Remote Education Realities: Challenges Faced by Students, Academic Institutions – and Employers

Watching COVID-19 infection rates spread around the country – with record infection rates now predominantly in the Southern and Western Tiers – only underscores how hard a decision it is for public officials to resist science and public health experts and reopen their schools later this month. Colleges and universities, both public and private, also are weighing this tough decision.

In the private-sector companies, in the service sector, most workers will remain remote – connected by laptops, wi-fi and Zoom calls. It’s been an adjustment that employers and employees have had to make – some of us willingly in our comfortable home offices, summer houses and outdoor patios, and grateful to still be working.

Yet in the education sector, remote education is not so easy for many students (and educators). At least that’s what a Marketing EDGE student survey – conducted in late spring and released in a report last month – has revealed. It’s one thing for a student to pursue an online education by choice. It’s wholly another scenario when all students are forced into this transition by circumstances.

Remote Education, Not So Easy for Everyone

Marie Adolphe, Senior Vice President – Program Development, Marketing EDGE | Credit: Marketing EDGE

I recently spoke with Marie Adolphe, the study author and senior vice president of program development at Marketing EDGE, about what education – and the workplace – can take from the findings to improve the situation for “remote realities.” [Disclosure: I am an avid contributor to Marketing EDGE, a marketing education non-profit organization. Marketing EDGE also is a client.]

Chet Dalzell (CD): Thank you Marie for undertaking this research – which I have to say made me most curious as to how students handled this forced adjustment, heading home mid-semester from campus and picking up their studies online. In short, how have these young adults handled the situation overall?

Marie Adolphe (MA): The majority of students have managed the situation quite well; but, a significant minority, 23%, have struggled with this mode of learning. These students are in danger of being left behind, and the colleges and universities are looking for ways to support them as many go back online for the fall semester.

CD: What were some of the most cited challenges they have faced? 

MA: As you know, Chet, individuals learn in various ways, and for many students the interactive dynamics of the classroom is not only a preference, it is a necessity. The students we surveyed struggled to focus on their schoolwork due to the increased distractions of their home environment and the general chaos surrounding the pandemic. Students also struggled with the different teaching strategies generally employed online. Some reported increased assignments to make up for the lack of classroom discussions and stated that they felt like they were teaching themselves the material. One reason the results of this research were particularly alarming to those of us at Marketing EDGE is that some of the students struggling are also part of the diverse group of students who are the first in their family to attend college. It is a wake-up call for the marketing industry, especially in light of recent developments that have elevated calls for a more diverse pool of talent in our field. For the last few years, Marketing EDGE has heightened its focus on creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce. Given these tumultuous times, we’re doubling down on our efforts to work hand-in-hand with industry leaders and academics alike to provide support and resources so all students know there is a vibrant community within the marketing industry who is eager to welcome them into our field.

CD: What aspects of remote education do they appear to have well embraced? (My summer intern made the most of working remotely, but I wonder if it was as rewarding and engaging as it could have been for him.)

MA: Many students who participate in our programs have been making the most of the career related opportunities available this summer. We had more than 800 students participate in our EDGE Summer Series webinars where they learned about personal branding, sports marketing, e-commerce, and leadership. Students have also made the most of virtual internships, micro internships, and other opportunities to connect with brands and marketers. The resiliency that these students are learning will serve them well when in-person internships return and more importantly, as they prepare to take leadership positions later in their career.

CD: Is there any guidance or suggestions you believe educators, educational institutions – and employers with remote work forces – might take away from this study? Is Marketing EDGE planning any additional research or follow-up?

MA: It is important to find ways to connect with students (and employees) and to have them connect with each other. Our best advice to educators and employers is to first seek to understand the experiences of your students and workers by really listening to them. When possible, involve them in finding solutions and try to find consensus on how to move forward. We are all in unchartered waters and unleashing our inner creativity to solve these problems is a must. The solutions we find will not only support those who are struggling, they will help everyone else thrive, too. We will follow up with some of the respondents at the end of the upcoming fall semester to see if their experience of online learning has improved.

Student Struggles From Online Learning Transition

Source: “A Sudden Transition to Online Learning: The Student Perspective,” Marketing EDGE (2020)

The full report may be downloaded here.

A Map or a Matrix? Identity Management Is More Complex By the Day

A newly published white paper on how advertisers and brands can recognize unique customers across marketing platforms underscores just how tough this important job is for data-driven marketers.

As technologists and policymakers weigh in themselves on the data universe – often without understanding the full ramifications of what they do (or worse, knowing so but proceeding anyway) – data flows on the Internet and on mobile platforms are being dammed, diverted, denuded, and divided.

In my opinion, these developments are not decidedly good for advertising – which relies on such data to deliver relevance in messaging, as well as attribution and measurement. There is a troubling anti-competition mood in the air. It needs to be reckoned with.

Consider these recent developments:

  • Last week, the European Court of Justice rendered a decision that overturned “Privacy Shield” – the safe harbor program that upward of 5,000 companies rely upon to move data securely between the European Union and the United States. Perhaps we can blame U.S. government surveillance practices made known by Edward Snowden, but the impact will undermine hugely practical, beneficial, and benign uses of data – including for such laudable aims as identity management, and associated advertising and marketing uses.
  • Apple announced it will mandate an “opt-in” for mobile identification data used for advertising and marketing beginning with iOS 14. Apple may report this is about privacy, but it is also a business decision to keep Apple user data from other large digital companies. How can effective cross-app advertising survive (and be measured) when opt-in rates are tiny? What about the long-tail and diversity of content that such advertising finances?
  • Google’s announcement that it plans to cease third-party cookies – as Safari and Mozilla have already done – in two years’ time (six months and ticking) is another erosion on data monetization used for advertising. At least Google is making a full-on attempt to work with industry stakeholders (Privacy Sandbox) to replace cookies with something else yet to be formulated. All the same, ad tech is getting nervous.
  • California’s Attorney General – in promulgating regulation in conjunction with the enforcement of the California Consumer Privacy Act (in itself an upset of a uniform national market for data flows, and an undermining of interstate commerce) – came forth with a new obligation that is absent from the law, but asked for by privacy advocates: Companies will be required to honor a browser’s global default signals for data collection used for advertising, potentially interfering with a consumer’s own choice in the matter. It’s the Do Not Track debate all over again, with a decision by fiat.

