3 Steps to Complete a Competitive Content Marketing Review

You’ve got to know what’s out there if you’re going to attract the audience you want. So it’s worthwhile to evaluate your content marketing in relation to what’s already out there.

You’ve got to know what’s out there if you’re going to attract the audience you want. The best content in the world won’t gain any traction if someone else said the same thing 15 minutes ago. So it’s worthwhile to evaluate your content marketing in relation to what’s already out there. Here are three steps to completing a competitive content marketing review:

Step 1. It’s Not About Your Competitors’ Content (Yet)

You may be tempted to fire up your browser, do some searches for the terms you want to rank for, and see who and what pops up. That would be a mistake that can lead you down a rabbit hole and far, far away from your own goals.

Begin first by examining your own content and your analytics data to see what content you’ve created that has performed best. This will give you a baseline against which to evaluate the results you find on competitive sites.

Your goal during this content marketing review isn’t to beat everyone in everything – even if that was possible. Your goal is to beat all competitors in the niches you identify as most important to your target audience and in which you have significant expertise or perspective.

Step 2. Review Your Marketing Goals

Next, review your sales, marketing, and product goals to make sure the content you have out in the world is working toward the goals you have today. It’s not uncommon for older content, aimed at other goals, to continue to garner a strong audience. Of course, being off target, these content elements don’t help your bottom line. (Which is another great reason to perform a content marketing review at least annually and prune or edit content that isn’t aligned with your marketing message.)

Step 3. Review Competitors’ Content Marketing

With all of that information in hand, now it’s time to fire up your browser and see what content you are competing with in your chosen niche. Be sure your review includes long-tail keyword phrases as well as broader queries. This should help you get a solid picture of your content strengths and weaknesses from the top of your funnel to the bottom.

You’ll also want to check the products/services that are being marketed by the content you find. It may be that some keyword phrases are more commonly used in other industries or in other ways than you intend. Performing well against those keywords may drive traffic, but it’s unlikely to generate conversions.

To summarize all of the above, your content marketing review should focus on evaluating:

  • Targeting — are you speaking to the right audience?
  • Content — are you addressing your prospects’ primary concerns?
  • Distribution — are you getting content in front of your target audience?

Understanding What a Customer Data Platform Needs to Be

Marketers try to achieve holistic personalization through all conceivable channels in order to stand out among countless messages hitting targeted individuals every day, if not every hour. If the message is not clearly about the target recipient, it will be quickly dismissed. So, how can marketers achieve such an advanced level of personalization?

Modern-day marketers try to achieve holistic personalization through all conceivable channels in order to stand out among countless marketing messages hitting targeted individuals every day, if not every hour. If the message is not clearly about the target recipient, it will be quickly dismissed.

So, how can marketers achieve such an advanced level of personalization? First, we have to figure out who each target individual is, which requires data collection: What they clicked, rejected, browsed, purchased, returned, repeated, recommended, look like, complained about, etc.  Pretty much every breath they take, every move they make (without being creepy). Let’s say that you achieved that level of data collection. Will it be enough?

Enter “Customer-360,” or “360-degree View of a Customer,” or “Customer-Centric Portrait,” or “Single View of a Customer.” You get the idea. Collected data must be consolidated around each individual to get a glimpse — never the whole picture — of who the targeted individual is.

You may say, “That’s cool, we just procured technology (or a vendor) that does all that.” Considering there is no CRM database or CDP (Customer Data Platform) company that does not say one of the terms I listed above, buyers of technology often buy into the marketing pitch.

Unfortunately,the 360-degree view of a customer is just a good start in this game, and a prerequisite. Not the end goal of any marketing effort. The goal of any data project should never be just putting all available data in one place. It must support great many complex and laborious functions during the course of planning, analysis, modeling, targeting, messaging, campaigning, and attribution.

So, for the interest of marketers, allow me to share the essentials of what a CDP needs to be and do, and what the common elements of useful marketing databases are.

A CDP Must Cover Omnichannel Sources

By definition, a CDP must support all touchpoints in an omnichannel marketing environment. No modern consumer lingers around just in one channel. The holistic view cannot be achieved by just looking at their past transaction history, either (even though the past purchase behavior still remains the most powerful predictor of future behavior).

Nor do marketers have time to wait until someone buys something through a particular channel for them to take actions. All movements and indicators — as much as possible — through every conceivable channel should be included in a CDP.

Yes, some data evaporates faster than others — such as browsing history — but we are talking about a game of inches here.  Besides, data atrophy can be delayed with proper use of modeling techniques.

Beware of vendors who want to stay in their comfort zone in terms of channels. No buyer is just an online or an offline person.

Data Must Be Connected on an Individual Level

Since buyers go through all kinds of online and offline channels during the course of their journey, collected data must be stitched together to reveal their true nature. Unfortunately, in this channel-centric world, characteristics of collected data are vastly different depending on sources.

