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.

 

4 Ways Artificial Intelligence Can Impact Your Conversion Rates

At this point, there is little doubt that artificial intelligence is the future of business. The Salesforce “State of Marketing” report found that more than a fifth of businesses currently use AI for marketing purposes, including programmatic buying, personalization, and real-time offers.

At this point, there is little doubt that artificial intelligence is the future of business. The Salesforce “State of Marketing” report found that more than a fifth of businesses currently use AI for marketing purposes, including programmatic buying, personalization, and real-time offers.

artificial intelligence graphic
Credit: Salesforce

Further, AI is the fastest-growing sales technology, according to the Salesforce “State of Sales” report.

Outside of sales and marketing, companies are frequently using artificial business intelligence for tasks like reporting, dashboards, and data warehousing and analytics.

While applying AI to these business operations is certainly beneficial, it does beg the question of how exactly this technology will impact the future of conversion optimization, as well as the most important person in a business: the customer.

At the end of the day, the thing that really matters in business is the numbers. AI technology for analyst reports and predicting turns in the market is all well and good, but if it isn’t boosting sales, then what is the point?

The good news is that AI is showing promising results in terms of conversion rates, proving once again that big data is paving the way to a more profitable future for many companies. Here’s how.

1. Enriches Customer Experience

The concept of improving the customer experience (CX) is a big challenge for many reasons. CX is not merely limited to the user-friendliness of a website or the customer service that is provided; it is a combination of all of these elements. Yet another report from Salesforce found that consistency is a core element in a positive customer experience, and 70% of customers say connected processes based on earlier interactions and contextualized engagement are important for them to do business with a company.

This means that in order to improve the CX for customers, brands must adjust every part of the experience to create a coherent message.

Studies have found that customers are willing to pay more for a better experience with a business. It also has a strong effect on their likelihood to repurchase and refer the product or company to friends.

artificial intelligence graph
Credit: Temkin Group

But what exactly makes up “customer experience” and where does AI fit in?

CX is essentially the accumulation of every interaction a customer has with a business, from introduction, to purchase, to customer service. As experienced business owners know, one small kink in the journey can send people running. AI and machine learning technology can help create a more optimized experience for each customer, from start to finish.

For example, when fashion brand FlyPolar experienced a near 400% decrease in sales in the span of just four months, the business executives knew that something wasn’t right. Because most of its customers purchased online, FlyPolar used AI software to optimize its website landing pages. By using machine learning technology, this AI program “learned” which designs performed best and delivered positive results.

After several weeks of testing, the AI system identified the core roots of the conversion problems and provided the proper insights for solutions. FlyPolar created a simpler four-step conversion funnel on its website, with optimized CTA button placement throughout the landing pages. By using machine learning algorithms, FlyPolar increased its checkout page traffic by 16% and its order value by 13% in just three weeks.

This case study shows that AI technology can quickly and easily identify the root of the problem, arguably one of the most difficult parts of optimizing the CX.

The prediction capabilities of AI-powered systems can also make it easier for your customers to find exactly what they are looking for; which, in turn, improves their experience with your website. Traditional searches base results on matching keywords or similar phrases, which may or may not be accurate. In contrast, present-day search programs use ML to “learn” consumer behavior and accurately return the items that match their queries, based on their previous behavior.

ML-based search takes numerous data points into consideration, including past view and click rates, ratings, and even inventory levels to provide customers with appropriate and targeted results.

It should be no surprise here that Amazon is one of the leading retailers to utilize this kind of technology. Amazon’s recommendation engine uses item-to-item collaborative filtering to provide search results that are based on multiple data points, rather than just keyword matches. Not only does the algorithm take each customer’s past searches, purchases, and product views into consideration, but also the ratings and popularity of each item.

artificial intelligence example
Credit: Amazon

Since Amazon debuted an AI-based recommendation engine, its profits started growing exponentially. By basing search results on multiple criteria, Amazon is able to push certain products while providing shoppers with the results that fit their needs, providing a better experience for the customer with each query.

2. Enhances Personalization

Buying online is no longer a one-size-fits-all experience. In fact, customers are becoming more and more unyielding that businesses customize just about everything to fit their needs. According to Accenture’s “Personalization Pulse Check” report, three out of four customers report that they would be more likely to purchase from a brand that offers personalization and recognition than businesses that do not.

Personalization is also directly related to higher profits. Researchers have found that businesses utilizing big data systems to create personalized experiences for their customers report up to 10% higher revenues.

AI is able to take the guesswork out of personalization. One of the best examples of this strategy in action comes from Starbucks, which reported a 300% increase in customer spending thanks to its highly-customized marketing program. Customers regularly receive personalized offers and incentives to earn more points toward a free drink reward. Every customer’s offer is based on past behavior, including how often each customer purchases and which types of items the customer tends to buy.

Starbucks’ AI-powered personalization system sends out around 400,000 variants of emails with incentives that are almost entirely unique for each recipient. Due to the hyper-personalization that Starbucks offers, many customers find it easy to fulfill the requirements for these rewards. This does wonders to increase consumer participation, purchase frequency, and ultimately, customer loyalty.

artificial intelligence in loyalty programs
Credit: Starbucks App

Of course, loads of consumer data are needed in order for online companies to provide this high level of personalization. Each customer’s preferences, demographics, and behavior must be tracked and analyzed in order for brands to properly adjust their strategies to fit an individual consumer.

