and provide it as a branded service.

What exactly do people want to hear from brands on their mobile phones that could be of such utility? In the past, advertisers had to make assumptions about messaging and were forced to send them without the input of the consumer.

Enter the beacon. It’s a powerful arrow in the marketing quiver, and can be exceptionally powerful in understanding and engaging people in that precious “moment of truth” when buying decisions are made.

Beacons are small indoor positioning devices that use low-energy Bluetooth (BLE) to communicate with a shopper’s smartphone, usually when they are on location or in a store. The hope is that the information sent – a text, an email, an app alert – will improve the in-store shopping experience and drive new sales. When placed in a store, beacons can detect nearby smartphones and send them media such as ads, coupons or customized supplementary product information. This brief video from ShopKick illustrates how it works through a trial it did with Macy’s in New York and San Francisco.

Not just for shoppers, beacons can also be used as point-of-sale systems and collect large amounts of data that can then be used to improve both real-time and right-time marketing, in-store and online.

Beacons allow marketers to deliver customized messages, usually designed to improve the shopping experience. Using preferences, previous shopping habits, location and other data, beacons allow marketing messages to be woven into the larger customer experience, creating both interactive and relevant messaging — all at the time of purchase.

Beacons are hot … a BI Intelligence report projects that use will grow 287 percent to nearly 5 million by 2018. With so many beacons already in play, it increases the stakes for getting them right. Take a look at a few examples of how beacons are being used to help you determine if it’s a good opportunity for both your business and your customers.

  • Miami International Airport recently launched an app that uses beacons to help consumers navigate overwhelming terminals and find the correct gate for departure. Similarly, an airline could use a beacon to alert people to delays and direct them to the bar or shopping choices around the corner – with a coupon!
  • The National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C., and The Guggenheim in New York City have used beacons to enhance the visitor experience. When a viewer approaches a piece, additional information about that painting, sculpture or magazine cover is served directly to his or her phone. While certainly helpful in educating visitors, the real power is the tracking data provided to museum administrators. That data can help curators determine what exhibits are most popular and which need to be tweaked to better appeal to the audience.
  • McCormick & Co.’s Zatarain’s uses beacons to send shoppers grocery list reminders and loyalty points based on the context of the store from the food and spice brand.
  • Retailers like Macy’s and Target use beacons to recognize, reward and get to know their best customers. This helps increase loyalty and, in turn, build a stronger relationship with them. The data collected on these shoppers also allows highly personalized and targeted offers, which will reinforce the loyalty programs mentioned above.

Beacon technology is an incredibly cost-effective and targeted way to communicate, but the best value it provides is data. Data on consumer shopping habits and behavior will inform store layouts, product placement, target market penetration and on-site displays, as well as help monitor staff efficiencies and service standards.

Beacons are also invaluable to marketers because they help to merge all the “Moments of Truth” (MOTs) along a buying journey. Because customer experiences that used to take days or even months now happen in a fraction of a second, mobile is the accelerator of the connection and the channel by which a physical experience is enhanced through digital communications.

One caution: The use of beacons has to follow the same guideline as all marketing – it must have utility. Zapping people walking down the street past your store may not be welcome, but then again, a well-timed coupon might bring them into the store they may not have entered otherwise. Use beacons sparingly at first while you test out the value to your customers and prospects.

Becoming truly customer-centric – where your marketing serves the customer rather than the product or campaign goals – is complex, but beacons are becoming an important source of the data that enables marketers to map out actually helpful customer experiences. How are you thinking about merging digital and physical experiences? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

IMV15 Panel: Master Marketing Technology in Service to Customers

Technology should empower the marketing organization to better serve customers, but many times, we find that the organization is mastered by the technology. Decisions are made not because they are good for the customer, but because they are possible in the existing tools.

Technology should empower the marketing organization to better serve customers, but many times, we find that the organization is mastered by the technology. Decisions are made not because they are good for the customer, but because they are possible in the existing tools.

Getting out in front of this potential rut was the focus of a great discussion I was humbled to join for the closing session of IMV 2015, a virtual conference put on by Target Marketing earlier this month. (Free access to the archive is available with registration through September 2015.)

The key, I said in the session, is to think of technology as being less about pure systems and more about PEOPLE. Technology is about utility and purpose — and that has to factor in the needs and abilities of the people who use it, the people who are reached by it, the people who are interacting with it. Really, technology is only there to enable marketing at a personal level.