These external realities for identity are only part of the complexity. Mind you, I haven’t even explored here the volume, variety, and velocity of data that make data collection, integration, analysis, and application by advertisers both vital and difficult to do. As consumers engage with brands on a seemingly ever-widening number of media channels and data platforms, there’s nothing simple about it. No wonder Scott Brinker’s Mar Tech artwork is becoming more and more an exercise in pointillism.

Searching for a Post-Cookie Blueprint

So it is in this flurry (or fury) of policy developments that the Winterberry Group issued its most recent paper, “Identity Outlook 2020: The Evolution of Identity in a Privacy-First, Post-Cookie World.”

Its authors take a more positive view of recent trends – reflecting perhaps a resolve that the private sector will seize the moment:

“We believe that regulation and cookie deprecation are a positive for the future health and next stage of growth for the advertising and marketing industry as they are appropriate catalysts for change in an increasingly privacy-aware consumer environment,” write authors Bruce Biegel, Charles Ping, and Michael Harrison, all of whom are with the Winterberry Group.

The researchers report five emerging identity management processes, each with its own regulatory risk. Brands may pursue any one or combination of these methodologies:

  • “A proprietary ID based on authenticated first-party data where the brand or media owner has established a unique ID for use on their owned properties and for matching with partners either directly or through privacy safe environments (e.g.: Facebook, Google, Amazon).
  • “A common ID based on a first-party data match to a PII- [personally identifiable information] based reference data set in order to enable scale across media providers while maintaining high levels of accuracy.
  • “A common ID based on a first-party data match to a third-party, PII-based reference data set in order to enable scale across media providers while maintaining high levels of accuracy; leverages a deterministic approach, with probabilistic matching to increase reach.
  • “A second-party data environment based on clean environments with anonymous ID linking to allow privacy safe data partnerships to be created.
  • “A household ID based on IP address and geographic match.”

The authors offer a chart that highlights some of the regulatory risks with each approach.

“As a result of the diversity of requirements across the three ecosystems (personalization, programmatic and ATV [advanced television]) the conclusion that Winterberry Group draws from the market is that multiple identity solutions will be required and continue to evolve in parallel. To achieve the goals of consumer engagement and customer acquisition marketers will seek to apply a blend of approaches based on the availability of privacy-compliant identifiers and the suitability of the approach for specific channels and touchpoints.”

A blend of approaches? Looks like I’ll need a navigator as well as the map. As one of the six key takeaways, the report authors write:

“Talent gaps, not tech gaps: One of the issues holding the market back is the lack of focus in the brand/agency model that is dedicated to understanding the variety of privacy-compliant identity options. We expect that the increased market complexity in identity will require Chief Data Officers to expand their roles and place themselves at the center of efforts to reduce the media silos that separate paid, earned and owned use cases. The development of talent that overlaps marketing/advertising strategy, data/data science and data privacy will be more critical in the post-cookie, privacy-regulated market than ever before.”

There’s much more in the research to explore than one blog post – so do your data prowess a favor and download the full report here.

And let’s keep the competition concerns open and continuing. There’s more at stake here than simply a broken customer identity or the receipt of an irrelevant ad.

How the Impact of COVID-19 Is Changing Marketing

Well, it’s not as if we can start 2020 all over again — we’re already halfway through this year thus far. Yet, we can say one thing, COVID-19 and its recessionary impacts may be hanging around awhile. How may this have changed marketing mid-year, and possibly changed it permanently?

Well, it’s not as if we can start 2020 all over again — we’re already halfway through this year thus far. Yet, we can say one thing: COVID-19 and its recessionary impacts may be hanging around awhile. How may this have changed marketing mid-year, and possibly changed it permanently?

Such prognostications have kept The Winterberry Group, a marketing research consultancy, plenty busy since March: reading the tea leaves of government data, industry interviews, marketing dashboards, econometric algorithms, and the like. Principal Bruce Biegel told a Direct Marketing Club of New York audience this past week that indeed June has been better than May, which was better than April — when the U.S. (and much of the global) economy was in free fall.

So what’s underway and what’s in store for us midyear? Have we turned a corner?

Our Comeback Will Not Be a U-Turn — ‘Swoosh!’

When unemployment shoots up to 17.1%, and 40 million American jobs either furlough or disappear, there’s going to be a lag effect. The “wallet” recession is upon us, as consumers hang onto their savings, or eat through them, so there’s not going to be the same level of demand that drives upward of two-thirds of the U.S. economy.

New York City is a COVID-19 epicenter — and the commercial real estate market may take five to 10 years to recover, reports The Economist (subscription required). Knowledge workers will return, eventually. But densely populated urban centers, where innovations accelerate the economy, may look and feel different for some time, and that in and of itself could hamper national and global growth. Can other innovation clusters stave off the virus to protect collaboration?

And then there’s our world of advertising. Biegel sees digital being a “winner,” as traditional media continues to take a drubbing. Linear TV spending dropped by a quarter this quarter, and direct mail by half. Experiential and sponsorship spending has been slashed by 75%, as concerts, live sports, conferences, and festivals all took a public health-ordered hiatus. Yet, even in digital categories, Q2 has yelled “ouch.”