The results from integrating personalized messaging and marketing speak for themselves: 63% of marketers report that an increase in conversion rates was the top benefit they saw from personalization.

AI-powered personalization can be used to help customers move their way through the buyer’s journey, as well. Using ML, these programs use predictive analysis to incentivize shoppers with personalized messages, email campaigns, retargeted ads, and more.

The algorithms can study consumer behavior so that ads and other messages are sent at the right time and trigger the ideal response. For example, an algorithm that tracks customers’ click rates and scrolling habits can predict when new customers are likely to abandon their carts and send a well-timed message or personal offer to keep them engaged.

artificial intelligence-generated offer
Credit: Acquisio.com

3. Improves Results of A/B Testing

Most marketing teams and web designers rely on A/B testing to determine the best layouts, color schemes, and messaging to grab their customers’ attention. However, there are obvious limits to the “old-fashioned” testing approach. Gathering the research takes time, and there is not always a clear winner from the results.

In fact, the traditional form of this strategy may not even be effective. Jeremy Miller, marketing director at Sentient, said during an interview:

In traditional A/B testing formats, you have your control vs. an experiment. You run that experiment against your traffic, and whichever design performs better is the one you deploy … but people have found that six out of seven experiments don’t result in a positive outcome, so you actually have to put a lot of energy and resources to try to determine how you can actually increase conversions using A/B testing.”

AI can solve the three biggest problems with traditional A/B testing: time required, insight, and limited variables. By reducing these weaknesses, marketing teams have the ability to make informed design changes with the results and data to support them. Instead of taking a linear approach to testing, AI can compare thousands of variables at the same time and instantly compare the results to determine the best combination.

For example, online lingerie company Cosabella used an AI-driven testing approach when it was redesigning its website. Rather than comparing designs two at a time, like a traditional A/B test would, Cosabella was able to carry out an A/B/n experiment with 160 different design elements, simultaneously. With that many variables, it would have taken up to a year of A/B testing to gather results; with AI, the process took only seven weeks.

artificial intelligence testing
Credit: Cosabella.com

Through this testing process, Cosabella was able to determine the aesthetics that resulted in better conversions. It found that customers bought more when CTA buttons were pink, rather than black. The company also determined that family values resonated with its customers, so it did away with “free shipping” banners and replaced them with “Family Owned Since 1983.” After these short seven weeks of testing, Cosabella reported a 38% increase in conversions and a 1,000% lift in newsletter signups.

4. Speeds Up Customer Service

The faster a company can respond to customer inquiries or issues, the better. For this reason, the demand for live chat grew by 8.29% last year. Unfortunately, most businesses do not have the resources to keep their customer service departments running 24/7, leading to long response wait times for disgruntled customers.

By automating customer service with AI-powered chatbots, businesses can not only solve the issue of wait time, but also the quality of the response and assistance that customers receive.

In 2012, Amtrak’s customer service department serviced 30 million passengers each day. Obviously, with such high numbers, it was difficult to handle individual inquiries in a timely manner, so Amtrak decided to jump on the chatbot train with its AI-powered customer service rep “Julie.”

Julie was able to resolve most of these issues by pre-filling forms through scheduling tools and guiding customers step-by-step through the online booking process. Because most of these problems were handled online, the number of calls and emails decreased dramatically. At the end of the first year, Julie had answered over 5 million questions, increased booking rates by 25%, and generated 30% more revenue, thanks to upsell options included in the messaging.

artificial intelligence chat
Credit: NextIT.com

In terms of conversions, live chatbots can not only resolve issues in an instant, they can increase the chances that a customer decides to buy. When a customer’s issue is solved quickly, they are twice as likely to repurchase from that brand. Live chat is also the preferred method of communication for resolving problems or issues; however, it is important to note that the quality of the messaging far outweighs the speed of the response.

According to Kayako’s report on live chat service, 95% of customers say that receiving a thorough response that answers their question or resolves the problem is more important than just getting a quick reply. This is a major issue that many companies have with AI chatbots; they are simply programmed to give automated, scripted responses, which 29% of customers report as simply frustrating and unhelpful.

This is where AI-based chatbots save the day; they can adjust their messaging based on FAQs, as well as the customer’s phrasing and responses. This process leads to better and more natural replies from bots that delight customers and give them the timely information they need.

An AI chatbot is not a one-time fix to the issue of customer service. It is a strategy that must be properly monitored, adjusted, and perfected over time in order to deliver the best results.

The Wrap

Many conversations these days are revolving around AI and its impact on the future of business. And, quite honestly, it seems like the answer to just about every current business planning issue out there. Predictive analytics can tell you when things are about to change. Machine learning can understand your customers on a personal, granular level, and big data can keep track of every metric for accurate reporting.

However, one of the clearest benefits of AI is the direct impact it can have on conversions. It eliminates the guesswork from improving the CX of webpages and delivers timely and accurate testing results needed to increase the likeliness of conversions. Big data systems and AI make hyper-personalization possible to customize the experience for each visitor. Finally, chatbots can use ML to instantly engage with customers, resolve issues immediately, and close sales.