Most marketers do not have a technology problem. They have more technology than they can use well. Instead, most of us have a training, integration, process, poorly aligned strategy, competing goals problem. Automation of a bad strategy only gets you to the FAIL faster, and does nothing to improve your customer experience or level of connection.

Moderator Thorin McGee, editor-in-chief of Target Marketing, said it well in his intro, “Technology is essential to modern marketing, but gaining control of it is something many marketers have not yet mastered. The question is how to take advantage of technology without having it take over your marketing world?”

In evaluating a new technology, it’s important to consider both the utility of the existing stack and investments, in addition to the future objectives, said fellow panelist Adam Bravo, executive director of loyalty marketing for MGM International. “Ask if your business has the capacity to adopt a new technology, and if your organization has the capacity to change what you are doing,” he recommends.

“Some new things sound great and are sold well, but if you don’t have the infrastructure from IT or a team who is willing to adapt to new processes and adopt the tools, the investment will not pay off,” he said. Truly, I’ve seen marketing organizations invest in technologies because they have a person on staff now who has the experience to manage it well, but then that person leaves or gets promoted and the rest of the organization is stuck with something that is outside the company’s capacity to master.

It can be daunting. The number of technologies available for marketing are impressive. Panelist Mitch Rose, SVP of marketing for BillTrust says: “You have to be nimble, because what you envision now could be obsolete in a year. Our planning and technology investment is fluid. I recommend everyone try to get approval for some ‘skunk works’ fund, so you can test some things in a pilot. Plan for that – set aside a modest budget and team.”

This is especially good advice in a world where a five-year vision is not unusual for an enterprise marketing organization, but a five-month go-to-market roadmap is life or death for a mid-tier organization. Technology investments must be strategic and should never be taken lightly, but you can be nimble at the tactical level by doing pilots with point solutions, porting data manually from one system to another in a proof of concept, or working with key vendors to test their new functionality in a hosted solution. It takes a level of creativity and curiosity to be a successful marketing technologist.

“The traditional marketing role is dying,” Adam said. “Today, those of us who embrace technology and customer experience, and who aim to understand the customer through analytics, can drive a lot of optimization. It forces the need for a marketing leader who can be close to IT and embrace data analytics.”

This requires marketers to think outside of the traditional functional box. “We have 40,000 hotel rooms, just about as many gaming stations,” Adam said. “Those things are in the budget of hotel operations. However, as a marketing person, I want to capture all the data on our guests’ experience, what type of machine they play, where they eat, how they check in, what sort of room do they upgrade to, etc.

“I’m not the owner of that data, but I want to use it in my marketing operations to improve the customer experience and drive loyalty.”

Collaboration with other departments is essential to success today. It’s sometimes more important for marketers to partner with other departments – sales, IT, customer service, product, operations – than to OWN everything directly. Customer touchpoints and insights are found throughout the organization, and smart marketers focus on empowering consistent and aligned experiences across the entire branded landscape. Marketers have to get used to not owning every media channel, not owning every database, not controlling every message. However, marketers must do the work of setting clear, aligned and actionable messaging, tools and analytics across the entire organization. Technology can be a big part of that, but not all the technology needs to be in the marketing department.

However, marketing organizations can be first movers in technology investments. “Marketing is increasingly approved to invest in technology because we generate revenue from it,” Mitch said. “By our nature we are curious beasts, we are trained to be strategic, and so we are interested in new technologies and want to test them toward a strategic goal.”

Take a minute to listen to the entire panel discussion for richer commentary on these points. Thanks to Adam, Mitch and Thorin for including me!

Meanwhile, how are you setting up your marketing technology to serve the needs of your customers? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Releasing Data Trapped in CRM for Email Marketing

Want higher email marketing response rates? Personalize! Sounds straightforward, until you realize that the data you need is trapped in your CRM system or segmentation engine, and you don’t have it accessible to your email delivery solution. Do not despair — integrate!

Want higher email marketing response rates? Personalize! Sounds straightforward, until you realize that the data you need is trapped in your CRM system or segmentation engine, and you don’t have it accessible to your email delivery solution. Do not despair — integrate!

It’s really a no-brainer. Yet, even though personalized emails deliver a six-times higher transaction rates than non-personalized emails, a startling 70 percent of brands fail to take advantage of the opportunity, according to research from Experian Marketing Services. Why not?

Most marketers collect customer data and have it in-house. It also certainly seems to be conclusive from this study and others — and from experience with my clients — that personalization makes a huge difference in response rates and subscriber satisfaction. In fact, Experian found that personalized promotional mailings had 29 percent higher unique open rates and 41 percent higher unique click rates. For triggered email campaigns, personalization resulted in double the transaction rates compared to non-personalized triggered emails.