Email is the only channel to have held its own, though pricing pressure has cut margins. Social, search, and digital display all have posted drops from 25% to 40% during the quarter — and though all our eyes were home watching Disney+, Netflix, and the like, even OTT/addressable TV ad spending was down by 5%. With the Newfronts coming this week, it will be interesting to see what types of digital media may post gains.

So if June’s “recovery” in media spend is any indication, Q3 (sans Olympics) and Q4 (yes, we’re still having an Election, last time I checked) should be solid though not buoyant. Biegel says it may be a “swoosh” recovery — think Nike’s logo — down fast, but up again slowly, steadily and resiliently. Which begs the questions: Can ad businesses, business models, and brands cope with a new reality?

The “new normal” is about coming out of the COVID-19 crisis — and half of executives surveyed by The Winterberry Group aren’t expecting miracles:

Medium-Term Budget Cuts

IAB-Winterberry Group State of Data (2020)

 Q3 Will Start a Recovery … of Sorts

Source: Advertiser Perceptions, Pivotal Research Group (2020), as reported by Winterberry Group

And, Biegel reported, that it may indeed take to 2024 — with COVID-19 firmly in a rear view mirror — for a recovery to be complete, according to IPG Mediabrands Magna. It is predicting a 4.4% ad spend contraction this year, a 4% recovery next year, and “subdued” results thereafter until mid-decade.

So How Have We Changed — and Will These New Behaviors Stick?

Some effects, though, may indeed have permanence in how Americans consume media — perhaps hastening trends already underway, or creating a whole rethink of how we act as consumers. Consider these impacts:

  • Streaming to TVs more than doubled during COVID-19 crisis. Have we rewired our video consumption habits away from scheduled programming for good?
  • Mobile data traffic surged 380% in March alone. Consumers have taken to their smartphones everywhere — so how has mobile viewing altered consumer’s screen habits across devices, and will it stick?
  • DTC brands and catalogs know all about remote selling — and so do millions of consumers who have now come to love shopping this way.
  • Video game use is up 60% — opening the door to more in-game advertising opportunities. This may change the mix of brands seeking to engage consumers there.
  • In January there were 280,000 posted job openings in data analytics. There are 21,000 today. More than half of marketers expect predictive modeling and segmentation to occupy their marketing strategy concerns for the balance of 2020.
  • Tangible value matters. Consumers will be demanding more pricing benefits from brand loyalty, and less VIP experiences. We may be getting tired of lockdowns but we are steadfast in a recession, savings conscious mindset.
  • Business travel – yes, your clients may be returning to the office, but do they really want to see YOU? What can B2B marketers and sellers achieve virtually?

It’s ironic, Biegel said, that privacy laws and the crumbling cookie are making customer recognition harder in the addressable media ecosystem, just as consumers expect and demand to be recognized. Identity resolution platforms will evolve to cope with these new marketplace realities — both of which are independent of COVID-19 – but the solutions will bring forth a blend of technologies, processes, and people yet to be fully formulated. These are still open and important marketplace issues.

So assuming we’re healthful health-wise, we have some challenges ahead in ad land. I’m glad to have some guideposts in this unprecedented time.

A Look at Marketing Spend Recalibrated: Where Are the Green Shoots?

We are well into Q2, and the pandemic is having a detrimental impact on U.S. marketing spend. How much so? Firm principal Bruce Biegel recently updated some parts of The Winterberry Group’s Annual Outlook report as COVID19 took hold, citing various sources — and the updated data is worth a look.

We are well into Q2, and the pandemic is having a detrimental impact on U.S. marketing spend. How much so?

That’s where we turn to The Winterberry Group which tracks data, digital, and direct marketing spend vs. general advertising, and releases its Annual Outlook each year in January. As COVID19 took hold, firm principal Bruce Biegel recently updated some of its numbers, citing various sources — and they are worth a look:

Source: Winterberry Group, April 2020.

Green Shoots in Media

Hey, I see a green shoot here. In digital, while display, search, and social are taking the greatest hits, digital video’s loss is less pronounced — and we might guess why. Consumers are consuming digital media in record numbers. In fact, OTT (connected TV) and podcast ad spend is out of sync with the number of consumers migrating to these media, even before the pandemic took hold.

As reported in Digiday:

“According to Magna Global, OTT accounts for 29% of TV viewing but so far has only captured 3% of TV ad budgets. And as consumers increasingly flock to internet-connected TV devices, a wide range of players — from tech giants, to device sellers to TV networks and more — are building services to capture a share of the ad dollars that will inevitably flow into the OTT ecosystem.”

So if anything, advertisers may need to get their tech stacks ready to enable OTT and podcast engagement. But this is not a linear TV buy based on cost-per-thousand (CPM). This is an opportunity to personalize, target, and attribute on a 1:1 level.

Another green shoot: Email remains a staple. Again, as we stay at home, whether as consumers or as business people, it’s been email that is sustaining connections for many brands. So “flat spending” is a positive, even as price compression is underway.

Offline is not a pretty picture — right now.

Source: Winterberry Group, April 2020.

My last post sought to document U.S. Postal Service’s woes. I still believe direct mail is a brand differentiator, particularly right now — as I watch my own household pause from the sameness of screens, and take our “print” moment with each day’s incoming mail and catalogs. We’ve dog-eared pages, placed our DTC (direct to consumer) orders, and even some B2B purchases for home office supplies. (Thankfully, all but one of us are still working.)

Green Shoots in Verticals

The Winterberry Group also examined some primary verticals — which ones will lead our economic recovery?