Success all boils down to how a business makes the customer feel. Most of the time, this is what determines whether or not a customer will purchase. Studies have found, unsurprisingly, that when customers feel special, important, and satisfied, they are more likely to buy from those brands. AI gives brands the power to do just that.

Navigating Martech Amid the Land of Shiny Solutions

The marketing technology landscape has seen explosive growth the last couple of decades, but even when the field was a bit smaller, it was a challenge for marketers to clearly understand what all the solutions did.

The martech landscape has seen explosive growth the last couple of decades, but even when the field was a bit smaller, it was a challenge for marketers to clearly understand what all the solutions did.

Firms like CabinetM and others, as well as Scott Brinker’s Chief Marketing Technologist Blog, have tracked the growth of marketing technology solutions, with CabinetM cataloging more than 8,000 products across over 300 categories. And the growth doesn’t show signs of slowing or stopping.

This proposes a major problem, as marketers must decide where to expend their limited time and energy. Even after categorizing martech solutions by function, the job can feel impossible — because there are several hundred solutions per category.

The pressure to keep up with competitors and fear of missing out are strong impediments to developing a successful martech strategy. But rest assured, there is a method to getting through the madness. Let’s first review two steps any marketer needs to take when considering their marketing technology needs, and then dive into some key categories that marketers should be considering first when it comes to martech investments.

Step 1: Square Away Customer Strategy

The first step is to develop a technology-agnostic, but technology-aware customer strategy.

Knowing what technology to invest in really begins by thinking about what your customer strategy is and what it aspires to be. With thousands of solutions in the market, martech is the land of shiny objects. There are really cool innovations, such as augmented reality, geo beacons, IOT, AI, etc.

It’s natural to be attracted to these innovative solutions. However, investing in solutions based primarily on their cool factor generally results in a confusing customer strategy and poor ROI.

The world of retailer apps is a good example: There are countless innovative and helpful branded mobile apps available for download. According to Statista, however, only a handful of apps are used with any real frequency, and most are deleted within 30 days. This is not to say that brands can’t have success with apps. However, solutions also need to be compelling and well-thought-out components of a larger winning customer strategy.

Target’s app, for example, helps drive a better physical in-store experience by helping you find what you need and informing you of relevant sales. Target could have added VR games or other gimmicks, but it chose to stay focused on improving the shopping experience.

By thinking about the brand, customer strategy, and customer pain points first, the martech universe becomes significantly easier to navigate.

Step 2: Decide on Investment vs. Outsource

The next step is to decide what tech solutions you want to invest in and which ones you will outsource. There are three questions to ask:

  • Is the solution essential to my customer strategy? In other words, would your brand be fundamentally
    impacted by the solution? Customer experience solutions would be prime examples, because customer experience has a straight-line relationship to how your brand is perceived today.
  • Does the solution require intense domain expertise? Some capabilities are constantly in flux. SEO, for example, is always a moving target. Staying ahead of search engine algorithms and how digital assistants — such as Alexa and Google Assistant — find information for their users takes some focused dedication.
  • Do I have or can I hire the appropriate talent? This can sometimes be the ultimate arbiter when deciding to invest time and energy on a solution. For example, while analytics and measurement solutions would qualify as essential to customer strategy, the ability to hire, retain, and manage an analytics capability can be very difficult. As a result, brands frequently outsource at least some of their analytical solutions.

Martech Categories Marketers Must Consider

While working through those steps can help to guide martech investments, there are four (plus one) solution categories that merit near-universal attention from marketers.

These solutions not only dominate tech-driven marketing, but also are constantly integrating more specialized solutions under their umbrella to provide end-to-end capabilities. (That said, even these dominant categories do not play in distinct sandboxes, and often overlap.)

Investing time and energy on these larger solutions is a great way to begin forming the foundation of a good marketing technology stack.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
This should be the central repository of important customer information and behavioral data. Most CRM
solutions also integrate modules that help make customer decisions based on the data. Some CRM solutions, such as Salesforce, have so many modules that it’s nearly impossible for one person to understand the full ecosystem. Nevertheless, understanding how to manage and utilize CRM systems will continue to be the foundation of managing brands well.

Customer Experience (CX)
These solutions help connect, measure, and improve the customer journey. Today, most brands are defined by their customer experience and less by what they advertise. Most CX solutions enable highly personalized interactions with customers and increase loyalty, making CX tech a critical investment for marketers. What’s more, each interaction increases knowledge of customer preferences and behaviors to be applied in future experiences.

Sales Automation
These solutions are focused on helping marketers complete time-consuming and repetitive tasks, such as sending communications or selecting the next offer based on customer behavior. Today, sales automation solutions make intelligent decisions on millions of marketing interactions at the individual customer level. This is also the technology segment most likely to make certain marketing jobs obsolete. For marketers worried about job security, developing skills in managing and executing automation software will be valuable insurance.

Analytics and Reporting
Data-driven marketing decisions are now the norm, along with measurement and ROI. Most martech solutions have a strong data foundation and generate appropriate reports automatically. That said, there is still a need to understand the larger analytical story and solutions, such as web and social analytics, data visualization, and BI tools, provide a critical view into marketing success. All marketers do not need a degree in data science. However, all marketers should understand the role of analytical solutions in driving marketing decisions from content to budget allocations.