Those kinds of results are definitely appealing, especially with overall contribution from email marketing programs under increased scrutiny. With even a few attributes from data accessible, brands can use personalization as a real differentiator:

  • Offering discounts in bulk emails which only certain, high-value subscribers can see;
  • Personalizing the content of a birthday email, based on the year that the subscriber was born;
  • Showing products based on the subscriber’s brand and size preference. Sephora does a nice job of personalizing offers based on the “Beauty Profile” collected on the site.
  • Aggregating data from mobile apps for end-of-week/month/year summary emails. For example, Fitbit’s weekly summary email is a great example of this.
  • Personalizing the subject line — which Experian research showed delivered 26 percent higher unique open rates overall, with travel companies experiencing the “biggest boost” from personalized subject lines.

If personalization works so well, then why aren’t all marketers doing it? Perhaps it’s because although data is resident inside the company, the marketer doesn’t have access to it at the point of email delivery. Integration of systems and getting data accessible to the “right moment” of messaging is a real challenge for many brands. While most email delivery vendors have mature APIs and common integration points to e-commerce, CRM, marketing data warehouse and campaign management solutions, the integration can seem like a very daunting task.

It doesn’t need to be overly complex. Even simple pieces of data, such as location, gender and product preference can open up a number of possibilities for marketers. If you are not doing any personalization today, you could add data to your ESP manually. This can be helpful in proof of concept — especially if you see the kinds of lift that Experian’s research promises. However, long-term, this is not a good option. Doing manual uploads of data spreadsheets is not only time-consuming, but it has a high potential for error or data corruption. It’s also not cost-effective — the hours spent in these tasks may be more costly in a year than an integration project.

Better options are to use the automated data transfer features of your email delivery solution. Most can accept an automated feed from a FTP (file transfer protocol) site. This can be a good option for companies with very rigid IT access to internal systems. Integrations can also be coded using the API (Application Programming Interface) from your vendor, which can upload data from a variety of locations. APIs are more likely to support real-time use of data from multi-system integrations, as well.

When planning a data integration to your email delivery solution or anywhere, be sure to determine what data you have access to in your other systems, and outline exactly what you plan on doing with it. The more specific you can be, the more easily your IT and technology vendors can help you import that data on a regular basis.

Because we live in an age of highly customized online experiences, it makes sense that personalizing your email marketing will improve your results. What challenges do you have, and what results are you seeing, for personalizing your subscriber experience?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

5 Elements to Move From Segmentation to Personalization

There is a big difference between segmentation and personalization. Most marketers do segmentation pretty well — they use some sort of marketing database or CRM system to identify audience members who will receive an outbound campaign. Sometimes a particular segment is identified as a “persona,” where a description of a fictional member of the segment is used to gain clarity and consensus among the teams — and to help align content that will best resonate.

However, segmentations alone are static, because they are based on a marketing calendar. They solve yesterday’s marketing challenge. People don’t interact with brands along a calendar. They interact across channels and in non-linear methods based on a multitude of stimuli — many of which are not controlled by the brand. Personalization is an additional layer on top of segmentation to ensure that campaigns are responsive to audience behaviors and relevant to their needs.

To move from effective segmentation to engaging personalization, there are five elements to consider:

1. Dynamic Targeting. Our multi-device browsing habits and constantly shifting interests will break traditional segmentation models. Broad segments like “gadget enthusiasts” or “Millennial” will no longer work. We must use the automation technology to create dynamic and agile models that can adapt to behaviors as they occur, and personalize the content at the individual level, not the segment or campaign level. Our goal is to target individuals based on a collection of identifiable characteristics and behaviors, rather than targeting a collection of individuals who share characteristics. As I’ve often said in planning meetings, “The way customers act, you’d think each one was a different person!”

2. Effective Content. Content must sell. Always. Too much of the marketing content out there is merely interesting. That has value, except it isn’t realistic to think that anyone has time to read everything that is interesting. We’ve got to set the bar higher. Content must be viewed as part of (or at least aligned to) the product – it must help solve the same problems that the product solves. This includes re-thinking how offline media assets get turned into digital experiences. For example, break up a TV spot into dozens of snackable visual elements with hyperlocal additions for price, store locations and availability. That turns content into commerce, and brings our content marketing closer to the analytics-driven marketing that drives revenue.