One green shoot is identified as financial services. After the Great Recession (2008-2009), the financial sector — which prompted the Recession beginning with subprime mortgages — recapitalized and strengthened reserves. Banks had to do it, by law. As a result, they are better positioned to weather the pandemic storm; though there may be pressure to lend to less-than-stellar-credit customers, the Winterberry Group reports. We shall see. As of May 7, the NASDAQ had completely erased its 2020 year-to-date market loss.

Source: Winterberry Group, April 2020.

In the Media & Entertainment sector, live events are effectively gone — except where they can go virtual, but that’s hardly a dollar-for-dollar exchange. The good news is that media subscriptions (for on-demand media) are rapidly increasing, and ad-supported on-demand media also is increasing — pertinent to the aforementioned OTT discussion.

And another green shoot candidate, Healthcare & Pharma, is actually on neutral ground. Some trends, such as telemedicine, online prescription fulfillment, and anything COVID-related — are booming, but elective surgeries are on hold, and 33+ million laid-off Americans may wind up uninsured.

Source: Winterberry Group, April 2020.

Ingenuity — The Greatest Green Shoot of All

And my last green shoot is this — our own innovation, agility, and creativity. I leave you with this one anecdote heard last week on National Public Radio.

Can you imagine being a member of the Graduating Class of 2020? These students will go down in history perhaps as a model of resiliency. Time will tell. But next door in North Salem, NY, the town and school system landed on a novel idea: The faculty, students and families will drive one hour north to a one of the state’s few remaining drive-in theaters. The commencement address will be projected — and the diplomas handed out vehicle by vehicle.

Who knows, maybe Summer 2020 will be the Great American Comeback of the drive-in theater. Maybe Bruce will need to update his out-of-home and cinematic spending accordingly. (You can learn more from Bruce at this upcoming June 17 Direct Marketing Club of New York virtual briefing on your laptop. Registration here.)

I love such ingenuity. If you know of other examples, please share them in the comments section. Stay safe — and keep America innovating.

 

 

How to Make Actionable Sense of Customer Sentiment Analysis

Creating a better customer experience is a top priority for most businesses, with 72% of companies saying improving CX is their No. 1 goal, according to data from Forrester. However, figuring out what drives a better user experience is a total guessing game, unless you take a deep dive into customer sentiment analysis.

Creating a better customer experience is a top priority for most businesses, with 72% of companies saying improving CX is their No. 1 goal, according to data from Forrester. However, figuring out what drives a better user experience is a total guessing game, unless you take a deep dive into customer sentiment analysis.

Understanding the responses and reactions that customers give out after using your products can help your brand immensely. Of course, conducting market research and surveys, and gathering feedback from customers are all small but essential steps toward improving your product or service, as well as its user experience. However, these reports are mostly a whole lot of confusing numbers and statistics; they offer no action plan or recommendations, or even insights on what to do next.

Making actionable sense of the numbers can be tricky, especially if there are no clear problems or opportunities that were identified through your research.

So, what should you do? Let’s go step-by-step.

Pinpoint Common Threads in Customer Reviews

While it’s typically a company’s first reaction to try to remove negative reviews that could deter future customers, these actually may be your best resource for fixing hidden issues.

About 25% of consumers have left a review for a local business because of a bad experience, but this doesn’t mean that 100% of these reviews are helpful to either companies or other customers. It’s best to turn to a reliable system here that can sift through emotionally exaggerated (and practically useless) or downright fake reviews and uncover valuable information that could point you toward better solutions.

A review platform, such as Bazaarvoice, allows brands to collect genuine ratings and reviews from customers, respond to their questions and concerns about their products, display moderated content created by customers on social media, and even implement a product sampling program based on the reviews you’ve collected.

Similarly, an interaction management tool, like Podium, gets you in the game earlier, helping you connect and interact with prospects on multiple channels. It enables team collaboration on lead generation and nurturing, as well as solving customer problems, leading to a consistent customer experience.

Customer Sentiment Analysis image
Credit: Podium.com

More customers tend to leave reviews with brands that use customer review management tools. This results in more data for your sentiment research, eventually ensuring better targeting and success of your product marketing campaigns.

Watch out for repeated keywords throughout these reviews, such as issues with customer service, packaging, delivery, or pricing. Looking for patterns in your customer reviews lies at the core of identifying the problems and coming up with solutions.

Use Smart Segmentation

Customers never fit into the one-size-fits-all category. Even if you cater to a small niche or if your product has a very specific use, there will be subsets, segments, and cohorts, all influenced by varying demographics and regulations, who could affect opinions of your business. This is why smart segmentation is important when reviewing customer sentiment analysis.

Again, these segments may need different targeting strategies, depending on whether your company is a B2C or B2B entity.

B2C

B2C marketers need to look at the:

  • age:
  • location:
  • income: and
  • in-the-moment needs of their customers.

B2B

B2B marketers, on the other hand, need to address non-personal variances, such as:

  • company size:
  • budget; or
  • objectives.

By pairing demographic and quantitative data, customer sentiment may make more sense and provide even deeper insight than before. For instance, customers who are motivated by finding the best deal may say that your shipping costs are too high; whereas, customers with FOMO may be ready to pay extra for next-day delivery. When you have multiple datasets of behavioral data that you can compare against one another, your team can understand how to cater to various customer segments by understanding their motivations.

Note that customer “segments” vary from “profiles” or “personas.” They are not as specific, and typically only focus on one or two variables rather than a list of unique qualities. There are countless ways to segment your audience, so be sure to find the segmentation model that best fits your business.

Customer Sentiment Analysis photo
Credit: MeaningCloud.com

Identify Engagement Intent

Understanding the “why” behind your customer’s actions will shed some light on their sentiment reactions. Your expectations always influence your experience, so a customer’s engagement intent could play a part in their response.

The rise of search as a marketing channel has made it clear that there are essentially four engagement intent categories that consumers fall into today:

  • informational;
  • navigational;
  • commercial; and
  • transactional.