Privacy concerns and regulations regarding Personally Identifiable Information (PII) greatly vary among channels. Even if PII is allowed to be collected, there may not be any common match key, such as address, email, phone number, cookie ID, device ID, etc.

There are third-party vendors who specialize in such data weaving work. But remember that no vendor is good with all types of data. You may have to procure different techniques depending on available channel data. I’ve seen cases where great technology companies that specialized in online data were clueless about “soft-match” techniques used by direct marketers for ages.

Remember, without accurate and consistent individual ID system, one cannot even start building a true Customer-360 view.

Data Must Be Clean and Reliable

You may think that I am stating the obvious, but you must assume that most data sources are dirty. There is no pristine dataset without a serious amount of data refinement work. And when I say dirty, I mean that databases are filled with inaccurate, inconsistent, uncategorized, and unstructured data. To be useful, data must be properly corrected, purged, standardized, and categorized.

Even simple time-stamps could be immensely inconsistent. What are date-time formats, and what time zones are they in?  Dollars aren’t just dollars either. What are net price, tax, shipping, discount, coupon, and paid amounts? No, the breakdown doesn’t have to be as precise as for an accounting system, but how would you identify habitual discount seekers without dissecting the data up front?

When it comes to free-form data, things get even more complicated. Let’s just say that most non-numeric data are not that useful without proper categorization, through strict rules along with text mining. And such work should all be done up front. If you don’t, you are simply deferring more tedious work to poor analysts, or worse, to the end-users.

Beware of vendors who think that loading the raw data onto some table is good enough. It never is, unless the goal is to hoard data.

Data Must Be Up-to-Date

“Real-time update” is one of the most abused word in this business. And I don’t casually recommend it, unless decisions must be made in real-time. Why? Because, generally speaking, more frequent updates mean higher maintenance cost.

Nevertheless, real-time update is a must, if we are getting into fully automated real-time personalization. It is entirely possible to rely on trigger data for reactive personalization outside the realm of CDP environment,  but such patch work will lead to regrets most of the time. For one, how would you figure out what elements really worked?

Even if a database is not updated in real-time, most source data must remain as fresh as they can be. For instance, it is generally not recommended to append third-party demographic data real-time (except for “hot-line” data, of course). But that doesn’t mean that you can just use old data indefinitely.

When it comes to behavioral data, time really is of an essence. Click data must be updated at least daily, if not real-time.  Transaction data may be updated weekly, but don’t go over a month without updating the base, as even simple measurements like “Days since last purchase” can be way off. You all know the importance of good old recency factor in any metrics.

Data Must Be Analytics-Ready

Just because the data in question are clean and error-free, that doesn’t mean that they are ready for advanced analytics. Data must be carefully summarized onto an individual level, in order to convert “event level information” into “descriptors of individuals.”  Presence of summary variables is a good indicator of true Customer-360.

You may have all the click, view, and conversion data, but those are all descriptors of events, not people. For personalization, you need know individual level affinities (you may call them “personas”). For planning and messaging, you may need to group target individuals into segments or cohorts. All those analytics run much faster and more effectively with analytics-ready data.

If not, even simple modeling or clustering work may take a very long time, even with a decent data platform in place. It is routinely quoted that over 80% of analysts’ time go into data preparation work — how about cutting that down to zero?

Most modern toolsets come with some analytics functions, such as KPI dashboards, basic queries, and even segmentation and modeling. However, for advanced level targeting and messaging, built-in tools may not be enough. You must ask how the system would support professional statisticians with data extraction, sampling, and scoring (on the backend). Don’t forget that most analytics work fails before or after the modeling steps. And when any meltdown happens, do not habitually blame the analysts, but dig deeper into the CDP ecosystem.

Also, remember that even automated modeling tools work much better with refined data on a proper level (i.e., Individual level data for individual level modeling).

CDP Must Be Campaign-Ready

For campaign execution, selected data may have to leave the CDP environment. Sometimes data may end up in a totally different system. A CDP must never be the bottleneck in data extraction and exchange. But in many cases, it is.

Beware of technology providers that only allow built-in campaign toolsets for campaign execution. You never know what new channels or technologies will spring up in the future. While at it, check how many different data exchange protocols are supported. Data going out is as important as data coming in.

CDP Must Support Omnichannel Attribution

Speaking of data coming in and out, CDPs must be able to collect campaign result data seamlessly, from all employed channels.  The very definition of “closed-loop” marketing is that we must continuously learn from past endeavors and improve effectiveness of targeting, messaging, and channel usage.

Omnichannel attribution is simply not possible without data coming from all marketing channels. And if you do not finish the backend analyses and attribution, how would you know what really worked?