3. Revisit Cross-Channel Data Collection. While still complicated, cross-channel data is starting to become more actionable. A big part of the early success has nothing to do with technology, but with people. CMOs are realizing that there are efficiencies and opportunities if all channels are working toward the same goal, with the same view of the customer. To improve the maturity of these solutions, we will likely need more experimentation around both data collection and insights-driven campaign management. This unified, actionable view of the customer is still ahead of most companies, but most of us can get started by combining channels at key moments of the lifecycle.

4. Customer-level Media. Several campaign management vendors are tackling the challenge of analysis and customer engagement across owned, earned and paid media. Ask your vendors about their plans for improving customer journey mapping. Traditional linear customer journey maps are obsolete — you need technology to help you dynamically associate content and campaigns across the myriad individual experiences. At the same time, media buying is increasingly at the customer level, via hashtag identification and CRM-based targeting. Bring your own data to Facebook and Twitter, and find your key audiences across the Web — in the context that makes sense for your product and brand. 2015 will continue to see integrations through the various data services platforms (DSPs) and ad retargeting programs.

5. Brand Promise Ubiquity. Every interaction with a brand must live up to the brand promise – not just the how and what we do, but the why we do it. Marketing data can’t stay in the marketing department; it’s got to be utilized throughout the organization. Marketers are more curators of experience than controllers (broadcasters) of message, and our brand promise must be the banner under which every employee, agency and partner interacts with people. A recent study by research and consulting firm Software Advice found that using big data to match sales and service reps to the individual needs and personalities of customers will significantly increase satisfaction, call efficiency and sales revenue. That is just one example of how marketing must collaborate with other departments to optimize customer experience across every touchpoint.

How are you using integrated data to turn your segmentation strategy into a personalization strategy? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

The Power of Play: Gamification Changes Customer Engagement

What is it about games that engage and delight us? The competitive drive? The sheer entertainment? From our first game of “I Spy” or tic-tac-toe, we loved the challenge and rewards of gaming. Tapping this nearly universal human competitiveness and our addiction to fun can drive high levels of marketing engagement, especially when games are informed by marketing data and combined with helpful purpose that will increase loyalty and sales.

Marketing has long been about arresting attention by creating a fun distraction. One way to grab attention, empower social sharing and help people have fun is to “gamify” your marketing.

Gamification — the practice of applying game mechanics to non-game environments to motivate people and change behavior — has been tested seriously by marketers since 2011, and is now mainstream. “Gamification aims to inspire deeper, more engaged relationships and to change behavior, but it needs to be implemented thoughtfully,” says Brian Burke, research VP at Gartner in this press release. “Successful and sustainable gamification can convert customers into fans, turn work into fun, or make learning a joy.”

Gartner and other vendors emphasize the need to motivate, engage and reward audiences to play. In the course of that play — be it customers or employee teams — people will discover new products, learn about their own interests and skills, and become ambassadors for the game (and hopefully, the brand that makes it happen).

The folks at M2 Research found that effective gamification can increase marketing exposure and engagement by 100 to 150 percent. They recommend elements of a great game include: Strategy (The Play Proposition), Creativity (The Mechanics of Play), Communication, Reward, and Virality (Share-ability).

An early decision that marketers must make for a true game is the player relationship — competitive or collaborative. Or, if your brand allows it, perhaps neither — as demonstrated by this great “Pizza Hero” mobile app feature from Domino’s Pizza. It’s inspired by gaming, but not forced into a construct. It’s simple and useful: Stuck for ideas on the best flavor combo? The pizza slot machine feature allows you to just shake your smartphone and the app will pick the toppings.

Before you leap headfirst into the mobile app phantasmagoria, note that mobile analytics firm Localytics has found that 26 percent of apps are only used once after being downloaded. The Domino’s portfolio of mobile apps is one that combines brand, business and the customer experience – the essential elements for a big digital win.

As with any customer engagement strategy, it’s all about context. Marketers must always start with a rich understanding of customers’ needs, wants and expectations of the brand, across all channels. I don’t know that you can start out thinking, “We need a mobile app game.” Start out thinking about customer engagement — what will motivate people to engage with the brand and solution? What content will provide utility, guidance and assistance to resolve some real challenge? When the answer is, “Play a fun game to learn more” or “Interact with other customers to increase loyalty,” then the answer might be a new gamified mobile app. The crux is providing an experience that delights.

As integrated and data-driven marketers, we have the opportunity to gamify aspects of other channels, even if a standalone game does not make sense. Gaming can reshape how people learn about your products and solutions, and engage them in dense information that is important to learn. Even the ubiquitous infographic uses gaming philosophy – engagement happens when the user is forced to seek and find the facts, and become interactive with the content.