Each of these steps correlates well with the traditional AIDA sales funnel model.

Informational

The first is searching for information on a particular subject that may or may not be a problem for them. These are typically prospects who are just entering the marketing funnel. They simply want to know more, so if your website does not offer the information they are looking for, their interest in your brand or product will not develop at all.

Navigational

People in the navigational category are looking for a specific product, service, or piece of content. This group knows what they want, and they will be easily frustrated if they can’t find it.

Commercial

The commercial investigation intent group is interested in buying, but they just aren’t quite ready yet or aren’t convinced that your product offers the best solution for them. They fall just above the action segment of the sales funnel and are often looking for the last bits of information before they make a purchase.

Transactional

And finally, the transactional group has the intent to buy. They have already made their decision to buy a specific product; however, any hiccups in the buying or checkout process could deter them.

Identifying Engagement Intent

Of course, identifying their engagement intent is a little tricky, especially after the interaction has been completed. But with some digging and martech tools, there are ways to figure out the motivations behind every brand-customer engagement.

One of the clearest ways to identify engagement intent is through carrying out intent research, attribution modeling, and analyzing their behavior on your digital property. If they just read a post on your blog, chances are they were looking for more information on a topic related to your industry. If they clicked an ad and filled up a form on your landing page, they are probably interested in availing themselves of your service.

Once their intent has been identified and understood, it will be much easier to understand their sentiment post brand engagement or product usage.

Experiment With Changes

Finally, the only way to make customer analysis actionable is to, well, take action. However, just switching things up without constantly analyzing the results will only put you back at Square One.

Many marketers rely on A/B/n or multivariate testing strategies to compare different changes, whether it be in the design or layout to an entire product or service experience. However, A/B testing can be a long and arduous process that yields murky results. It may even mislead you, if you over-rely on seasonal or contextual variables. Unsurprisingly, AI technology has been a huge help in the A/B testing realm by improving the accuracy and reliability of the process, resulting in few conversion opportunities lost.

AI-based algorithms are able to gather and analyze massive amounts of data at a time. They can compare results of multiple tests against each other simultaneously at various interaction points along the buyer journey.

Tools like Evolv use machine learning (ML) to find which experiences and customer journey paths work best (make profits) for you and nudge customers down those paths accordingly. You can set up experiments on your landing pages with goals and KPIs, and let the algorithm tweak the UX for each customer by presenting various combinations. The data from these experiments help you understand how satisfied the customer is with the interaction, and also develop new hypotheses to keep testing further or make decisions related to product development or service delivery.

The Way Ahead

By understanding the root causes behind your customer’s reactions and feelings, you can go as far as to influence sentiment, improve brand loyalty ,and encourage advocacy. Always be looking for overlaps and commonalities among complaints. This will help you avert PR disasters, deliver exceptional customer service, and stay ahead of the competition.

Use sentiment analysis to understand where your customers are coming from by segmenting them and uncovering their intents at every interaction. Finally, track the effects of all your initiatives and take action responsibly to ensure they stay delighted at all times.

Earn Consumer Trust Through ‘Surprise and Delight’ in a Post-Privacy Age

Recent consumer research from Pew Research Center shows we have some work to do persuading consumers to let us use data about them for marketing. Right now, the risks seem to outweigh the benefits, in consumers’ view. At least for now.

Recent consumer research from Pew Research Center shows we have some work to do persuading consumers to let us use data about them for marketing. Right now, the risks seem to outweigh the benefits, in consumers’ view. At least for now.

Marketing may be an annoyance to some — but too often, it’s conflated by consumers (and privacy advocates, and some policymakers) to our detriment into real privacy abuses, like identity theft, or hypothetical or imagined outcomes, such as higher insurance or interest rates — to which clearly marketing data has no connection.

There needs to be a bright line affixed between productive economic use of data (such as for marketing) — and unacceptable uses (such as discrimination, fraud, and other ills).

As consumers feel they have lost all data control — perhaps one might describe the current state as “post-privacy” — it is doubtful the answer to consumer trust lies in more legal notices pushed to them online. Consumers also have told Pew the emerging cascade of notices are not well understood or helpful.

Consumer Trust
Image Source: Pew Research Center, 2019

When Pew explores more deeply the root of what consumers find acceptable and unacceptable, opportunities for marketers may indeed arise. For example, the study summary states:

“One aim of the data collection done by companies is for the purpose of profiling customers and potentially targeting the sale of goods and services to them, based on their traits and habits. This survey finds that 77% of Americans say they have heard or read at least a bit about how companies and other organizations use personal data to offer targeted advertisements or special deals, or to assess how risky people might be as customers. About 64% of all adults say they have seen ads or solicitations based on their personal data. And 61% of those who have seen ads based on their personal data say the ads accurately reflect their interests and characteristics at least somewhat well. (That amounts to 39% of all adults.)”

This is why regulating privacy — from self-regulation to public policy — is so challenging. A broad brush is not the right tool. We want to preserve the innovation, we want to improve consumer experiences, while giving consumers meaningful protection from data use practices that are harmful and antithetical to their interests.

An Industry Luminary Lends Her Perspective

Image: Martha Rogers, Ph.D. (LinkedIn)

Martha Rogers, Ph.D., who co-authored the seminal book “The One to One Future”with Don Peppers in 1993, helped to usher in the customer relationship management (CRM) movement. Today, CRM  often manifests itself in brands seeking to map customer journeys and to devise better customer experiences, and a lot of business investment in data and technology.

Reflecting on privacy last month in New York, Rogers said, “The truth of the matter is, we always judge ourselves by our intentions. Yet we judge others by their actual actions. The problem is that everyone is doing the same thing with us [as marketers].”