Adtech (the Plus-One)
This category is purposefully separated from the other four. It contains ad buying solutions for programmatic display, search, social, mobile, and digital video advertising. Some large internal marketing departments may choose to invest in building this capability and there are real cost benefits involved. However, the digital ad industry is complex, in constant flux and highly algorithmic. While in-house marketers should be familiar with adtech trends, they should consider adtech investments carefully. In many cases, adtech is probably best left to digital ad agencies.

Navigating the Martech Landscape

By focusing on the dominant martech categories, there are many valuable solutions left on the table: such as content and asset management, SEO, geo and proximity-based marketing, social management, and chatbots. They all have an important role to play but are more likely to be integrated into larger solutions, over time. Unless these solutions are mission-critical to your customer strategy, it is better to outsource solution expertise.

Billions of venture capital dollars have been invested in martech this decade, and most industry insiders agree that there are too many solutions. The expectation is that the landscape will eventually shrink as winners separate from losers, but there is no sign of this happening soon.

Nevertheless, the overwhelming landscape can’t be a deterrent to jumping in and getting comfortable with marketing technology. It is being used by most marketers today and will only grow in influence.
What is important is to keep focused and not let the land of shiny objects distract you from executing your customer strategy.

What’s Your Event DNA? The Creation of Rapid Growth, Non-Cloneable Programs

Creating a truly unique and successful event means tapping into audience sentiment and understanding their unique pain points. In order to do this, marketers need to invest in listening and analytics tools so that the audience can actually shape the event.

DNA is the molecular-level instructions that guide the development and expression of a living thing. How that thing will engage. How it will respond. How it will interact with others. DNA guides how a unique life will unfold.

Meaningful, growing, sustainable events must also begin with the creation of their unique DNA, which is developed through open interaction with the very audience you wish to attract. Every component of this approach requires an open mind and the embrace of new technologies, such as social media, forums, database analytics, and a customer experience survey tool. Your audience is the key to unlocking your event’s DNA, and these tools can help better tap into audience sentiment and better engage them throughout the event process.

However, many media organizations ignore the crucial step of developing an event’s DNA, and instead launch events through a habitual process that drains them of creativity. This must be stopped. It is no different than throwing darts at a target while wearing a blindfold. Shoot. Miss. Modify. Shoot. Miss.

What’s even worse is that competitors, or even sponsors, can easily clone events that take a traditional approach to planning and execution. Rather, marketers and publishers should strive to produce conferences that are built for unique, targeted audiences, which are much more difficult to duplicate and replace.

The Cloneable Approach

Below is the typical event checklist. As you read each stage, please ask yourself, “Can our competitors duplicate this approach and commoditize our program?” and “Can one of our larger (sponsors) clients duplicate this approach by redirecting their spending to the facilitation of their own event?”

Here’s the cloneable approach:

  1. Theme: Selected based on A) sponsors’ generalized comments so marketers and publishers can manage down the risk of the sponsors not renewing, B) competitive offerings, and C) the team’s confidence in execution.
  2. Award Program: An award program anchor designed to deliver sponsors’ target customers into seats – current and potential – so the sponsor’s investment can be justified, and renewed.
  3. Marketing: Ad campaigns executed within unsold inventory – website, e-newsletters, and publication(s) that proclaim the call to actions of “REGISTER NOW!” and “DON’T MISS!” I will never understand why event marketers believe adding an exclamation point is a compelling call to action.
  4. Website: An event landing page that is essentially an interactive brochure with registration information and clickable sponsor logos. Some will have a countdown to the event clock running as a means to communicate, “You better register now before time runs out.”
  5. Keynote: Selection of a “keynote” speaker whose fees fit within the P&L performance of the previous year’s event.
  6. Program Speakers: Remaining dollars are spread out to acquire the rest of the speakers, whose presentations will represent more than 90% of the program. This leaves spots that can only be filled by consultants, job seekers, and the few wise, altruistic individuals who sincerely want to help others.
  7. Location: A hotel ballroom with a 150-room and associated food and beverage commitment, jerry-rigged into conference space via an awkwardly assembled stage, pore-revealing projection screens, apology warranted wifi, and a somewhat reliable sound system.
  8. Content Leader: Selection of an editorial lead who is ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the program. If attendee registrations are down, it’s their role to call everyone in their network and strong-arm attendance followed by the words “if you come and bring someone else, then I’ll comp your attendance.”
  9. Sponsorships: Lots and lots of low-cost/revenue producing sponsorships that include name badge logos, registration desk banners, floor stickers, program naming rights with a sponsor introduction, logo’d room keys, breaks with tent cards, binders with profiles of each sponsor, and more.
  10. Millennial and Gen Z Friendly: To demonstrate your program isn’t just for the demographic that shows up every year, attendees are encouraged to actively Tweet with #BestEventEver.
  11. Golf: The mandatory golf afternoon providing sponsors uninterrupted access to critical attendees… for a few captive hours.
  12. Next Year Teaser: To demonstrate you are on top of your game, at the end of the program announce next year’s dates and location. No theme is mentioned, just a “mark your calendar.”
  13. Surveys: At the conclusion of each day’s programs, surveys are handed out with an in-app survey option. Most attendees fill out the paper versions, so team members stand at the exit doors, pushing, at times begging attendees to complete them. The pile of paper is then read on the trip home, compiled into a spreadsheet, and ultimately forgotten.
  14. Repeat

Embracing CX to Create a Stronger Event DNA

To conduct non-cloneable events, yours need to forever evolve, surprise, amplify, demonstrate long-term impact, and warrant attendee excitement. How do you achieve this? It seems impossible when you follow the above 14-step checklist. However it is simple: you only need to ask your audience. That means leveraging your subscriber, sponsor, and past attendee database as a starting point. Employ current marketing platforms and technologies, and a superior CX survey platform.