Games do not have to be an app. Interactive elements with gaming features can work well in e-commerce when there is already brand loyalty. Clothing company Moosejaw gamified the way it engages loyal customers by offering items for low prices that went up throughout the day, creating a sense of urgency for consumers to buy. It also included ways for consumers to score better deals by inviting friends and posting socially. The company reports that when the tool was launched, in less than 15 minutes, Quikly sold more than 500 $10 Moosejaw gift cards. Consumers then took those $10 gift cards and, on average, made purchases of $66, a 560 percent return on investment.

Sony uses an interactive app to onboard new employees. While not a game with rewards and skill levels, it uses eye-catching and responsive elements to make what typically feels like a library research project into an engaging and cool experience. That is a nice impression to make on new employees!

Motivating sales teams is also a great opportunity for gamification. What profession has more natural competitiveness than sales? Tap that energy, and the thirst for reward and recognition, by creating training apps or interactive methods for capturing sales updates. Reward salespeople who demonstrate a sense of mastery, autonomy and purpose with the gamified tools. Soon, they will want to be putting their name on the leaderboard.

Give your marketing experiences meaning, and your customers will have the motivation to engage. If the games are relevant and fun, and the players are challenged at different skills levels, they will build sustained momentum. As you can see from Domino’s and Moosejaw, gaming can be less about chance and reward levels and more about sales, too.

How are you using integrated data to get the game on for your marketing? Reply in the comments below.

Your Secret Weapon for Amplification: Employees!

There are sales enablement programs, partner and channel enablement programs and even influencer enablement programs. Why are there then, so few employee enablement programs—especially when both the knowledge of the company and the CRM/integrated marketing technology is already in use?

There are sales enablement programs, partner and channel enablement programs and even influencer enablement programs. Why are there then, so few employee enablement programs—especially when both the knowledge of the company and the CRM/integrated marketing technology is already in use?

Very few companies fully engage employees in the work of connecting with customers, prospects and new markets, according to a 2014 Altimeter Group survey of HR and marketing executives. Only 41 percent of respondents reported having a strategic approach for employee engagement, and just 43 percent say they have a culture of trust and empowerment. Yet, Altimer finds that company who do engage employees in a purposeful digital outreach enjoy measurable business impact, greater reach and improved customer satisfaction.

One of the biggest factors in this untapped opportunity, according to the report, is that most employees don’t have a clear understanding of what they can or should share on behalf of the brand. As a result, most stay quiet.

A quick way to measure the impact on your business is to assess the variance between the collective reach of your employees on LinkedIn, Twitter or Pinterest and the number of fans and followers on your branded corporate pages. That delta is your opportunity-every professional post or pin by an employee is an opportunity to connect people back to your corporate properties.

Of course a purposeful approach to empowering employees must be respectful of everyone’s personal brand and voice. Forcing people to stiffly spout the company line will not only backfire in terms of employee loyalty, it will be a turn off for readers. The engagement has to be authentic in order to resonate.

The technology is here-in the past decade there has been a plethora of new digital tools for helping employees connect with each other and with their professional communities. Many tools are embedded in the CRM and sales enablement tools already in use for outside engagement. Why aren’t people using them internally? Perhaps because the presence of a tool itself is not enough-to create business value the tools must be accessible, helpful and aligned with the business culture.

Marketers who want employee engagement must develop a repeatable and respectful plan for advocacy:

  • Cross-Functional Reach:
    While sales, marketing and service teams often advocate for the business as part of their job descriptions, employees across the organization can also be incentivized to participate. Making these activities a win-win for the employee and the employer is key to participation.
  • Training:
    Most employees would be happy to support a respectful program, but truly do not know what to say. Setting clear boundaries and sharing sample messaging is a start, but also be explicit about the “how to” aspects. Encourage employees to make the message personal-and thus of higher impact-by translating the corporate message into their own voice.
  • Culture of Mutual Respect:
    Employees who cannot be trusted with confidential information also can’t be expected to fully engage in any innovation or forward-thinking programs. If this is the case for your organization, then your culture may not be a fit for employee engagement.
  • Content:
    Most businesses are publishers today-from blogs to social media to customer service scripts. These are rich sources for content that can be easily shared and amplified through employee engagement.

Creating active and visible employees may give some managers pause. Altimer recommends encouraging personal brand building anyway, claiming the risk is low that top talent will be poached. The opposite is usually true, the report says. Employees build a sense of pride and connectedness, and become invested in the company success.