The sad reality is that a great majority of marketers fly blind, even with a so-called CDP of their own. If I may be harsh here, you are not a database marketer if you are not measuring the results properly. A CDP must make complex backend reporting and attribution easier, not harder.

Final Thoughts

For a database system to be called a CDP, it must satisfy most — if not all — of these requirements. It may be daunting for some to read through this, but doing your homework in advance will make it easier for you in the long run.

And one last thing: Do not work with any technology providers that are stingy about custom modifications. Your business is unique, and you will have to tweak some features to satisfy your unique needs. I call that the “last-mile” service. Most data projects that are labeled as failures ended up there due to a lack of custom fitting.

Conversely, what we call “good” service providers are the ones who are really good at that last-mile service. Unless you are comfortable with one-size-fits-all pre-made — but cheaper — toolset, always insist on customizable solutions.

You didn’t think that this whole omnichannel marketing was that simple, did you?

 

Resilience and Reinvention: 2 ‘Essentials’ Brands Need to Practice Now

As marketers and consumers alike have felt the effects of the pandemic, there are ways to rise above the challenges of being compromised or shuttered as our country has sheltered in place to avoid COVID-19. There are two attributes of the human spirit that have helped societies thrive: resilience and reinvention.

As marketers and consumers alike have felt the effects of the pandemic over the past couple of months, there are ways to rise above the challenges of being compromised or shuttered as our country has sheltered in place to avoid COVID-19. There are two attributes of the human spirit that have helped societies rise above and thrive — despite the odds and tragic setbacks out of one’s individual control — resilience and reinvention.

Resilience

Difficulties often force us to look at life from different angles, and quite often those angles reveal opportunities we wouldn’t face otherwise.  One of the things we hear from friends and colleagues, and admit to even ourselves, is that while sheltering in place we’ve learned what really matters, what we really need, and what we don’t. Focusing on “essentials” is a positive we can apply to all aspects of our lives.

In business, we are learning to do more with less, and as customers we are learning to expect less of the “thrills” in order to meet our “essential” needs, like being able to go to a store vs. shop online and hope we get something on time. Our values are changing out of necessity and these values are likely to linger longer than the rules of social distancing.

This is an ideal time for businesses across sectors to rethink the “extras” designed to add value, and focus on ways to deliver the quality and service your customers need without adding to your overhead. Consider:

Reward Programs: I can’t believe I, the person evangelizing customer experience for years, is suggesting to drop your rewards program, but I am. For at least now. Customers want you to stay in business and have learned to focus on “essential” vs. “extra” perks. Cutting out “Free This and Free That” can help you protect your cash flow and get back in the black as we re-open the economy.

Chances are, if you run the numbers, you’ll find a lower percentage of customers cashing in those awards than you think, and when this is the case it is not likely to cause you to lose customers. Right now, customers are just happy to be able to shop again, and want to keep their favorite businesses in business more than they want that “free gift.”

Hours of Operation: So you open earlier and close later to make it more convenient for customers, right? But those extra two hours could be costing you potentially thousands a year, and may not be generating that much in return. While it may make sense to open earlier for particular customer groups (such as having some early morning hours for senior citizens or the immuno-compromised to shop more easily) the current environment doesn’t dictate additional convenience. Now, most customers are just grateful to have you open for a short period of time and are willing to adjust their schedules around you.

Audit Your Inventory: There was a time when customers would buy those cute non-essential items near the cash registers or on the endcaps of aisle just because they could. I’m guessing that when we are all free to move around our worlds and shop freely, in person, at live stores vs. virtual platforms, this will change. Many of us consumers have learned to get by with less, and we’ve learned that “stuff” is just that – stuff.

By eliminating some of those non-essentials from your shelves and counters, you reduce your costs to operate, set yourself up to get to profitable sales volumes faster, and simplify the shopping experience as customers are allowed back in your stores. Now more than ever, the old adage, of “less is more” is critical to live by.

Reinvention 

There are plenty of stories about businesses that are making ventilators instead of cars; making face masks instead of clothing; and the like. This is a powerful and critical strategy for all businesses in all categories as we come out of a shuttered economy. Our world has changed and so must we all if we want to rise above and thrive as we move forward.

Reinventing your business(es) applies to not just what you offer customers, but how you operate within the community. Consider this example:

A company making backpacks and duffel bags wasn’t getting any orders. So they offered to use their production facilities to help a local manufacturer of medical protective gear produce more of what was needed instead of focusing more on their products. As a result, that company has kept its people busy and company healthy. They also started making and selling T-shirts as a fundraiser to help raise money to be able to support more healthcare workers on the frontline. The company donated more than $30,000 from their T-shirt campaign, which will pay off much more as people remember that brand and choose to support them when they can purchase more freely again.