While you are knowledgeable of inbound marketing, and social listening, CX is new to publishing, though it has created monumental, positive changes in organizations’ relationship with their customers and membership. A great CX platform is a means for individual customers to share their sentiment easily, thus providing high response rates and actionable information.

With current technologies at the ready, the formation of a DNA-approach to events should begin with some foundational insights. A “tracking study” conducted on an annual or two-year basis serves as a deep-dive attendee study. To make this fully work, it needs to be combined with on-going “pulse” studies. While one may consist of many insightful answers, the other provides continual feedback.

Reporting on these studies should include a net promoter score (NPS), which indicates whether attendees would recommend the conference to others. It should include quadrants, which ask questions like “how important is this to you” or “how satisfied are you” about content needs, venue requirements, and expected benefits. Marketers and publishers can also employ text analytics to identify the most mentioned words and phrases and align them with individual attendee profiles. This eliminates the need to review hundreds of responses before making event assumptions.

Here’s what the event checklist looks like when you take an audience-focused, CX-centric approach:

  1. Attendees: Who is the event for? Use this information to start the process of involving and convincing your audience that if they don’t come, they will be at a competitive disadvantage.
  2. Define the Universe: Pull target subscriber, attendee, and sponsor databases. Prune them down for purity and model the personas within your overall target audience(s). Reject the thinking, “We had 150 attendees last year, we’ll have 5% more this year.” Replace it with targets based on today’s tools. How? Upload the target database(s) into a social media platform, like Facebook, that offers the ability to create a “Custom Audience.” This will provide aspirational target attendee numbers. How many matching individuals, on that platform, are within your opportunity landscape?
  3. Define the Personas: Use a research tool to understand this universe’s personas, defining them beyond company, title, location, and buying power. Get into their heads and try to understand what they aspire to, how they live, how they learn, and how they socialize. Use simple, easy response surveys that can be taken via email, social media, website pop-up, SMS, or whatever is their platform of choice, to ensure the highest participation rate.
  4. Identify Their Pain Points: Use “Crowdsourcing” to sculpt the event’s DNA. The same survey tool that enabled you to define the persona target groups can now be used to identify the theme, create the presentations, choose the location, determine the optimal number of days, the pricing, the food, networking events, and the type of relationship attendees want before-, during, and after the event. Establish forums on the event’s website, on article pages, and on social media for discussions to hash out event topics.
  5. Content Leader: The role in this scenario is conductor, project manager, and brand champion because the audience is defining the program. There is no need to beg for attendance when the audience collaboratively built an experience specific to their own needs and desires.
  6. Market to Personals And Their Paint Points: Once you have your target, now it’s time to build awareness and consideration. Gain content direction from the watched forums, article pages, and social media. Quote, expand on, and provide enhancements to hot topics. This fresh content should be posted on websites, incorporated in newsletters, edited for various social media platforms. Take a create once, spread in multiple ways approach. Create video content and use potential speakers to test how they will connect with the audience. Through analytics and involvement, you will quickly pare down to the most important speakers and content areas.
  7. Enter Off-Platform Conversations: Answer related questions on sites like Quora and demonstrate that your event, community, and brand has the inspiring answers not available elsewhere.
  8. Crowdsourcing: Now, conduct short-form research for each persona. Let them select the final topics, breakout sessions, room set up, and overall approach.
  9. Engagement: You are engaging your target attendees in the construction of their own event. They are buying into your program before you have even announced dates, location, and costs. Is there a better marketing approach than full engagement?
  10. Sponsor Opportunities: Conduct research on target attendee sentiment towards past, current, and potential sponsors. Not unlike Signet Research’s Ad Studies for print titles, provide sponsors insights that will enable you to work with them on messaging to their targets. For example. maybe a banquet sponsorship isn’t the best choice when a company is perceived as being the highest priced provider with serious customer support issues. Perhaps instead, host an invitation-only, C-suite dinner focusing on the importance of quality products and experiences, or a session on the benefits of investing in research and development.

The loyalty created by taking the listening step for sponsors will set your event above all others and ingrain your programs into their year-over-year marketing plans. Sure it requires more of the salespeople than selling from an a la carte menu, but let your competitors offer those selections.

Taking the time to cultivate your event’s unique DNA by collaborating with your audience will ensure it is not easily replicated, cannot be hijacked by a single customer event, and provides a plan for achieving ambitious growth.

7 B2B Marketing Predictions for 2019

From chatbots to data-driven marketing, from the inevitable backlash against martech to the broadened use of social media, Ruth Stevens presents her seven predictions for what’s to come in 2019 for B2B marketers.