Beyond email signatures and call center scripts, how is your company tapping the rich network of your employees to build the brand, amplify messaging and generate leads? Are your employees already active participants in sharing your company brand story? If so, how can you bring that forward into a more purposeful program? Share your challenges and ideas in the comments section.

5 Data-Driven Strategies to Feed Your Customer Obsession

The digitization of our culture and marketplace has made it even more important for marketers to be customer advocates. Every bit of content we create, every retargeting campaign we develop and every customer journey we attempt to map … all this must be tied to superior and engaging customer experiences. It’s the only reason marketing exists.

The digitization of our culture and marketplace has made it even more important for marketers to be customer advocates. Every bit of content we create, every retargeting campaign we develop and every customer journey we attempt to map … all this must be tied to superior and engaging customer experiences. It’s the only reason marketing exists.

This Forrester Research recently claimed that companies obsessed with customer experience are more profitable and see higher growth. Consider Amazon, Nike or Mercedes Benz, where innovation is part of the culture. Consider how an obsession with innovation at Apple and Google translates to customer delight in their products. For the rest of us, it may be harder without that kind of a culture behind us, but frankly, there is no longer a choice for marketers: Each of us must adopt an attitude of obsession with customer satisfaction. Then, we need to employ a systematic approach to optimizing everything we do toward customer value. The key question to ask at every point in your day, “Is what I’m doing adding real value to a large number of high-value customers?” If not, change it or dump it.

Like any change, in life or business, it starts with attitude. If you don’t work for a customer-obsessed company, can you successfully meet the demands of your market and rise above the competition? At a minimum, companies must embrace that digital and customer experience is everyone’s business—great ideas and the seeds of change can come from anywhere, regardless of title, but do need to be cross-functional and valued to blossom.

It’s time to make this transformation personal. Consider how you can use the technology you have to adapt the customer experiences that you do control, and demonstrate success to the rest of the organization. This proof of concept approach is a great way to get more budget, too. Incremental change is great—improvements to a campaign for next time or an adjustment to the timing for a triggered message are good starting points. However, more is needed.

We must re-think the customer experience across an ecosystem, and not just a set of interactions with owned media or branded touchpoints. Collaborate with other suppliers and influencers to focus on digital efficiency so that you can react in “right time.” Right time is an alternate to “real time” that recognizes that immediacy is not the most effective reaction in all situations. This is especially true since the customer journey is non-linear.

Thinking differently can be difficult inside an organization—especially if you are successful. Often, good ideas are limited because of the way we ask questions about our customers or our marketing programs. A research experiment with third graders provides some proof of why creativity goes beyond tactical application of cleverness or humor. (The video is about two minutes long.)

The project gave two groups of third graders the same assignment—to make a picture out of a triangle. When the assignment was narrowly defined, the pictures came out nicely, but not that different from each other. When the assignment was not defined, the pictures came out wildly different—and much more creative!

Don’t just wait for disruption to come to your industry—learn to disrupt your own business. Truly aim to understand whatever is blocking your path to innovation and customer connection. Consider some of these strategic elements that can help you break free of legacy patterns and test new ideas.

1. Use the Data You Have to Zero-in on Key Segments. Use microtargeting to really get to know your customers. Dig deep into customization and personalization opportunities to find the small, yet potentially profitable subsets of your market and niche offerings.

2. Separate the Signal From the Noise. Being able to do so is a powerful intoxicant: If I can just repeatedly do that one perfect thing that will really drive our business forward, I’d dominate our market and be a hero. Problem is, identifying that one perfect thing is very hard. Marketing analytic models may be more accessible than you think—and perhaps are no longer a luxury, but an imperative for understanding the customer needs—and predicting future behavior. Bring these practices closer to the campaign management and segmentation strategy—and give your analytics teams a seat at the table. Consider some of these key questions that analytics models can answer:

a. What dynamic forces are affecting my customer and how effectively am I changing to meet these changes?
b. Are there new market opportunities developing that I can take advantage of and become the industry leader?
c. Would this new product be interesting to our current customers? What must be true for customers to feel pain? Who are our most valuable customers, and over time? What outside factors impact customer loyalty and retention?
d. What are the characteristics of our best prospects?
e. Which marketing messages and campaigns are contributing, and when do they contribute during the lifecycle?