Ponder on how can you collaborate with other companies that are fitting a more “essential” need than yours, so you can keep busy, pay employees, and “reinvent” your relevance beyond just the core business you once had.

Another example is a business videographer I work with who isn’t booking those big events due to cancellations. To keep his name top-of-mind for the hopefully near future of business events again, he has started a tutorial offering. He is creating DIY videos and e-books to help clients do their own videos while they can’t afford his services, knowing that when they are back in their groove, he will be too.

The act of reinventing is not always about finding new products to sell, but about finding new ways to collaborate and expand your network while you add to your service lines. Instead, it’s about being relevant, present, and valuable so that the relationships you have in place will still be the ones that help you move forward and resume life as you once knew it.

No matter the nature or size of size your business, use this “time out” of your normal routine to contemplate ways to rise above by refocusing your time, money, energy, and resources on what matters and identify ways you can eliminate waste. Put energy into focusing your creativity on ways to collaborate with others in your community, reinvent your products to fit the needs of customers now, and add affordable services that meet current and future needs. Investing some energy into resilience and reinvention will pay off now, as well as later.

More than anything, keep believing in the you that has achieved the success you have, and do it all again. Shine on!

3 Tactics to Stay Connected With Your Target Audience

What can you do today to help you to survive the current state of your market and thrive as it evolves? Consider these three tactics to help you maintain a strong connection with your audience.

Digital marketing — and marketing more broadly — is always about making it clear to your target audience that you can help them address the issue they need to solve. Nothing about the conditions we’re facing today changes that, though the issues your audience is facing very likely have.

So, as much as we’re all tired of hearing about our “unprecedented” times and “the new normal,” we do have to adapt our organizations to the conditions we see in our markets, or risk our own extinction.

What can you do today to help you to survive the current state of your market and thrive as it evolves? Consider these three tactics to help you maintain a strong connection with your target audience.

Trim Costs Without Negatively Affecting Your Audience

Where can you cut costs in a way that does not impact your ability to connect with your target audience? Begin by looking at what you’re doing now. For example, digital ad costs have fallen. If you can craft a message that still resonates with your prospects, you may be able to increase your impact at a lower overall cost, and certainly at a lower CPM. (Be careful, though, if your targeting relies on IP address identification. With many corporate folks working from home, their IP address will not be that of their organization unless they’re accessing the internet through a corporate VPN.)

What alternative to currently dormant channels have you shied away from testing in the past because of budget or bandwidth concerns? Virtual events rather than in-person events is the most obvious choice, but there may be other areas in your arsenal worth investigating.

Explore New Tactics for Your Sales Team to Employ

Speaking of alternatives, if your sales force has typically relied on face-to-face meetings to drive revenue, they’ll be itching for new ways to connect with potential buyers. They may be more open to new ideas than in the past; for example, creating a library of online resources.

The key here is doing the work to ensure that the resources you create align with the sales team’s needs. This makes creating a digital library a great way to get sales and marketing working together, even if they can’t be together physically. (I’m sure some of you are thinking about how that physical distance might make the process easier …)

Even better, a library like this works not only as a short-term play to get the sales team through a time of limited contact with prospects, but it also can pay benefits far down the road in the form of an expanded reach for the sales team as they become more comfortable using these tools in their sales process.

Improve Customer Experience

Don’t forget to check the possibilities already right under your nose. As difficult as it can be to connect with new prospects for many marketers at the moment, existing clients are likely far more receptive to your messaging, particularly if you focus on empathy, humanity, and being helpful.

Ask what help they need, share the struggles that your organization is going through, and make it clear that you will help them any way you can. Consider making a pre-emptive offer to clients that addresses problems you know they are facing. (See Point One above about asking what they need.) The short-term cost of any unpaid effort will pay long-term dividends in the kinds of trust and good will that lead to client retention and improved lifetime value.

Don’t Blame Personalization After Messing It Up

In late 2019, Gartner predicted “80% of marketers who have invested in personalization efforts will abandon them by 2025 because of lack of ROI, the peril of customer data, or both.” But before giving up because the first few rounds didn’t pay off, shouldn’t marketers stop and think about what could have gone wrong?

In late 2019, Gartner predicted “80% of marketers who have invested in personalization efforts will abandon them by 2025 because of lack of ROI, the peril of customer data, or both.” Interesting that I started my last article quoting only about 20% of analytics works are properly applied to businesses. What is this, some 80/20 hell for marketers?

Nonetheless, the stat that I shared here begs for further questioning, especially the ROI part. Why do so many marketers think that ROI isn’t there? Simply, ROI doesn’t look good when:

  1. You invested too much money (the denominator of the ROI equation), and
  2. The investment didn’t pay off (the numerator of the same).

Many companies must have spent large sums of money on teams of specialists and service providers, data platforms featuring customer 360, personalization software (on the delivery side), analytics work for developing segments and personas, third-party data, plus the maintenance cost of it all. To justify the cost, some marginal improvements here and there wouldn’t cut it.