How much of that business spending resonates with consumers? “When 400 chief executive officers were asked if their companies provided superior customer experiences, 80 — that’s eight-zero — percent said ‘yes.’ Yet only 8% of customers said that companies were providing superior customer experience. Customers also judge us by our actions, not by our intentions.”

Rogers told two “surprise and delight” stories that illustrate how powerful smart data collection, analysis, and application can be.

“We need customer data to get the job done. A regular Ritz-Carlton customer I know once asked hotel staff for a hyper-allergenic pillow for his room. Now when he goes to a Ritz-Carlton, he always has a hyper-allergenic pillow in his room. He told me he just loved how the Ritz-Carlton had changed over all its pillows to hyper-allergenic ones.”  Rogers said she didn’t have the heart to tell him it was just his room — and the hotel simply had recorded, honored, and anticipated his preference.

Another story came from insurer USAA. Upon returning from tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, USAA sent a refund on auto insurance premiums in the form of a live check and a letter. The letter thanked the soldiers for their service, and reasoned that a car must not have been used much or at all, while a soldier was overseas — hence, the refund. “Do you know 2500 of these checks were returned by customers, uncashed?” Rogers reported, noting that many of these military families have limited means. “Wow, stay strong … keep your money — some of the policy holders said to the company. How do you compete in that category if you’re another insurance company?”

These two cases both show smart data collectoin — applied — builds customer trust and loyalty, no matter what their feelings may be about privacy, in general.

“There are three reasons why we care about privacy,” Rogers said. “One is because there are criminals out there. We don’t want to give data to the robbers or the hackers. Second is because some of us do have secrets — and I’m not naming any names. And we don’t want people knowing every blessed thing about us. And the third reason that we just want our privacy is because [our lives] can be embarrassing.”

Consumer Trust Is Like a Pencil Eraser

“Privacy in an interconnected world is a pipe dream, an oxymoron,” she continued. “Still, we have to access and use customer data to give those great customer experiences. So what happens now? We have to do things [with data] that are good for customers, and not for ourselves [as marketing organizations]. Regulations and laws are really just a floor.”

“If you want to be truly trust-able, it’s about doing things right. One lie can ruin a thousand truths,” she said. “Trust is sort of like the eraser on a pencil. It gets smaller and smaller with each mistake we make. So we have to be careful. Do things right. Do the right thing. Be proactive.”

“No matter how fantastic technology is, it can’t top that trust,” she said.

How many Ritz-Carltons and USAAs — surprise and delight — does it take to undo a Cambridge Analytica or an Equifax? I’m actually optimistic on this. Because better customer experiences, brand relevance, and resonance through data insights will continue to win. We just have to prove it, to the customer, millions of times, one by one, every day — in the very important data-driven marketing work we do.

 

Omnichannel Marketing Is Preferred by 85% of Consumers

With the advent of the Internet and social media, choosing the right marketing channel to distribute your message to your target audience and create a stronger relationship with them is now more complicated. With all these choices, what’s important is to focus on selecting the right media channels for your customer base … both online and offline.

With the advent of the Internet and social media, choosing the right marketing channel to distribute your message to your target audience and create a stronger relationship with them is now more complicated. With all these choices, what’s important is to focus on selecting the right media channels for your customer base … both online and offline.

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a webinar with Liz Miller, SVP of Marketing from the CMO Council. She shared findings from a recent study done by the CMO Council in partnership with Pitney Bowes titled “Critical Channels of Choice.” The study surveyed 2,000 consumers across five generations (Gen Z, Millennial, Gen X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation).

According to Miller, “Everyone assumes that Millennials and Gen Zers are all digital and that is the best way, and in some instances the only way, to communicate with them. The most critical finding from the study indicated that the channel of choice was in fact, omnichannel.” Consumers expect a seamless shopping experience, whether they’re shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, by telephone, or in a brick and mortar store location.

When asked to describe their communication preferences, consumers overwhelmingly agreed that one path to the brand simply isn’t enough … they want them all. Some 85% of consumers surveyed agreed that their ideal channel is actually a blend of channels, opting for a mix of both digital and physical experiences (Figure 1).

According to survey respondents, consumers prefer to have omnichannel marketing efforts directed toward them.
Source: CMO Council, Critical Channels of Choice, 2019. Click to enlarge.

Miller explained that print is alive and well. She said, “Perhaps most telling of this openness for omnichannel is that printed mail, considered by some to be one of the more ‘traditional’ channels in today’s marketing mix, is essential. It continues to be a highly valued channel of choice. One out of every three consumers surveyed expected printed mail to be part of their ideal communications mix. Brands need to reevaluate how they are leveraging and deploying all of the tools available in an omnichannel toolkit.”

While you might expect a divide across generations in terms of channel preferences, that isn’t the case. The research found that all respondents, regardless of age demographic, prefer a blend of digital and physical channels to pave their communications journey with a brand (Figure 2).

Based on key findings, there is a preference for a blend of digital and physical communications in marketing efforts, regardless of age.
Source: CMO Council, Critical Channels of Choice, 2019. Click to enlarge.

The study also pointed out that the deciding factors for channel usage by consumers include convenience, reliability, speed, personalization, and trust (Figure 3). Whether it is print, social media, or email, consumers are looking for channels that meet their expectations.

Critical attributes of must have channels.
Source: CMO Council, Critical Channels of Choice, 2019. Click to enlarge.

The Bottom Line

Given the drive for a seamless omnichannel experience, your customers will be looking for partners to help deliver the solutions consumers want. Print will continue to be integral to the marketing mix, but your offerings will need to be blended with social, mobile, and online channels, as well as brick and mortar point of purchase solutions. Service providers need to evaluate the role they want to play in an omnichannel world.