3. Marketing Automation Tools Are Slowly Evolving to Help You Manage These Changes, but you may need to bolt together point solutions in the meantime (especially if a big upgrade is not in your budget this year). Look to consolidate applications into a platform with data and process level integration to improve efficiency and effectiveness; work to integrate marketing technology with the enterprise infrastructure to reveal deeper insights into customers, partners and market opportunities. Here is a good reason to establish inter-disciplinary teams with IT and sales and customer service and legal to improve marketing contribution, vendor management, due diligence and governance practices.

4. Paid Placements (Native Advertising) Are Here to Stay. Spend your money on the right content and platform and understand which digital properties are performing best. Build budgets and relationships around content placement, sponsorship opportunities, syndication services and content recommendation platforms. Content marketing can’t be limited to owned and earned media if you need to reach larger and broader audiences.

5. Focus on Quality Content; we are all publishers now. Mobile will continue to dominate, so master its impact on your content and targeting. All our writing has to be compelling and adaptable across platforms, and written to the tastes of narrowly targeted personas. Automation tools help to make sure your content is repurposed with panache and context.

Clearly there’s lots of opportunity for growth in many areas of marketing success, particularly as we align our investments in areas where vendors have incentives to innovate. Scouring your budget for “past success” might be a good place to start: Given the advances in technology, will what worked in 2010 or even in 2014 work now in 2015? Please share your own tips and challenges for creating a customer-obsessed culture in your organization in the comments section below.

3 Success Factors to Insights-Driven Automation

Most marketers do not have a technology problem. In fact, we’ve crossed the chasm of a few years ago, when technology could not keep up with marketers’ vision of customer engagement. Now, we have so much technology, we can’t utilize it strategically and we struggle to integrate it.

Most marketers do not have a technology problem. In fact, we’ve crossed the chasm of a few years ago when, technology could not keep up with marketers’ vision of customer engagement. Now, we have so much technology we can’t utilize it strategically, and we struggle to integrate it.

At the same time, marketers do not have a data problem. There is more data than we can manage or use wisely.

Marketers do have an optimization problem when it comes to using their technology and data to generate meaningful insights. Many of us struggle with how to prioritize our integrated marketing technology, practices and teams in order to generate the kinds of insights (a key output of many of our technology and data solutions) which will move the needle for the business.

There are three factors to this challenge.

  1. Analytics must be integrated with campaign management.
  2. Content must be created to solve problems.
  3. Insights must be scored and prioritized.

First, We Have to Get the Analytics Closer to Our Outbound Messaging. Personalization is the key to successfully creating relevance for each customer, so the analytics can’t happen off to the side. It has to be integrated with our IMM/campaign management solution so that each customer and prospect will be connected with content that is important, and available at a time that will resonate.

We can pretty easily automate our marketing response to insights. Programmatic buying has been around for many years and is expanding beyond search to Web display, ad re-targeting and campaign management (outbound) solutions. The rise of the DMP (or DSP)—platforms which allow utilization of consumer data across websites—provides great benefit to marketers looking to serve customers and prospects as they interact with any combination of owned, earned and paid media. This is helping us identify the anonymous and known people in our marketplace. Yet, the insights from interactions with branded messages across the ecosystem are not yet accessible fast enough or completely enough to allow marketers to be nimble in serving customers. We have to get these programmatic insights back to the main IMM “hub” and the campaign messaging platforms.

We need automation to also serve the process. Marketing operations efficiencies like workflow and social CRM require these insights at scale. While truly integrated IMM on a single platform is nirvana, the marketing technology landscape is huge. Real engagement often requires a few tools that will work together.

Second, Our Content Creation Machines Have to Focus More on What Sells and Our Brand Purpose. Too much content is created simply because it’s interesting. That is not a high enough bar. If your product is water, then the content needs to be all about fire. Content has to create need and speak to the “Why” of what you do, not the “What.” Why brands produce a product is usually about vision, value, need and satisfaction. Look at those heartwarming Super Bowl ads—do Dove products make you a better dad? No. But the brand is about being true to yourself and to celebrating your own personal values. So the advertising content worked.

If 2015 has a theme in marketing, it’s got to be personalization. Of course that means something different now than it did 10 years ago, when we first started really considering what is possible with custom-branded experiences. Effective personalization now means curating the content that will resonate with each customer’s individual needs. Automation technology makes this possible through content blocks and integrated native advertising units.

Third, We Need More Discipline About the Types of Insights That Will Help Us Do More Effective Marketing. I’ve always found in marketing analysis that certain demographics have clear preferences in tone, pace and language when interacting with a sales rep or brand. We can capitalize on these preferences to increase sales and connect the right rep with the right type of customer.