Then, there are attribution challenges even when there are returns. Allocating credit among all the things that marketers do isn’t very simple, especially in multichannel environments. To knock CEOs and CFOs off their chairs – basically the bottom-line people, not math or data geeks – the “credited” results should look pretty darn good. Nothing succeeds like success.

After all, isn’t that why marketers jumped onto this personalization bandwagon in the first place? For some big payoff? Wasn’t it routinely quoted that, when done right, 1:1 personalization efforts could pay off 20 times over the investment?

Alas, the key phrase here was “when done right,” while most were fixated on the dollar signs. Furthermore, personalization is a team sport, and it’s a long-term game.  You will never see that 20x return just because you bought some personalization engine and turned the default setting on.

If history taught us anything, any game that could pay off so well can’t be that simple. There are lots of in-between steps that could go wrong. Too bad that yet another buzzword is about to go down as a failure, when marketers didn’t play the game right and the word was heavily abused.

But before giving it all up just because the first few rounds didn’t pay off so well, shouldn’t marketers stop and think about what could have gone so wrong with their personalization efforts?

Most Personalization Efforts Are Reactive

If you look at so-called “personalized” messages from the customer’s point of view, most of them are just annoying. You’d say, “Are they trying to annoy me personally?”

Unfortunately, successful personalization efforts of the present day is more about pushing products to customers, as in “If you bought this, you must want that too!” When you treat your customers as mere extensions of their last purchase, it doesn’t look very personal, does it?

Ok, I know that I coveted some expensive electric guitars last time I visited a site, but must I get reminded of that visit every little turn I make on the web, even “outside” the site in question?

I am the sum of many other behaviors and interests – and you have all the clues in your database – not a hollow representation of the last click or the last purchase.  In my opinion, such one-dimensional personalization efforts ruined the term.

Personalization must be about the person, not product, brands, or channels.

Personalization Tactics Are Often Done Sporadically, Not Consistently

Reactive personalization can only be done when there is a trigger, such as someone visiting a site, browsing an item for a while, putting it in a basket without checking out, clicking some link, etc. Other than the annoyance factor I’ve already mentioned, such reactive personalization is quite limited in scale. Basically, you can’t do a damn thing if there is no trigger data coming in.

The result? You end up annoying the heck out of the poor souls who left any trail – not the vast majority for sure – and leave the rest outside the personalization universe.

Now, a 1:1 marketing effort is a number’s game. If you don’t have a large base to reach, you cannot make significant differences even with a great response rate.

So, how would you get out of that “known-data-only” trap? Venture into the worlds of “unknowns,” and convert them into “high potential opportunities” using modeling techniques. We may not know for sure if a particular target is interested in purchasing high-end home electronics, but we can certainly calculate the probability of it using all the data that we have on him.

This practice alone will increase the target base from a few percentage points to 100% coverage, as model scores can be put on every record. Now you can consistently personalize messages at a much larger scale. That will certainly help with your bottom-line, as more will see your personalized messages in the first place.

But It’s Too Creepy

Privacy concerns are for real. Many consumers are scared of know-it-all marketers, on top of being annoyed by incessant bombardments of impersonal messages; yet another undesirable side effect of heavy reliance on “known” data. Because to know for sure, you have to monitor every breath they take and every move they make.

Now, there is another added bonus of sharing data in the form of model scores. Even the most aggressive users (i.e., marketers) wouldn’t act like they actually “know” the target when all they have is a probability. When the information is given to them, like “This target is 70% likely to be interested in children’s education products,” no one would come out and say “I know you are interested in children’s education products. So, buy this!”

The key in modern day marketing is a gentle nudge, not a hard sell. Build many personas – because consumers are interested in many different things – and kindly usher them to categories that they are “highly likely” to be interested in.

Too Many Initiatives Are Set on Auto-Pilot

People can smell machines from miles away. I think humans will be able to smell the coldness of a machine even when most AIs will have passed the famous Turing Test (Definition: a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human).

In the present day, detecting a machine pushing particular products is even easier than detecting a call-center operator sitting in a foreign country (not that there is anything wrong about that).

On top of that, machines are only as versatile as we set them up to be. So, don’t fall for some sales pitch that a machine can automatically personalize every message utilizing all available data. You may end up with some rudimentary personalization efforts barely superior to basic collaborative filtering, mindlessly listing all related products to what the target just clicked, viewed, or purchased.

Such efforts, of course, would be better than nothing.  For some time.  But remember that the goal is to “wow” your target customers and your bosses. Do not settle for some default settings of campaign or analytics toolsets.