3 Types of Bias You’ll Confront in Consumer Research

Biases are ever-present in consumer research. However, there are several of steps to take to remove obvious biases and end up with objective takeaways that yield tangible value in your marketing endeavors.

As humans, we are, for better or worse, limited by biases and mental heuristics that impact the way we process information and make decisions. In certain situations, these cognitive shortcuts save us from likely pain and destruction. In other settings, they prevent us from tapping into the truth. For marketing leaders, research biases have the latter impact — introducing inaccuracies and confusion into consumer research.

3 Consumer Research Biases That Impact Your Findings

As any experienced marketing executive knows, biases are ever-present in consumer research. It’s unwise and shortsighted to assume that any piece of data is 100% free from the influence of these factors.

However, there are plenty of steps that can be taken to remove obvious biases and end up with objective takeaways that yield tangible value in your marketing endeavors. The first step is to get clear on which biases may be impacting your consumer research. There are a few common ones, including:

1. Confirmation Bias

One of the most pervasive forms of bias in consumer research is the idea of confirmation bias. This occurs when a researcher forms an opinion or belief before conducting research and allows these prejudices to influence the way the study is executed and analyzed.

The problem with confirmation bias is that it’s deep-seated and rarely obvious. Unless we’re actively looking for it, it tends to blend in and go unnoticed.

Let’s say, for example, that your business is investing large sums of money into a new product and you’ve been tasked with leading a research team to analyze customer opinions on the initial product prototypes. You know that the CEO is super excited about the product and everyone really wants it to be successful. Whether you realize it or not, when you go into a product testing phase with actual customers, this desire for success will leach into the way the study is conducted. As a result, the data may indicate a greater receptivity than is actually present. If you’re unaware that confirmation bias exists, then you’re unlikely to catch yourself in the act.

2. Culture Bias

Culture bias is a big deal with international companies that market their products and services to customers in different countries. It’s rooted in ethnocentrism, which is the principle of judging another culture based on the values and standards of one’s own culture. This stands in stark contrast to the principle of cultural relativism, which says it’s more appropriate to view a culture’s beliefs and activities through the lens of that culture.

“To minimize culture bias, researchers must move toward cultural relativism by showing unconditional positive regard and being cognizant of their own cultural assumptions,” researcher Rebecca Sarniak writes. “Complete cultural relativism is never 100% achievable.”

3. Question-Order Bias

For customer surveys, it’s important to be aware of question-order bias. This bias refers to how one question can influence the answers to subsequent questions. Respondents can easily become primed by words and ideas and adjust their responses according to other signals. While sometimes unavoidable, a more strategic and thoughtful structure will lower the risk of question-order bias.

Consider a customer survey that’s being used to gather insights into how your existing customers feel about your business (which is of paramount importance to your future marketing campaigns). While the following two examples may seem similar, they’ll actually produce two very different sets of results:

Survey A

Please rate your satisfaction with the following aspects of our restaurant on a 5-point scale (5=Very Satisfied; 1=Very Dissatisfied).

  1. Overall Experience
  2. Speed of Service
  3. Friendliness of the Wait Staff
  4. Atmosphere in the Dining Room
  5. Food Quality
  6. Menu Selection
  7. Value

Survey B

Please rate your satisfaction with the following aspects of our restaurant on a 5-point scale (5=Very Satisfied; 1=Very Dissatisfied).

  1. Speed of Service
  2. Friendliness of the Wait Staff
  3. Atmosphere in the Dining Room
  4. Food Quality
  5. Menu Selection
  6. Value
  7. Overall Experience

The question order in these surveys is almost identical, but with one exception. Customers are asked to rate their “overall experience” at the beginning of Survey A and at the end of Survey B. Neither one is right or wrong, but both impact the data.

In Survey A, customers are asked to think generically and then specifically. There’s a tendency for customers to force the answers from questions two through seven into alignment with the answer from question one. In Survey B, customers are asked to think specifically and then generically. The tendency here is for the answer to number seven to mimic the answers to the previous couple of questions. If five and six receive low grades, then seven will, too.

You might not be able to totally eliminate question-order bias from your consumer research, but it’s imperative that you spend time thinking about it so you’re aware of how it influences your results. Using multiple surveys with different question orders may mitigate the impact on your overall data.

Pursuing Data-Driven Objectivity

Identifying the presence of a bias is one thing. Figuring out a way to eliminate the bias and strip away outside influence is much tougher. Here are some suggestions:

  • Be aware of weaknesses. Every research team will be more inclined to fall victim to one bias or another. Being aware of the biases that are most likely to affect your results will help you remain vigilant.
  • Hypothesis over expectations. It’s okay to go into a research opportunity with a hypothesis, but it’s unwise to enter in with strong expectations; the latter will get you into trouble. Nix the expectations and let your results guide your thinking.
  • Run tests. Sometimes you don’t know you’re exposing your data to a bias until you get some actual results from your research. The best thing you can do is run a handful of tests on the same research topic and compare results. Online surveys are great for this. You can create multiple surveys within the same research study and frame the questions, structure, flow, etc., differently on each. If there’s a high degree of variance between the survey results, this indicates a high presence of research bias. If the results are relatively consistent — despite the unique delivery of each survey — you can feel more confident in your results.
  • Involve multiple people. You’re far more inclined to fall victim to research biases when you’re the only one calling the shots. For a more objective approach, involve multiple people. This will lower the risk of a bias going undetected. (Though you’ll have to be careful not to let groupthink characterize your team.)
  • Study your data. Finally, be sure to study your data meticulously and cautiously. The results of your research tell a story, and it’s important you don’t jump to conclusions without considering it from every angle.

You’ll never obtain 100% objective results from your market research. There will always be some trace presence of bias, and you can’t do anything about it. However, by eliminating the obvious biases and emphasizing the need for greater subjectivity, you can enhance your results and maximize the value of your market research endeavors.