One way to solidify the discipline is to have some sort of mantra or brand promise that is very clear, and so all analytics work can strive to generate insights that are true to that brand promise. Remember the Coca-Cola’s Content 2020 Manifesto? Auditing your landscape of opportunity and focusing on the areas that have the most impact on revenue and market share will help you identify the kinds of insights that are most meaningful for your business.

Granted, this task is complicated by the fact that much of our data is channel-specific and measures the effectiveness of campaigns against previous campaigns. We need more insights around the impact and engagement of individual customers. Silos are still present, and organizational structure can severely limit marketers’ ability to learn about the customer-level engagement. One way to bring the team together is to score insights as they are applied to the business (much as we score leads). Did this move the needle? Have we improved our reach or response? Are key audiences engaged? It’s not just a volume game, but an engagement game with priority, high-value customers.

With these three success factors in mind, marketers can use the technology they have in a test and learn methodology to help better understand how automated insights can grow the business. Once the key drivers are identified, we can start to also assess current technology and pare down the options for improving the integration and efficiency of your organization.

Are you automating the use of insights that help personalize the customer experience? Please share your success factors in the space below.

3 IMM Trends to Watch in 2015

Happy New Year! As we look ahead this year with confidence in our ability to reach those aggressive goals and objectives, it seems that all the great marketing will be done by organizations who are customer-centric, nimble across channels, purposeful in messaging and timing, well-organized and collaborative and, perhaps as an underlying imperative to all of those … in control of their technology. CRM and Integrated Marketing Management (IMM) are core areas of marketing technology investment and opportunity for all of us. I summarize the (near) future of IMM with three words: Data, content and automation.

Happy New Year! As we look ahead this year with confidence in our ability to reach those aggressive goals and objectives, it seems that all the great marketing will be done by organizations who are customer-centric, nimble across channels, purposeful in messaging and timing, well-organized and collaborative and, perhaps as an underlying imperative to all of those … in control of their technology. CRM and Integrated Marketing Management (IMM) are core areas of marketing technology investment and opportunity for all of us. I summarize the (near) future of IMM with three words: Data, content and automation.

1. Data. A recent Oracle study projects that big data will be a $50 billion business by 2017. This continued understanding and utility of big data means bigger budgets for analytics, which grew significantly in 2014 and many analysts expect will continue to grow across industries in 2015. Getting big data and marketing analytics right is the No. 1 imperative for companies who wish to lead their markets. Bad or “dirty” data across businesses and the government will cost the U.S. economy $600 billion dollars a year, and many companies are realizing the opportunity cost of not collecting, owning and analyzing their data.

For IMM strategies, using big data is all about connections. Good IMM solutions will help marketers connect business lines, cross-channel customers, loyal brand advocates and dispersed employee bases.

2. Content. We’ve seen social and content come together in 2014 to begin to build an integrated marketing strategy for many marketers. Brands ramped up their content marketing efforts in a big way, and so 2015 investment will add analytics to the mix and focus on ROI to quantify and benchmark these efforts. Good IMM technology and practices helps to operationalize all that content, matching it with lifecycle stage, real-time advertising and insights from analytics and the budget. The result should be higher quality content that is unique to customer and channel. Repurposed content across social networks is not going to cut it any more.

“Know thy customer” will be the mantra of CRM and IMM for 2015. Companies that succeed will be nimble—not only with content that integrates and personalizes campaigns, but also in the resource management and planning process. We are big fans of strategic planning here at TopRight, but budgeting needs to be flexible and responsive to market, customer and competitive change. Managing dynamic programs in ever-changing ecosystems is at the heart of a great IMM approach. Hot areas of investment will include mobility, social media and technologies, Web analytics and e-commerce.

3. Automation. People don’t want “Brand experiences.” They want “My experiences.” IMM and CRM are critical to understanding each customer as a unique person, with interests and demands that are very personal to each. Automation is what lets marketers act on a lot of those opportunities, provided the data is protected and governed and the risk-mitigated for engines to make social gaffes or predictive blunders. Buzzwords like predictive analytics, pre-targeting and iBeacons have made marketers’ roles more complex, but also more powerful, proactive and measurable. Automation will appear this coming year as part of ad placement and retargeting, programmatic buying and campaign management and optimization.

Are you ready for the challenges that 2015 will bring? Your customer connections won’t occur and repeat without wise investments in your IMM and marketing automation technology. It’s a good time of year to assess your prowess in not just owning, but actually using your marketing technology.