Important Factors Are Ignored

When most investments are sunk in platforms, engines, and toolsets, only a little are left for tweaking, maintenance, and expansion. As all businesses are unique (even in similar industries), the last mile effort for custom fitting often makes or breaks the project. At times, unfortunately, even big items such as analytics and content libraries for digital asset management get to be ignored.

Even through a state-of-the-art AI engine, refined data works better than raw data. Your personalization efforts will fail if there aren’t enough digital assets to rotate through, even with a long list of personas and segments for everyone in the database. Basically, can you show different contents for different personas at different occasions through different media?

Data, analytics, contents, and display technologies must work harmoniously for high level personalization to work.

So What Now?

It would be a real shame if marketers hastily move away from personalization efforts when sophistication level is still elementary for the most.

Maybe we need a new word to describe the effort to pamper customers with suitable products, services and offers. Regardless of what we would call it, staying relevant to your customer is not just an option anymore. Because if you don’t, your message will categorically be dismissed as yet another annoying marketing message.

 

Trust Capital Is the New Marketing Gold Standard

Now, more than ever, trust capital may become the new marketing gold standard, joining brand equity as a key metric for valuing a company’s relationship with its customers and prospects.

My father used to caution not to believe everything one heard or read. He was not a cynic but an optimistic realist. Nonetheless, like the majority of his generation, his basic intuition urged him to trust existing institutions and assume (that most dangerous word), that what they were saying or doing was for the common good. “Fake news” had not morphed from the lingua franca to become the lingua twitter.

That’s not always the case anymore. MediaPost shared the following on Mar. 19:

“The news business is battling public distrust. Nearly half of respondents to a new Axios/Ipsos poll said they do not trust traditional media ‘very much or at all” to accurately deliver information about the COVID-19 virus.’”

That distrust should inform how marketers must rethink their approach to customers and prospects as we plunge into a new and uncertain era.

On Jan. 19, the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer published this worrisome finding:

“… despite a strong global economy and near full employment, none of the four societal institutions that the study measures — government, business, NGOs and media — is trusted. The cause of this paradox can be found in people’s fears about the future and their role in it, which are a wake-up call for our institutions to embrace a new way of effectively building trust: balancing competence with ethical behavior.”

If “disbelief” is the new normal gut reaction to our foundation institutions, it goes without saying that our commercial messages, however well wrapped in engaging narratives are likely to need the “suspension of disbelief” to be effective. That almost certainly means stepping back a little (or a lot) from our “act now” knee-jerk impulses and asking ourselves what we need to do to achieve that “suspension,” to establish the critical trust that my father suggested might be missing.

Building Trust With Customers and Prospects

If we look at the Amazon ethos, building credibility item by item, on-time delivery by on-time delivery, rapid refund by rapid refund, trust impacts each transaction more than efficiency. Not surprisingly, that same Edelman study found “ethical drivers such as integrity, dependability, and purpose drive 76% of the trust capital of business, while competence accounts for only 24%.”

Trust capital may become the new marketing gold standard, joining brand equity as a key metric for valuing a company’s relationship with its customers and prospects.

But how can we measure integrity, dependability and purpose? It may be easier said than done. Perhaps a good starting point is looking backwards.

How much feedback have you had from your customers, especially negative feedback? (We all love compliments but we seldom learn from them.)

One of my first jobs was to read complaint letters, research what had (or had not) gone wrong, and then write for the signature of the CEO, a truly personal answer. The number of “thank you” notes we received was the best lesson you could have in the value of real personalization.

If you don’t have a strong culture of responding to every complaint, not with a form letter or email but with a thoughtful and helpful personal communication, you should put one in place, now. If I can’t talk to a knowledgeable and helpful human being instead of an algorithm, like many others, I’m gone and your trust capital has tanked, or at best, taken a hit.

A recent blog post from Yes Marketing put it this way:

“In a world driven by access to options, an emotional connection with a brand can be the tipping point for consumers when deciding where to spend their dollars.”

You certainly want it to tip your way, and that means doing whatever is necessary to establish and retain that emotional connection and trust.

Whatever we do to build trust capital during these uncertain times, even if not immediately measurable, is certain to pay big dividends when the crisis is past.

 

Take a Break and Carry On: Adjust Your Mindset and Messaging During Coronavirus Pandemic

Timing is everything, perhaps now more than ever during this pandemic. As we watch the world around us change drastically, on a daily basis, it’s hard to know what to do. Do we ramp up advertising and customer messaging? Do we push out more offers? Do we create new discounts to keep sales coming in? If there was a crystal ball we trusted at times like these, what would it tell us to do?

Timing is everything, perhaps now more than ever during this pandemic. As we watch the world around us change drastically, on a daily basis, it’s hard to know what to do. Do we ramp up advertising and customer messaging? Do we push out more offers? Do we create new discounts to keep sales coming in? If there was a crystal ball we trusted at times like these, what would it tell us to do?