Crystal BallI am adding my voice to the chorus of observers who predict various developments in 2019 for B2B marketing. My policy is to avoid reflecting on my past predictions, which are likely unrealized and full of errors. Instead I shall boldly go forth, with my sense of what we are likely to see this year, and damn the torpedoes.  My B2B marketing predictions — seven in all — range from marcom to data. Your comments are welcome!

  1. B2B marketing communications become more human. Our field has long focused on selling to entities — accounts, buying groups, with rational, specific needs — and so we tend to stick to the facts. But it’s time to be more human. To talk to the buyers as individuals, in a language that moves them. So Forrester predicts, and I agree. I applaud Gyro for taking the initiative on some very interesting research around this topic. The study reveals the feelings business buyers seek in response to our offerings, feelings like confidence, optimism and accomplishment. Let’s give it to them!
  2. An inevitable backlash against martech. The backlash is already starting, but look for it to pick up. I wrote about this in 2014, saying we must not confuse marketing automation for marketing strategy. As martech grows, inevitably B2B marketers are realizing that it’s not the silver bullet they had hoped for. Justin Gray, founder of LeadMD, points out that only about 1% of deals can be tied to MA. We’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.
  3. Marketers will finally supply sales with the help they really need. My fervent wish, anyway. Tip of the hat to Gavin Finn, who eloquently explains this need in a recent Entrepreneur article. If we marketers are not helping sales communicate a differentiated value, producing truly effective content, and developing insight into the detailed needs of the buying group, we should all fire ourselves.
  4. Broaden the use of social media. Social is no longer a nice-to-have in B2B. It requires thoughtful strategy, real budget, and a keen integration with the rest of the marketing mix. Plus continued experimentation with new opportunities. Video will continue to grow. And B2B marketers will try new channels, like Quora, a place where people pose questions and get answers from other individuals. It’s ripe for business problems to be solved.
  5. Chatbots go mainstream. Perfect for B2B, chatbots serve global customers, around the clock, with fast, accurate and cheap service. This is all good.  But my favorite benefit for B2B marketers? Chatbots give you a third method for turning your website into a lead generator (after web form-fill and IP address identification). And the AI continues to improve, daily.
  6. Will CX be the B2B buzzword of 2019? Like ABM in 2017, and intent data in 2018. I’m predicting a surge of interest in the power of providing superior customer experiences — not limited to digital, but across all customer touchpoints in B2B. Think about it. We operate with a limited universe of customers and prospects. We are burdened with long sales cycles, but the payoff is high-ticket sales. We can’t afford to lose an account.  CX is the next competitive frontier.
  7. As ever, B2B success is undergirded by data. Marketers will continue to understand, and act upon the need for clean, complete and accurate data coverage of their market opportunity.  This is why Theresa Kushner and I published B2B Data-Driven Marketing, soon to be available via Kindle.  A new study from MX Group confirms: The Number 1 characteristic of top performing B2B firms is “Have good data.”  What’s Number 2?  “Have effective lead follow-up,” of course!

Happy 2019 to us all.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog. 

5 Trends in Customer Experience Software for 2019

I asked people who use customer experience software to share their thoughts on how the software, and its use, will evolve in 2019. Here are five trends to look for this year.

I asked marketers using customer experience (CX) software to share their thoughts on how the technology and its use, will evolve in 2019. Based on this research, I expect CX technologies will evolve in 2019 to support greater system and data connectivity, improve customer insights, and increase message relevance and process automation.

Here are five trends to look for this year.

Integration

M&A activity reflects a trend toward unified customer data platforms and all-in-one solutions for marketing, sales, support, analytics and CX. That’s great for businesses, because soon they won’t need to spend millions on integrations and IT for a single, holistic view of the customer.

We’ll see the introduction of tools and improvement in design to help vertical markets perform integrations more easily, which can find ways to transfer customer information from one application to the other.

Data

Improved integration will help collate disparate customer data to provide a holistic view of customer activity across all departments — sales, marketing, customer support, etc. As CX software improves, organizations will start valuing CX data more than actual goods or services sold, because CX data will have a stronger correlation with long-term revenue generation and profitability.

Customer experience software users say 2018 was the year of data for CX software — from GDPR-mandated data cleanups to a wave of new data from relational and transactional customer interactions, CX software companies focused on data collection. From real-time data collection facilitated by chatbots and AI, 2018 saw a new way for the CX world to gather, store and leverage customer data for more customized engagement. This focus on data will be the foundation for what’s to come in 2019 — a greater focus on data collection, data analysis, and acting on data to increase customer retention and better connect with customers.

CX software will get a chance to show what it can do. We can expect the use of AI to grow and enable companies to sort and evaluate the data collected faster than in previous years. As CX software continues to gather more information, it will also continue to improve the software’s processes and provide better analysis.

Understanding

We see the embedding of more “marketing-like” approaches — more analytics of customer behavior and more automation of responses and customer outreach. CX pros are starting to do this as well, moving away from working only with survey responses from a small number of customers. This is parallel to the development that started some 20 years ago in marketing automation when businesses moved on from small-scale surveys in market research to using all their business data to better understand customers. CX solutions are looking at all data on customers, using it to understand their needs and wants, and building automatic processes to meet those needs.