Are Boomers Really Underserved by Digital Marketers?

Marketing to Millennials is out-sized in digital media, probably because of the upside potential. Digital marketers see future lifetime value is always bigger when you’re going to live another 50 to 70 years.

Did you hear the one about the entitled calling out the entitled?

I’m entitled. I was born during the peak year of the Baby Boom — and one thing I never had to think about was being ignored by marketers. Even digital marketers today.

Riding the “age wave” as a consumer, I was courted by brands from a tender young age. I was taught young how to be a good American consumer, and I was duly paid attention to by marketers.

And though the peak year of the Baby Boom presented challenges growing up — we all competed fiercely for college placements, job placements, housing, and status — it also prepared us well for the Reagan era’s rugged individualism, a concept and social structure that seems to have gone far, far away in our “it takes a Village” reality today. At least in the ’80s, I could afford to move to New York — though barely.

Witness a new generation — the children of Baby Boomers, Millennials — who are rising to dominate the workforce, and asserting new social values (built on inclusiveness, sustainability, fairness, and tolerance) and, gee, are brands paying attention to them! No, I’m not jealous — I’m thrilled. No, really!

Transparency, Authenticity, Sustainability, Diversity, On Demand — Brand Attributes That Appeal

According to a newly updated Deloitte Insights study, there are nearly as many Millennials as Boomers in the United States. These two generations are both forces for economic growth — as consumer spending drives two-thirds of the U.S. economy. Boomers certainly have more disposable income — and Millennials have more debt relative to income. But where digital strategy drives the marketing, Deloitte reports, Boomers may matter less, at least in practice. My guess: Marketing to Millennials is out-sized in digital media, probably because of the upside potential. Future lifetime value is always bigger when you’re going to live another 50 to 70 years.

Also, Millennials live, work, and play online. Boomers consume digitally, too. But when you tune into the nightly television news, you know the audience is comprised of Boomers and the Silent Generation before them. (Granted, when I watch TV news, I’m also skimming my smartphone.) Just watch the ads for prescription drugs, incontinence products, memory care, nutraceuticals, and other products for an aging audience — and you know there’s hardly a soul under 40 (or 50) watching scheduled newscasts anymore. The cord-cutting is rampant when “triple-play” packages cost hundreds per month, and Millennial-led households and individuals don’t see any need or logic to pay like their parents do, even if they can afford it.

They consume media completely differently, and always can steam any live events, news included, from their own trusted sources fairly easily. Media consumption, disrupted.

Brand attributes are changing, too. Many direct-to-consumer brands, popular among Millennials, have arisen not just because of perceived convenience and superior product, if that is indeed true — but because they connect using data flows that recognize the consumer from device to device, and learn in the process (that matters). They also connect because of what the brand represents, by establishing emotional and identity connection. Does the brand speak to the individual with respect and display a social aptitude? If the answer is yes, you have a better chance of gaining business and loyalty. It helps, too, that marketing is personalized at mass scale – and product personalization is booming. As “social” a cohort as Millennials are, they still demand “rugged individualism” when tailoring the product or service to their own wants, needs, and interests. For any of us at any age, we love such personalized connections, too.

So let’s congratulate Millennials, their digital prowess, and the brands’ love affair they are experiencing on their devices — and that I’ve enjoyed for decades elsewhere everywhere. It’s not as if I’m ignored online, I know I’m still coveted. But let’s not talk about sex.

digital marketers
Photo: Chet Dalzell, Photo inside JFK – Alitalia Lounge, 2019. I’ve enjoyed the attention. | Credit: Chet Dalzell

How Will Your Audience Receive Your New Product?

Product innovation is necessary for every company to grow and evolve in a competitive market. But if your audience “doesn’t get” your new product, success is much less of a guarantee.

Product innovation is necessary for every company to grow and evolve in a competitive market. But if your audience “doesn’t get” your new product, success is much less of a guarantee. Before you unveil your hard-won innovations, here are some ways to ensure you’re targeting the segments of your audience who will be the most receptive — both to the new product and accompanying marketing efforts.

First, Really Know Who They Are

While basic demographics like age, marital status, geographic location, hobbies and other points help you form a picture of your audience, to really know them means gaining specific, unique insights about them. You want to understand more than just who they are on paper by finding out how they think and feel and what they truly need. To do this, you have to integrate survey data with rich behavioral insights gleaned from big data.

Look at how personality profiles developed through a scan of big data reveal the personality characteristics common to the potential target audience for a new robot vacuum:

Credit: GutCheckIt

This audience ranks high for agreeableness, which points to other traits like altruistic, modest, and empathetic. So when communicating with them about the vacuum, messaging that uses a social responsibility angle will likely attract and feel relevant to them.

How your new product appeals to the individual needs and lifestyles of your audience further deepens your understanding of them. Consider in this summary of needs how the robot vacuum could hit home with the audience’s high ideals, drive toward harmony, and interest in self-expression, as well as how the vacuum could appeal to the audience majority who enjoy keeping their home tidy.

Credit: GutCheckIt
Credit: GutCheckIt

Then, Determine How Best to Reach Them

Once you’ve formed a full understanding of your audience’s personality, needs, and lifestyle, combine your learning with a study of the type of media consumed and during which times of day. For example, the vacuum audience learns about new products mainly through social media rather than television or promotional emails. They spend 7-plus hours per week on the web and using apps, mostly in the early evening hours between 5-8 pm.

Credit: GutCheckIt

To reach this audience effectively, online or mobile campaigns work best, with ads that could be shown on traditional TV in the later evening hours between 8-11 pm.

To learn what type of unique insights you could uncover about your brand’s audience before you launch a new product, visit the GutCheck website to learn more.