Nothing.

Yes. Do nothing different. Instead: “Carry on!”

No, I’m not in a state of denial, or naivete. Hear me out:

When everything around us seems to be in a state of chaos and uncertainty, we seek something solid to assure us that not all we know is pushing the “cancel” button, and that some parts of our lives will continue as normal.

When we see brands or businesses or organizations doing “business as usual,” or messaging positive news and actions, we find hope and relief and start to gravitate toward them. Whether they are right or wrong, it doesn’t matter. We need hope, assurance, and a little bit of our current normal, or we fall into states of despair and paralysis.

When we see the organizations or brands in our daily lives panic, we want to avoid their same dilemmas and tend to distance ourselves from them and find alternatives. Our trust in those organizations to be beacons for us during hard times and good times is forever changed.

Not only is our trust changed for those that panicked and gave up during those tough times, so too often is our loyalty.  We find alternatives and quite often those alternatives become our new normal. And when stability comes back to our lives, we stay with that new normal quite often vs. go back to those that panicked and let us down.

As long as you are able, stay the course in terms of keeping stores open and services available, while also abiding by what local and federal mandates require of you, of course. And most importantly, keep communication relevant and timely, while also avoiding overwhelming those you’re messaging. Remember, we’re all receiving a lot of information now, and it can be a lot to digest.

So, how do we “do nothing” effectively? Stay in touch.

Here are some thoughts on staying connected during uncertain times in ways that keep customers aligned with your brand, trusting your position, and ready to come back when life resumes as usual, once again.

Consider:

  • Keep communicating: If you send out weekly emails with product ideas, promotions, account statements, keep doing it. But instead of trying to sell to someone who is scared of life as they know it is over, peddle sincerity, compassion, and interesting stories.
  • Don’t make light of the situation: There is nothing funny from any angle so remain sensitive and stay real. Coors had plans to run an ad on being the best “work at home” beer, originally positioned for March Madness, but pulled it (ahead of the announcement of the tournament being canceled). While the ad was never intended to make fun of the current situation, it could have easily been taken the wrong way, if Coors had not pulled it.
  • This is not an opportunity: Don’t offer coronavirus specials, and don’t push to get in the news by giving away free toilet paper or make shift masks. Don’t use social media to increase impressions with insights about the situation unless you really have helpful information that makes a difference, and you are a credible source for the topic at hand.
  • Provide a healthy distraction: Stressful times are not prime for promoting sales, as efforts are not likely to achieve as much as they would during less uncertain times. It is, however, a great time to tell stories about your brand, your employees, your community causes, your vision. Take this time to be uplifting, again, where appropriate.

Regardless of what business you are in, take a break. Take a break from the routine of pushing sales and counting acquisitions. It’s not going to pay off and your frustration level will just elevate. Stay focused on what you can continue to have a positive effect on: relationships. Keep your brand relationships alive with positive communications, stories of hope and community, and more.

Stephanie Meyer, author of the Twilight Series, sheds a good light on this situation: “I like the night. Without the dark, we’d never see the stars.”

Embrace the dark. Look for the stars. And “Shine on!

 

Is Identity Resolution the New, Must-Have Martech Solution?

There’s a bit of growing confusion and buzz in the martech space around the topic of identity resolution. It’s the new elixir being pitched as the critical additive to make your marketing technology stack work better, faster, and deliver better results. But is it?

There’s a bit of growing confusion and buzz in the martech space around the topic of identity resolution. It’s the new elixir being pitched as the critical additive to make your marketing technology stack work better, faster, and deliver better results. But is it?

For those of you familiar with the marketing technology space, every new solution comes with a blend of real value, hyperbole and needless complexity. Identity resolution is no different. Here I will try to unpack this relatively “new” capability and put it into perspective for marketing leaders. (Why did I put new in quotes? Keep reading to find out.)

What is Identity Resolution?

Identity resolution uses artificial intelligence (AI) to connect customer interactions and achieve a single customer view. The concept of capturing all customer interactions (marketing, engagements, sales, post sales), at the individual level, has been around for many years. However, achieving this goal has been very hard.

The reason is that customers interact with your brand across multiple channels (online and offline) while using multiple devices. Additionally, some interactions are anonymous or only provide limited identifiers. This interaction variability results in very complicated, disjointed customer data.

Until recently, most efforts at achieving a single customer view involved creating rules engines by which each interaction could be matched with other interactions and assigned to a single customer. Due to differences in the technology stack, channels employed, and the customer experience, rules engines had to be custom-built for each organization. This was expensive; enter AI.

Identity resolution uses AI in generating matching logic vs. using a team of analysts. The basic idea is to train the AI algorithm using known matches and then validate future correct matches the algorithm makes. This is why I refer to it as a “new” capability. In reality, it is only new because rules engines have been replaced by AI. For most marketers this change is only relevant if the match rates are better and the solution is cheaper than existing efforts are at achieving a Single Customer View.