Businesses are realizing that customers today rate their experience based on the sum of all the interactions with business — not just on call wait time, or Internet ease of use. All of these things come together as customers move seamlessly from one channel to another — they see this as one overall experience. As such, successful CX solutions are embedding tools that can work with the entire customer journey — from its “discovery,” based on journey analytics, to the orchestration of a better overall CX through customer journey management.

Relevance

We’ll see organizations leveraging technology to make customer journeys frictionless, personalized — and ultimately, more profitable. Companies will be able to better target customers with more in-depth information, personalized messaging and tailored recommendations that better align with needs. At the end of the day, it will all come down to how well companies use CX software to learn about their customers and better serve them.

Customers will become more skeptical of companies that fail to personalize emails and content. Consumers respond better when they feel like they’re people, not just another number on a list. The future of successful CX software implementations is those that take the time to focus on personalized, relevant information of value that helps makes customers’ lives simpler and easier.

Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning

The shiny toys of Augmented Reality (AR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and data analytics only account for the aesthetic aspects of CX. Many companies are looking at the sexy components of a well-built website while overlooking why customers fell in love with brands like Netflix and Amazon. These top sites and companies gave the people exactly what they wanted from the onset. The next step for companies in 2019 is to find the right balance to effectively blend UX and CX to suit the customers’ needs like never before.

With that being said, the automation side of CX is incredibly powerful. We’ve seen improvements in AI software within the past year and it will be fun to see how much it develops this year. The next couple years will revolutionize CX. Now that companies have built the technology, the only thing left is to fine-tune it. Build on the useful technology put in place.

Machine learning (ML) and AI are already being used to identify data points with the most impact. We will see this translate into providing meaningful action points which leverage the data points.

We will see CX software using AI to predict CX for new products, based on past data with greater accuracy.

Lastly, we will see marketers leveraging AI to learn about their target customers and prompt them to take action to meet their needs.

Improve Customer Experience by Putting Customers First

We live in the age of transparency. As such, it’s critical to earn your customers’ trust and keep it by improving the customer experience.

We live in the age of transparency. As such, it’s critical to earn your customers’ trust and keep it by improving the customer experience.

Eighty-four percent of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Treating customers well is more important than ever, yet companies continue to take advantage of customers by focusing on short-term revenue vs. long-term profitability.

Eighty-four percent of Millennials are influenced by user-generated content on your website. (Opens as a PDF). As such, you need customers to share their positive experiences with your brand’s product or service.

You do this by providing a great customer experience, as well as a product that solves the customer’s problem as well or better than expected.

How to Get Customer Experience Right

Amazon will ask if you want to buy the same book you bought six months ago. The company is giving up short-term revenue to ensure you’re not buying something you don’t need. It’s reinforcing the trust you’ve already placed in the brand.

When is the last time your bank warned you before you incurred an overdraft fee?

When has your phone/TV/Internet provider proactively suggested a different, more cost-efficient, package of services based on your usage?

And, we still have pharmaceutical companies making inconsequential changes to medications to keep your doctor prescribing the ethical (oxymoron?) product vs. the generic, which is 10 times cheaper.

Most frustrating for me is the SaaS (software-as-a-service) to which I paid the one-year subscription, did not find value in, and then stopped using. Out of sight, out of mind, until the one-year anniversary rolls around and my credit card gets hit. Come on guys, you know I’m not using your product, let me know you’re about to auto-renew so I can opt-out rather than having to call the credit card company to challenge the charge and then call you out for a legitimate, but non-customer-focused, business process.

Moving forward, successful companies will be those that put their customers first rather than taking advantage of them. As David Ogilvy said, “Your customer isn’t a moron.”

Customer Experience Requires Seamless Integration to Reduce Friction

As customers and prospects use more devices in their personal and business lives, B2B and B2C organizations need to engage them on the devices and in the channels they prefer to ensure a positive user and customer experience.

As customers and prospects use more devices in their personal and business lives, B2B and B2C organizations need to engage them on the devices and in the channels they prefer to ensure a positive user and customer experience.

There’s a proliferation of devices with customers and prospects interacting with computers (laptops, desktops and tablet) mobile devices, televisions, voice assistants, watches, glasses, automobiles and whatever the future holds.

There’s also a proliferation of channels — brick-and-mortar, e-commerce, channel partners, social media, direct-to-consumer, as well as web and mobile apps. Customers and prospects expect the companies and the apps they interact with to know them, their activity, their purchase and search history, the questions they’ve asked and the answers they’ve received, interactions in every channel, and social media activity.

Lyft, Amazon, Netflix and Apple have all raised consumer expectations — the same consumers who are employees. Today, employees expect the same intuitive ease of use with the tools they use to do their jobs as the B2C apps they use in their daily lives.

Your customers, prospects, and employees want their product and service providers to know what they’re looking for and do everything they can to make their lives simpler and easier. Customers will not tolerate irrelevant content, apps, or tools that fail to make their lives and jobs simpler and easier.

Starbucks has done this with its mobile app. Spotify has done this for streaming audio. The Progressive mobile app has actually turned “fender benders” into an opportunity to provide “aha” customer experiences.

Listen to customers and employees to learn where friction is in their lives and explore ways to reduce that friction. Let your customers know you hear them. Doing so will enable you to disrupt your industry, earn customers for life and become the preferred place to work. All ensure a successful future. Failure to do so ensures a premature death.

Think of Customer Experience as a Marketing Investment

As products and services become commoditized, organizations need to begin differentiating themselves by becoming customer-centric and providing a consistently good customer experience. The bar is low; it’s pretty easy to stand out from your competition if you just make a commitment to do so.

As products and services become commoditized, organizations need to begin differentiating themselves by becoming customer-centric and providing a consistently good customer experience. The bar is low; it’s pretty easy to stand out from your competition if you just make a commitment to do so.

Here are eight reasons for your organization to invest in customer experience:

  1. Price Isn’t the Only Differentiator. People will pay more for excellent customer service and a great customer experience. In fact, American Express found consumers are willing to spend 17 percent more to do business with companies that deliver excellent customer service.
  2. It’s Not That Hard to Improve Level of Customer Service you provide and improve the customer experience of your customers. It does take commitment, focus, determination, measurement and listening.
  3. Happy Customers Are Good Customers. They buy more, they buy more frequently and they tell their family, friends and colleagues about your products, service and their customer experience. And referrals and word of mouth are still the most cost-effective marketing you can get.
  4. CX Doesn’t Require Leading-Edge Software. However, it does require good customer relationship management (CRM) software and a commitment by everyone in the firm to use it and listen intensely to what the customer is saying and how your organization makes them feel.
  5. It’s Cheaper to Retain Current Customers Than Acquire New Customers — some studies suggest by a factor of seven.
  6. Any Company of Any Size Can Provide Consistently Excellent Customer Service and “wow” customer experiences. It’s a customer-centric attitude that starts at the C-level and cascades down to everyone in the organization.
  7. Happy Customers Find New Customers for You. They provide referrals, testimonials, they share their positive thoughts and experiences with family, friends and colleagues, and they post on social media sites.
  8. Improving CX Pays for Itself. Think of providing good customer service as a marketing investment.

Most companies provide lousy customer service and a negative customer experience. CX is a great way to differentiate your firm from your competition. A customer who has an issue that is resolved is more likely to become a long-term customer and spend more with you over time, than the customer who doesn’t complain. Providing great customer service and a “wow” customer experience can help create “raving fans” who will sing your praises to family, friends, colleagues, and even strangers via the Internet and social media.

A dissatisfied customer leaves and tells their friends, and possibly many others, about what a poor job you did. As such, you’re much better off resolving the issue to the customer’s satisfaction.

Use simple math to convince the CEO to bring marketing and customer service together.

Listen intensely to learn customers’ needs and expectations.

Empower everyone in your organization to provide outstanding customer service to end-user customers and colleagues.

Attitude is everything. When every employee considers themselves part of the customer service team, your company is able to deliver a level of customer service that’s a competitive differentiator for your firm.

Pay back customers for their business with excellent customer service. Your customers will become “raving fans” and will evangelize your brand.

Financial Services Companies Focus on Delivering a Better Customer Experience

As I conduct more interviews with IT professionals, it’s clear financial services companies (banks, brokers and insurance) are investing a lot of money and resources into leveraging data to provide a better customer experience.

As I conduct more interviews with IT professionals, it’s clear financial services companies (banks, brokers and insurance) are investing a lot of money and resources into leveraging data to provide a better customer experience.

Better late than never. Banks have long had a plethora of information about clients; whereby, they should have been able to suggest products and anticipate needs based on life events (college, first job, marriage, home, children, job change, retirement, etc.). Unfortunately, the data was in silos and they were not taking a holistic view of their customers.

Slowly but surely, this is changing as:

  • Rocket Mortgage enables customers to get approval for a mortgage or an equity line of credit in minutes.
  • Square enables sellers to process credit card transactions via smartphones or tablets.
  • Mint provides free, web-based financial management software.
  • Robinhood provides zero-fee stock trading.
  • Personal Capital provides online financial advice, personal wealth management and algorithmic trading, for much less than a traditional broker.

These companies are providing a seamless user experience (UX) across a multi-platform and multi-device landscape. They’re providing real-time information of value to educate customers and prospects. In a recent study, Oracle found that 80% of consumers are accessing their financial institution digitally.

Several banks have automated their loan processing so they are able to get more accurate and complete information upfront and provide loan approval the same day, rather than in 30 or 45 days. The process is better for the financial institution, as well as the customer.

But Are Traditional Financial Institutions Too Late?

After having moved half of my investment portfolio to the algorithmic trading arm of Edward Jones, I decided to move it all to Personal Capital, the algorithmic trading arm of Pershing.

As with most things, I believe we will see a range of activity and acceptance based on the people I interview in the big data, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML) space.

I’m still waiting for the first FinTech, using AI/ML, to guarantee the security of my personally identifiable information (PII) and my money. The first FinTech to do this will quickly become a market leader for more conservative consumers and investors.

We will continue to have FinTechs using AI/ML to make customers’ lives simpler, easier, saving them money and giving them incentives to share their information. Consumers who are less concerned with the security of PII and more concerned with “deals” and CX will be attracted to these FinTechs.

It will be fun to watch it shake out over the next couple of decades. I believe companies that remove friction, eliminate pain, make customers’ lives simpler and easier, and do so securely will ultimately win share of wallet.

What do you think?