What’s the Hype and Confusion About Identity Resolution?

While the addition of AI is innovative, it does not always translate into better match rates. Other major challenges with single customer view, such as the accurate collection of relevant data, still remain. AI, like any other analytic solution, also suffers from bad data and can put out spurious results. Therefore, verifying and validating AI matches is a task in and of itself.

The next issue to keep in mind is that identity resolution is probably not going to be sold as a separate solution in the near future. Within a short period of time, it will be integrated into larger martech solutions such as CRM or marketing clouds. Waiting to implement identity resolution could mean leaving the difficult task of systems integration to the cloud solution providers. However, the trade-off will be losing first mover advantage.

What Is the Value?

Single customer view has been the holy grail in marketing for good reason. With it, marketers can better understand the impact of interactions across the full customer experience life cycle. As an added benefit, marketers could also generate data-driven justifications for modifying or redesigning large segments of the customer experience. This will result in significant growth opportunities for your brand.

Despite the hype and confusion, identity resolution presents a great opportunity to finally achieve a single customer view. In theory, the introduction of AI should make identity resolution a desirable solution with better match rates and lowered costs. This means the evaluation of identity resolution tech is somewhat straight forward (though not necessarily easy).

The core evaluation question becomes, “Is the identity resolution solution cheaper and better at creating a single customer view vs. current efforts?”

3 Ways to Maintain Strong Client Relationships

After the initial investment that brings clients on board, you enter a blissful honeymoon phase where everyone’s happy. Resist the temptation to rest on your laurels! Before your clients’ eyes start to wander, do something proactive.

To build on my last article, let’s continue down the road of showing client love and keeping the spark in your client relationships alive.

I used to want my clients to like me. Now I make them fall in love. It doesn’t happen by accident — this is all about strategy. After the initial investment that brings clients on board, you enter a blissful honeymoon phase where everyone’s happy. Resist the temptation to rest on your laurels! Before your clients’ eyes start to wander, do something proactive.

Here are three rules I live by when it comes to maintaining strong client relationships.

1. Merchandise!

You never want your client to think, “what are we paying for?” If you do PR for yourself on a regular basis, they never will. Before a client even asks for an activity or results report, you should have it ready to go. I give mine a new spin by merchandising our work to date. Putting your projects in context this way helps clients better understand how what you do on a daily basis is paying off.

Now I’m not saying to be boastful. Be factual, but remind them of the value that you brought them. And if you’re really smart, you’ll develop the report in a way that they can share internally — helping them do their own internal PR while doing yours as well.

Remember, the name of the game is to help them achieve their communications objectives and, even more importantly, make them look good in front of their boss and peers. On top of that, sharing your reporting is a great prelude to my second tip.

2. Become an Idea Machine

After you’ve shown your clients what you’ve accomplished together, start conversations on where you’ll go next. Mapping out possible futures gets people excited, especially when you’re bringing new ideas to the table.

One of my favorite moves is to walk my clients through case studies on what their main competitors and parallel industries are doing. It’s a casual way to talk about possible roadblocks and how to overcome them. Plus, we get to draw out lessons from what competitors are doing right.

Heard about a conference they should attend? Tell them! Identify how they can push themselves, and how you can help. This is the perfect time to refresh strategy without having to wait for your clients to bring up concerns on their own. You also might hit on exciting ways to expand your scope of work.

Now there is a fine line. If you know your client doesn’t have additional budget, don’t try and get blood from a turnip. If these new ideas will help them look like rockstars, propose shifting existing scope to support the new idea or couch it as something to plan against once budgets are back in play.

3. Take a Page from Amazon – Be Obsessed

Your clients have no reason to leave when you’re more invested in the business than they are — something I’ve been proudly accused of many times. Take a page from Amazon’s playbook and be obsessed with your customer. If you sense that their eyes are wandering, figure out why. Try to better understand them and their industry so you can identify their needs, including which needs you’re not meeting.

When I was helping MetLife recruit mega tech talent, we totally immersed ourselves in the tech community to understand what would draw a candidate to work at a particular company. We hung out on Reddit forums, attended big data conferences, conducted interviews, you name it. In the end, we employed many cool tactics that the big tech players were using to draw talent. For instance, we attracted top engineers through “Easter egg hunts” — basically, hidden messages/code on various websites across their homepage. Once we drew in the curious coders, we gamified the application itself, having applicants code their resume in LinkedIn. Not to toot our own horn, but we won awards for these recruitment campaigns. (I told you to merchandise, didn’t I?)

Success in client services is about constantly strengthening yourself and your client relationship. Just like in your romantic life, you need to put in the effort to keep your client’s eyes from wandering.